Software Development
Workplace culture

Work Hacks: Jeremy Bell, internet guy at homebuilder Schell Brothers

Jeremy Bell combines rock 'n' roll love with programming prowess, and insists on not checking his email.

Jeremy Bell. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Bell)
Mix HTML, creative graphic design and ’80s-esque electro rock, and you’ll get Jeremy Bell, an internet marketing specialist based out of Southern Delaware.

As a self-proclaimed “computer nerd” and former computer programming student, Bell says he gladly ditched Microsoft for Linux. Now, he works with more Mac-based applications like Final Cut Pro X and writes code in PHP and jQuery.
When he first moved to Delaware, Bell focused on his creative side, playing drums and keyboards in his electro-rock band. Bell discovered his love for marketing by designing posters, flyers and editing videos for their shows.
Since his rock ‘n’ roll days, Bell has successfully entered the professional world of Internet marketing through two main projects: web design company Amps211 (a project he started with a friend, with a namesake that cleverly references This Is Spinal Tap) and the job that sprang from it; Bell is now the head of Internet marketing at Schell Brothers, a Delaware homebuilding company based in Rehoboth Beach.
Bell says he balances his many projects by avoiding checking his inbox and, in his free time, playing multiple rounds of Zombie Dice.
Here’s how Bell syncs rock roots with tech work.

###

What is your background in the creative tech world?
In true computer nerd fashion, I became annoyed with Microsoft Windows early on, so I denounced everything from Redmond and triumphantly installed Linux and taught myself how to use it. I went to school for computer programming, but I haven’t made much use of C++ since then. The principles stuck, though, and I continue to build on those problem solving skills. Mostly I write in PHP, jQuery, and other web/scripting languages now.
My creative background might be a bit more unorthodox. When I moved to Delaware, I spent the first few years playing keyboards and doing drum programming in an electro rock band. We opened for A Flock of Seagulls in NYC, also for Naked Eyes and PM Dawn at the Dogfish Brewpub. Basically, we cornered the market on opening for defunct ’80s bands.
Being in a band was my first foray into marketing. I started designing all of our promotional materials like flyers and posters, building websites and editing videos. It’s hard work convincing hipsters to actually spend five bucks to go to a show, but I learned a lot trying. When that got old I started looking for something I could do that leveraged my design skills. One of my friends was a Realtor and he needed a website, so we started working together. That partnership eventually blossomed into a small web design company which we dubbed Amps211.
Amps211 picked up several clients, and eventually lead to Echelon Custom Homes and their parent company Schell Brothers, a local Delaware homebuilder based in Rehoboth Beach. After winning a bunch of contracts for Echelon and Schell, they proposed that I just work directly for them.
You wear many hats as a tech guy. Which roles do you like the most?
If I had to wear one hat for too long, I think I would end up burning it. Luckily, I’m in a position where new projects pop up all the time. My primary responsibility at Schell Brothers is maintaining and improving our web properties, so that already taps several of my favorite disciplines like web design, programming, graphic design, video editing and creative writing. But Schell is a growing company that is constantly looking for ways to improve, and many of those improvement opportunities involve leveraging technology.
Last year, we rolled out some improvements to make the customer experience even better during the home building process. To help our construction managers implement these improvements, I developed an HTML5 app that is now used daily to schedule meetings with customers and document progress. The head of construction also wanted to keep tabs on his guy’s performance with this new workflow, so I built a dashboard that lets him see the status of all active jobs at once. Then the finance department needed to know when a job was ready for a bank draw, so I built a dashboard for them so they don’t have to manually look up every job in two different systems.
Not too long after I joined the marketing team at Schell, they decided they wanted to produce a new TV commercial. I had a little experience with shooting video and editing, so I teamed up with 2 other people (also with no video experience) and we took a stab at it. We were instructed to make the opening very doom-and-gloom with a chart of the market downturn, and then turn it into the happiness message.
We finally came up with a way to give it a genuine human touch while still hitting the message by hijacking the boss’ office, where we brought in lights and set up a mini studio to shoot the spot. We started with a newspaper clipping of the market downturn chart. Then we started pinning photos on top of it, pics of employees enjoying fun events together. By the end, the photos completely cover the chart, and they transform into the company logo. When the boss came back we pitched him our alternate version and he loved it. The spot actually went on to win a national award from the National Association of Home Builders, beating out spots that included helicopter flyovers and other expensive craziness. Here’s the ad, if you want to check it out:

The role I most enjoy is connecting with people through the work I do. When you can speak to the emotional part of the brain, and not just the logical part, you can really make an impact. And I think people very quickly pick up on what is genuine and what isn’t. That’s why I never use stock photography on website projects if I can avoid it.
What do you love about your site, Amps211?
The amps211.com site may have gotten me started in web design, and I’ll always appreciate that, but schellbrothers.com is currently my baby. Both sport responsive designs, but the Schell site is definitely more advanced and much larger. It’s been making use of responsive images for a while now and I’ll be upgrading to srcset and picture element (where applicable) soon. I like the clean look of the design, I think it gets out of the way and lets the actual content shine.
I’m also working on an “online design studio” component for the Schell site that will empower future homeowners to build style tiles of their favorite combinations of selections for their new homes well before they actually have to commit to those decisions. I think it’s going to make them feel much more prepared for their official design studio appointments.
What’s the first thing you do every day at work?
I think I’m the most productive first thing in the morning, so I just jump right into whatever project I have open at the moment and make as much progress as I can.
How often do you check your e-mail?
Email is the devil.
It’s so easy to get distracted with what other people want you to do when you check your email, instead of spending your time moving the needle on your priorities. It’s easier said than done, but I avoid checking my email as long as I can. If it’s so important that you need my immediate attention, come see me, or call me. Or even text me. But don’t email me.
What is the most gratifying part of your job?
I actually just enjoy doing the work, because it doesn’t usually feel like “work.” But I have to admit, when I see the things I’ve built in action, it makes me feel good too.
The first floor of the Schell Brothers’ office is a Design Studio and reception area. We set up several flat screen TVs throughout the space to show inspirational home design images and promotional videos, but we couldn’t find a reasonable existing system for just looping videos and photos on the screens. So, I built my own system using Raspberry Pi single board computers for less than $100 each. I wrote a couple scripts that run on the Pi’s which are connected to the TVs; they check in with a web server every 15 minutes to request video playlists which they download and loop indefinitely. I can update the playlists from anywhere. Every day I walk into the office, I see the screens playing videos. It’s the little things like that which make me happy.
When you need to take a break, what are you turning to?
Zombie Dice! Seriously, make your co-workers play this with you for 17 minutes, and then focus intently on work for the next 52 minutes.
What’s your design and computer gear (program preference/ones you use the most, Mac or PC)?
My main machine is running Ubuntu. I do almost everything on it and it just works. I used to prefer the more exotic variants of Linux, but in my old age I prefer it when things work consistently by default, and Ubuntu does just that.
I do all of my development work with JetBrains PhpStorm, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and a terminal. I do conceptual prep work on my whiteboards or in my notebook, and sometimes build paper mock ups, but I prefer to design directly in the browser as opposed to making comps in Photoshop/Illustrator. The final product will live on the web and people will interact with it using browsers, not image viewers, so I want to work my ideas out in the same environment that it is meant to be experienced in. For projects with outside clients that need to sign off on design work stages, I’ve been successful presenting style tiles that show the direction of the design elements but are not strict mock ups of a final product.
There are a couple of graphic designers on our marketing team so in the rare case that I can’t get what I need from them I use the Gimp or Inkscape.
I also have a MacBook Pro, mainly for video editing with Final Cut Pro X, or coding from home. I shoot video with a Nikon D800.
What’s one way in which you believe your day-to-day work is better now than it has been in the past? Is there something you do now (or don’t do) that has made a big difference?
I have to go back to email.
I don’t check it nearly as much as I used to, so I’m much less distracted and I’m better at getting things done because of it. Also, I use Mailbox on iOS for email triage which makes it quick work to clear out my inbox when it’s time.
Amps211 (like, our amps go to 11, man) got me connected to Echelon Custom Homes and their parent company Schell Brothers. I now work directly for Schell Brothers doing full stack web design and development, marketing, video production (TV commercials, web videos, etc), and tons of fun/interesting side projects that are tech related — like creating HTML5 apps for our construction managers, dashboards for our office department heads, flying drones, and building web-connected, auto-updating video looping boxes out of Raspberry Pis for displays in our design studio, models, and Rehoboth Ave coffee shop/new home gallery.
I’m kind of all over the place, and I’m so busy at Schell Brothers that I really don’t pick up many new clients with Amps211 these days, so now most of my stories will probably be about work I’m doing at Schell.

Before you go...

Please consider supporting Technical.ly to keep our independent journalism strong. Unlike most business-focused media outlets, we don’t have a paywall. Instead, we count on your personal and organizational support.

3 ways to support our work:
  • Contribute to the Journalism Fund. Charitable giving ensures our information remains free and accessible for residents to discover workforce programs and entrepreneurship pathways. This includes philanthropic grants and individual tax-deductible donations from readers like you.
  • Use our Preferred Partners. Our directory of vetted providers offers high-quality recommendations for services our readers need, and each referral supports our journalism.
  • Use our services. If you need entrepreneurs and tech leaders to buy your services, are seeking technologists to hire or want more professionals to know about your ecosystem, Technical.ly has the biggest and most engaged audience in the mid-Atlantic. We help companies tell their stories and answer big questions to meet and serve our community.
The journalism fund Preferred partners Our services
Engagement

Join our growing Slack community

Join 5,000 tech professionals and entrepreneurs in our community Slack today!

Trending

‘Racist rhetoric leads to attacks’: Asian Americans and lawsuit plaintiffs take on the TikTok ban

‘A home, a sanctuary and a purpose:’ Paths to solving Wilmington’s homelessness crisis

A sneak peek at Futures First Gaming’s new downtown Wilmington location

5 lessons Delaware can learn from an unlikely ally: Birmingham

Technically Media