I thought I would post my story. Casey read it during his special stream on Sunday December 4th, 2016. I believe it was the second last story to be read. I will link it when he posts the archive.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
A quick summary:
After dropping out of civil engineering and working for a few years, at almost 25 I enrolled in a Video Game program. Managing to get a job initially as a QA tester, then moving to Test Engineer and finally Build Engineer, I've worked for nearly ten years on AAA game series such as Skate, Need for Speed and FIFA at Electronic Arts, and Prototype at Activision.
At 37 and inspired by (Casey) and Handmade Hero, I quit my job to be a better programmer.
A longer explanation:
I started in Civil Engineering, but after dropping out due to both my health and really a lack of interest in the field, I worked as a surveyor for a few years. It started as a co-op job for school, but due to me failing my last term (and finding out while working), I simply continued working for a while.
I was not enjoying the work for there was very little ambition at my job, that I wanted to go back to school. I happened to see a commercial for a video game program at The International Academy of Design and Technology in Toronto and got excited for all the wrong reasons. I ended up not only going to this school, but also graduating.
Time frame, this would be July of 2004 I started class, and graduated December 2005. I was turning 25 when I started.
The school was okay, but really, it was just very expensive and unfortunately for most of the students who managed to get through it, most did not get jobs in the industry. I can tell you more about the school if you wish, but like with everything, you got out of it what you put into it. Our last project (sixth and final term) was for the whole class to make a fighting game. We made Animal Cruelty - a Smash Brothers type game with barnyard animals, using Ogre3D for the main engine, and RakNet for the networking layer.
After graduating I had a really hard time getting an interview, let alone a job. I think I may have had only a handful of interviews before finally getting a job at Electronic Arts as a QA tester. This would have been May of 2007.
I was a QA tester on a few titles (Need for Speed: Pro Street, Madden 09) before getting a job as a Test Engineer on NFS: Undercover. Obviously, I'm not an engineer, but EA tends to freely give out Engineer as titles. Test Engineers were basically software programmers for QA, they would help out both the dev and QA teams writing simple tools and integrating debugging features for the teams.
Over a few years I moved over to Build Engineer positions on Skate 3 and Need for Speed: The Run. If you are not familiar with the position, remember the drudge work in episode 1 of Handmade Hero? Settings that up for the team were some of my responsibilities.
In 2011, I was laid off and managed to get another Build Engineer position at Radical Entertainment (Activision). It was definitely fun but unfortunately was laid off again when the game shipped, April 2012. Sadly, the whole (most?) studio was laid off a few months later.
On my birthday of 2012, the FIFA server team reached out to me in need of a build engineer and I joined them a few weeks later, October 15th 2012. I state the date for almost 4 years to the date, October 14th, 2016 was my last day. That is where Casey and Handmade Hero comes in.
I am good at what I do, but I want to be better. So I quit my job having nearly 10 years experience hoping that I could learn as much as I can during the time off so when I go back to work, I will be even better. My goal of my time off is simply to learn and I have a goal of making at least one simple game. A dream would be I am able to make money doing that, but I do not want to set myself up for failure.
Anyway, at 37, after 9 years working for large video game companies, I've quit my job to be a better programmer, and try out making games from scratch. At the moment I'm currently writing transcriptions of HandmadeCon 2015, but will move on after learning as much as I can from you.
To explain further my decision to quitting my job this year: I left due to being burnt out both physically and mentally. The former is usually pretty obvious for people to know they have to make changes to their lives; but, I feel the latter also needs to be taken seriously.
I felt I needed to make a lifestyle change in order to recover both, but also that I won't end up in the same condition later.
What spurred the idea of leaving though was Handmade Hero and the world it brought to my attention.
Handmade Hero inspired me in many ways. Even Casey's simple build system made me start to evaluate how we did builds at work. There were reasons for why we used the tools we used, and why it was as complicated as it was; however, I started to take a step back in my approaches to solutions.
I think there is a lot of value in simplicity, and a lot of the problems we ran into would be solved or easier to debug/fix with the system simply being more simple.
Another big inspirational moment was during Casey's interview with Mike Acton in HandmadeCon 2015. Casey had asked what are things that Mike looks at in candidates, to which Mike's reply was curiosity. To have that drive of wanting to learn more. Casey follows up that with "Even the ones that were curious, they have the right mentality ... what do you want them to be prepped to do?" (i.e. What do you wish some candidates would do more of?)
This just opened my eyes. Casey has often said during Q&A that you should try to program every day to get better, so this part I understood and thus tried to do. But the idea of practicing I had not thought of before. I immediately pictured trying to learn a piece on the piano where depending on your skill level, you may be able to play it the first time sight-reading the music, but to perfect the piece you must practice it, over and over so that it becomes second nature.
One final thing that I will say that helped inspire my decision of leaving was a response to a question from Jonathan Blow asked about why he chooses to work as an Indie Developer:
The future of gaming - Jonathan B...savin, Amy Hennig and Alex Wilmer
"Can you show up and believe what you are actually doing today is the most important thing that you could be doing versus any other choice that you can make in life. ...it's easier to achieve that when you're in control of the mission statement."
Often at work there might be something that would come up that I truly feel is more important than what I was tasked to do. However, due to commitments on what I've been assigned, my only option was to either not do it, or work overtime to work on both. A good manager and lead will listen to these ideas, but it does mean you need to come up with a good argument (for there are ripple-effects in changing commitments).
I've been working long enough (meaning I have a good deal of experience) that trusting my gut is enough for me to know it is the right thing; but one thing I've learned is that if it is your gut versus their gut, they will take theirs unless they are specifically looking for your expertise about something.
I may have quit my job due to my health, but I was inspired to learn and inspired to work on things that I feel are most important.
Again, if you have any questions, from working in large gaming studios (I will try to answer things being respectful of the NDA), to interviewing a fair number of candidates, please feel free to ask.
Some things to note:
- I liked my job and loved the work that I was doing as a Build Engineer. I may have described it as the drudge work, but that is more because that is how Casey described it. I actually quite enjoy a lot of that process. As a Build Engineer, we get a lot more freedom in implementation than game developers in large teams (unless you are senior enough of course). For the most part, the requirement of our tools is how they function and can they be maintained. So the implementation is for the most part entirely up to the Build/Tool Engineer which gives a lot of creative control.
- The video linked above was an okay talk, but what stood out to me was that response from Jon. The talk is more about design than programming.
- The part I worked on in Animal Cruelty was the networking layer, setting up the GUI, setting how the different game states and how resources were loaded (using the API, nothing that low level). The thing I want to point out was my networking experience landed me on the online QA team for NFS, and because of the great people I worked with, they helped me get the Test Engineer position. So the decisions I made in life such as going to a school that I would not recommend, opened opportunities down the line.