Breaking In - Andy Howell

by DeeJ - 12/11/2012

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At Bungie, we believe that anything that's fun to do is more fun to do with your friends. This obviously includes playing a great game. But making a game that you can play with your friends over the Internet is no easy feat. Fortunately, we have can-do leaders like this guy to make sure we get it right…

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?

My name is Andy Howell. I’m the Matchmaking Test Lead here at Bungie! My team ensures that Matchmaking in our game is painless and fun. Without us, you would never be able to play with your friends. We help to push for quality across the entire matchmaking process, from start to finish of a game.

Sorry I can’t tell you more, you know... super-secret stuff.

I know all too well, my friend. Keeping secrets is a part of life at Bungie right now, but someday we’ll get to enjoy a conversation with our community about what we’ve been developing. Until then, how will you be passing the time?

Super-secret stuff. And Star Trek, other science fiction, motorcycles, fast cars, photography, comic books (mostly DC), and weird giant robot models. I also am very interested in honing my skills. I volunteer for many projects and make different “tech demos” and mods outside of work. I love breaking and building new fun things, usually in that order, followed by breaking them again.

With all this talk of breaking things and seeing them fixed, it would seem that you were born to be a Test Lead. Has this always been your plan? What did your inner seven year old dream of being?

A Starship captain, for reals. I wanted to protect the earth from aliens and explore the galaxy. Find strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civil… you get the idea.

It does sound familiar. Since mankind didn’t get around to creating a Starfleet you could enlist in by the time you reached a working age, what sort of schooling did you seek for yourself?

I studied Computer Science and Multimedia Production. I use what I learned EVERY DAY. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was tailoring an education to assist me in my future career, funny how that works.

A lot of people would call that lucky, rather than funny. Tell us how that worked for you. How did that future career start to take shape?

I started out in Information Technologies for education, teaching computers how to use teachers in their class rooms. Wait, I mean the other way around, maybe…

Then I moved on to become a multimedia producer for a church, which was really fun. Not only did I get to help people, but I was able to create cool new multimedia experiences. When I was laid off due to downsizing, I found out that Microsoft was looking for testers for their new super-secret project on the (then new) Xbox. I was testing Xbox LIVE functionality across all games a few weeks later.

The migration from working on Xbox LIVE to working at Bungie makes total sense, but can you recall the steps that led you to us?

I was found by a headhunter who needed to fill a contract role at Bungie. Next thing I knew, I was helping to finish up Halo: Reach. After we shipped the game, I went on to work for a few other game studios. However, Bungie had wanted me to come back, and the timing was finally right!

Welcome back. We missed you, but not enough to let you sidestep the standard interrogation in our interview chambers. Can you face those memories and provide would-be applicant with a warning about the horrors of our recruitment process?

Here at Bungie, we like to ask “interesting” questions. It helps us know how you think. My interrogation was an all-day process, so I would say my last few interviews started to get harder since I was very tired. I had just flown to Seattle from Rhode Island - the other side of the world almost – so I had Jet Lag, and my brain was fried from a day filled with questions. Someone asked me a logical testing question about a device I had never heard of or even thought to test. At first, I hit a brick wall. Then I started to think outside of the box. Obviously I pulled through.

Now that you’re in the box, what’s the best thing about the work that you do for Bungie?

I love that we take time to play our game here. When we bring a new system online, it’s great to see people playing with it, or interacting with it – and even better if they aren’t even aware of it. It’s very rewarding. We create fun, and I get to see it on the faces of my co-workers.

You paint a vivid big picture, but what is one day like around here?

FUN! I love what I do. I love the games we make. I can’t imagine doing anything other than making video games. Our average day is to break things and do science, what could be better than that?

It sounds like you’re pretty happy with your Bungie experience. And yet, we go well out of our way to keep guys like you content. What’s your favorite perk as a member of the team?

I would say it has to be the Bungie love we receive. For instance, Bungie will arrange for pre-screenings of movies, outside events, and other fun group activities.

What is your favorite accomplishment as a member of the Bungie team? Describe that one moment in which someone appreciate your work, and assured you that you belonged here…

I would have to say when we work on a bug that ends up being a hornet’s nest, and we have to spend time unraveling the issue. Once we get to the core and can identify the problem with certainty, I am satisfied in my job. I try to recreate that moment every day.

Another thing we need to do every day is enrich our skills. What is your plan to become ever more dangerous to the bugs you’re hunting?

I talked a bit above about how I try to expand my wheel house with personal projects. I also spend a lot of time just playing video games. I’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, so that can be a task at this point. However, when I just play games, I find it makes me better at my job. The simple joy of playing a game makes me want to make our game as fun as I can.

That sounds like hard work, but it’s work that many people would like to do. What would you tell them to help set them on the path of becoming Test Lead?

Give it everything you have. I would suggest this to anyone trying to do anything they’re passionate about. You REALLY need to grab on with both hands and hold on to that dream. Learn all that you can about game development, build mods, play betas and alpha tests, read books. Do what you can to enrich yourself, because just wanting it is never enough. Dreamers just want it. Doers will build it and make it happen. You will never get what you want by just wanting it.

Andy is here because our games won’t test themselves, so we must return him to his daily pursuit of that perfect moment. While our Test Teams are the bedrock of our development process, Bungie needs doers of many different varieties. The Breaking In archive is a great place to learn all about the different kinds of fun that beckon from our development floor. We need doers of all kinds.