When you play a video game, how do you know you’re any good? Are you rewarded for blowing stuff up with a sense of accomplishment? Do you feel like you get better over time? These questions belong to a team that schemes behind the scenes to keep you feeling engaged by the games you play. Because these plans are hatched in a piece of software, they require the support of Engineers. Let’s corner one of those guys and ask him how he became engaged in a career making games.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
I am Chris Chambers. I work on the engineering side of the "investment" team, which mostly does progress bars! A progress bar wants to be displayed, networked, persisted, and its strategy for advancement needs design, so the investment team works with lots of others. You'll feel my influence when you are watching something increment.
So guys like you write the code that keeps guys like me salivating over my next rank upgrade? Tell us about your own personal sense of investment. While I am chasing a virtual promotion in front of my console, what are you chasing?
Sunlight! (It's dark in the studio.) Also parenting, volleyball, video and board games.
Ah, yes. The darkness! Different types of people lament different types of studio darkness for different reasons. Before you committed yourself to our light-proof cave, where might we have found you?
I started in the games industry 5 years ago because I wanted to work on software I actually used. Other careers I discarded included teaching computer science to undergrads and writing software I didn’t use for medical offices and manufacturing companies.
I could argue that both medical and manufacturing software help us live our lives every day, but I know what you mean. It’s easier to become really excited about software that lets us play games. Did you always plan to find yourself a job that was related to your passion?
This was a hard question when growing up; when I asked people how they got to where they were, it sounded like they fell into their careers by chance. I think I wanted to be idle?
Well, you certainly strayed from that path. There are not a lot of idle hands at Bungie these days. We have skilled craftspeople hard at work on every discipline that goes into a game. Tell us how you learned the skills of your chosen trade. Care to recount your education for us?
I earned a Ph.D in computer science. My research topic was cheat prevention and scalable strategies for hosting on-line games, which has been, you know, relevant. I did learn a lot of handy computer science in academia too, but a lot more about intrinsic motivation.
Beg your pardon, Doctor Chambers! Thank you for your service in the war against cheaters. Is that how you instilled in Bungie the intrinsic motivation we needed to size you up as a potential member of our team?
I did research in on-line games specifically for an industry position, but Bungie was an inside job. My graduate school confederate had just been hired onto the Bungie networking team, and he convinced them that the office Feng Shui wouldn't be right without me.
Considering how often we rearrange the floorplan around here, Feng Shui is hardly a laughing matter. Before you could join our never-ending game of musical chairs (and desks), you had to survive a full day of interviews with Bungie people. Was that as hard for you as it has been for others?
I'm a nervous interviewee, so the hardest part was trying to hear the tiny voice of reason in the back of my brain over the blaring voice of panic in the front. Towards the end of the day I was just tired, so that made it hard in a different way.
At the end of that dreaded day, your progress bar as a candidate was full. Well done. What happens on the other side of that boss fight? Can you pick a day in our studio and tell us what you do?
Eat a bagel. Write code. Promote synergy. Check in code. Sit in darkness.
Promoting synergy is an important part of keeping a team this large focused on one objective. Is there something that we have done that made you feel at home as the member of a really big family?
The Pentathlon! That one day was the most fun I've ever had at work anywhere!
Ah, yes. Nothing like a little healthy competition to inspire us to band together. When we are not trying to etch our names onto the Pentathlon trophy, there are other progression systems to occupy us. For instance, is Bungie a place where you can get better at what you do? Is it hard to tackle new challenges and add them to your skillset?
I don’t have to try very hard; I work with an amazing team, and the work environment really promotes collaboration. For personal projects, I mess around with mobile development and recommender systems.
Ph.D’s in computer science can be rare, but there are a lot of people out there that would love to work alongside you. Short of commanding them to become a doctor of code, is there any advice you can share to help them realize their own dreams?
What worked for me was developing expertise in an industry area that I had a real passion for (eff cheaters). I think it's a good approach!
Let’s test your approach to this final question: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
(I object to those so I will rank my own):
For this role, Fervor is most important, then Mastery, then Bravery!
You totally cheated – and we were doing so well up to that point.
Despite his creative solution for that last scenario, we appreciate Chris taking a moment away from investment engineering to tell us his story. Don’t lose heart if you want to become one of his confederates, but can’t imagine yourself becoming a Doctor in an area of study. The backgrounds of our people are as diverse as the roles they play. Don’t take my word for it. The Breaking In
archive does a better job of making that case.