Q. Who are you and what do you do?
A. I’m Joe Spataro, and I help in the quest for global domination as a Technical Designer in Animation. You’re probably asking yourself “What is that?” The simple answer is that I serve as a bridge between The Three Blades: the disciplines of Programming, Art, and Game Design. I work with the Animation Engineers to develop the animation system, with the Animators to ensure their content looks as best as it can in the game, and with the Designers to ensure the animations are serving the gameplay needs. This is my dream job, because I get to do a little bit of everything; authoring animations as test content, driving the design of characters, and occasionally writing code or scripts.
Q. That does sound like quite the mix. Does that desire for variety play out in your personal hobbies and inspirations?
A. I’m a major consumer of information in its various forms. What I mean to say is that I play tons of games, watch tons of movies, and read as much as I can. Not only entertainment media, but massive amounts of educational material, like philosophy, math, etc. I also love cooking, hiking, and I just took up boxing. When I’m not doing all of that fun stuff, I’m thinking about it, and how it relates to games. I find the reflections between Nature and Mathematics to be pretty inspiring. If you’ve taken even a cursory look at the recurrences of the Fibonacci sequence in Nature, you’ll be inspired as well, I’m sure.
Q. Inspired by the mathematics of design. Seems very fitting. Speaking of natural design, complete the following sentence as you would have at twelve years of age: When I grow up, I want to be a…
A. Special Effects Makeup Artist. The year was 1991, and I was way into Fangoria magazine and zombie movies. Then, I saw Terminator 2 and I was blown away by the CG special effects. I knew this was going to be the future so I decided that I wanted to go to an art college to prepare myself. Then, in 1993 I entered high school, Doom hit the shelves, and I was hooked. I spent way more time playing games than studying, and consequently, by the end of high school I knew I wanted to make video games.
Q. Shirking your studies must have made your High School Guidance Counselor quite happy. What occupation did they suggest that you pursue?
A. I don’t even remember. I knew what I wanted to do and I wasn’t going to listen to anyone. Looking back, it was a pretty lame way to think. Although, I’m extremely happy now, so maybe it wasn’t.
Q. Did what you want to do include earning a college degree?
A. No. Maybe about a year before I would have graduated, I got a job as a Game Designer, which was my goal. Sometimes I regret leaving before I finished, but it hasn’t really affected me in a negative way. I can always go back, but I prefer to move forward.
Q. How did that forward progress lead you to make contact with Bungie?
A. I saw the Technical Designer in Animation position on the Bungie jobs page, and I felt as if it was my destiny to work here. The job description spoke directly to me. It was uncanny how perfect I felt I was for the job. I wasn’t sold yet though, because I was quite happy at my previous company. It wasn’t until I met Chris, one of the mission designers on Halo 3, at a pub following a long day of lectures at GDC that I knew I wanted to apply. I asked him if he was happy at Bungie and without any hesitation or breaking of eye contact he proclaimed “I love it!” He told me about the culture here, and about how hard everyone works, and then I knew that I wanted to work here so I applied through the website.
Q. What did you bring with you to the interview loop?
A. I brought my trusty Moleskine and a pen, so that I could take notes on what my interviewers asked me, how I answered, what I asked them, how they answered, and what I liked and didn’t like about it. In an interview, you are constantly being judged on what you are trying to communicate, and so it is wise to take note of everything you can and reflect on it so that you can improve.
Q. Is there one moment in the interview that was deserving of a special note in your Moleskine?
A. The most memorable moment was that my interview ran long, and I was going to miss my plane home if I didn’t rush out of the studio. Seeing the exacting precision of HR springing into action to check if there were any later flights, arrange for immediate car service, and calling the hotel to check me out made me realize how on-the-ball Bungie is at every level. It also made me feel pretty important. If that wasn’t enough, it turned out that the car service wasn’t going to arrive in time to get me to the airport, and just at that frantic moment, Harold, the Studio Manager, was leaving for the night and offered to take me. He calmly drove me to the airport. I was blown away.
For me, the whole process was made up of five phases. The resume/cover letter email, the Initial HR phone contact, the phone interview, the design test, and the onsite interview. At each of these phases, I knew what I had to do to move forward to the next phase, so it was only a matter of executing. The onsite interview phase is made up of smaller interviews by key people from various departments. It is like a game, where every word you say represents a player choice from the pool of all words in the English language. The more things you say that convince your interviewer to hire you, the better you are doing at the game.
Q. Using that pool of words, describe what it’s like to work at Bungie in one sentence.
A. To work at Bungie is to be a cow, or a bee, in the land of milk and honey.
Q. Any advice for aspiring applicants who want to partake in the sweetness?
1. Develop a command of the English language, for it is the door through which all other doors are opened to you.
2. Whatever goal you are trying to reach, whatever dream you are trying to realize; formulate a written plan made up of smaller steps, then prioritize and execute! Always be thinking about it, always be working towards it, and never give up.
3. Understand that you are always only seeing a partial truth which is part of a whole truth. While you see that it is day, it is night somewhere else. However, day eventually becomes night. So it is with all opposite points of view, so argument of them is fruitless. Strive for objectivity, eliminate egocentricity.
4. Much gathers more, and loss leads to greater loss. Focus on the short term wins to remain optimistic.
5. There is a constant battle for your attention. Focus only on what is important to the task at hand or that which furthers your goals.
Deep, meditative stuff, Joe. And valuable, practical insight as well. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us.
As always, if you think you've got the goods to earn a sup from the milk and honey filled chalice, check out Jobs
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