Back to Breaking In this week, we've got Bungie Tools Engineer Tristan Root ready to talk about how he landed his job at Bungie. Turns out all it took was a ton of persistence, development of a 2-d action shooter, and a serious bout with a nasty strain of influenza. If you've been told you won't ever get a job in the gaming industry and you're not willing to take no for an answer, read on to get the inside scoop from a programmer you'll definitely be able to identify with.
Q. Who are you and what do you do?
A. Tristan Root. I’m a tools engineer. I write PC programs that allow the artists and designers to hook up game content and I also write programs to keep our artists and designers from spending too much time doing busy work, which ultimately allows them to spend more time being creative.
Q. When you're not busy hooking up artists and designers with engineering tools, what hobbies do you spend your own free time checking out?
A. Winemaking, Photography, Snowboarding, Programming (yes, I program for work and as a hobby) and Video Games (also for work and as a hobby).
Q. Complete the following sentence as you would have at twelve years of age: When I grow up, I want to be a…
A. Artist…and now I’m a Programmer – the exact opposite personality type. Imagine that. Sometimes I still pretend I’m an artist with my late night Forge sessions. Or I’ll even change the background color of buttons in the tools that I write to settle any artistic urges that I have. It really doesn’t take much.
Q. Did you do what it takes to earn a college degree?
A. Yes, a BS in Computer Science from the University of Washington.
Q. And how did you first make contact with Bungie?
A. It was the summer of 2005. I was a college intern at Microsoft desperate to break into the games industry. I told my recruiter that I wanted to work in the games industry and he told me, “It’s not going to happen.” Those were his exact words. His reasoning was that there were too many people trying to get a job working on games, and that I had little to no chance to make myself stand out among the crowd. Obviously, my recruiter wasn’t going to help me, so I took upon myself to make contact with several game companies internal and external to Microsoft. One of which that was internal to Microsoft at the time - Bungie.
I got a Bungie Engineer’s email addresses out of the Microsoft directory, Charlie Gough. I didn’t know it at the time, but Charlie is one of Bungie’s top dog lead engineers. I asked him if I could come in for an informational, which is an informal interview where the interviewee gets the chance to ask lots of questions. He told me that Bungie gets too many requests from people to come see the studio and that it wasn’t something he’d be up for doing, but he would be happy to answer any questions that I might have about Bungie or the games industry in general. Oh, and he also asked me to tell him a little about myself (ha ha, yeah right, like I was going to tell him “a little” about myself).
I originally typed up a three page e-mail that I was able to trim down to about a page and a half. Most of the email contained information about little programming projects that I worked on in my free time. And, I also had a handful of questions for him at the end. His next e-mail was short and to the point, something along the lines of “let’s meet up for lunch”.
So I got to sit down with Charlie and pick his brain for around two hours, which included a tour of the studio. I still have a vivid memory of what it felt like to have the adrenaline pulsating through my veins from the excitement and nervousness that I felt at that meeting. It was a critical life changing event for me.
Q. Sounds pretty intense. Is there one moment in the interview process that really sticks out in your memory?
A. Well, not so much for my interview, but rather my pre-interview. Charlie sent me a couple programming questions to work on at home as a sort of screening process to see if my programming skills were the right caliber for the job. He said it would be good if I could get the answers back to him by the end of the week. The day that I received the e-mail with the questions, I had stayed home from work due to a sore throat. When I got the e-mail I was thinking, “Sweet, I have all day to work on this!”
By the end of that day I had a 103 degree temperature, chills, nausea, headache, sweats…I had caught the flu worse than I can ever remember. I spent three days sleeping for the majority of the day, and at the times that I was awake I tried my hardest to push through the questions he sent me. It was like chewing on glass; a slow and painful process. I still wasn’t fully recovered when I sent in all my answers, but apparently they were good enough to get me an interview!
Q. So once you scored an interview, did you bring anything along with you to the interview to make sure you nailed it?
A. It was nearly two years after my first meeting with Charlie when I visited to the studio again, this time for a formal interview. One of his bits of advice for me was to have something to show, a demo of sorts. So in the year prior, I had been working on a little game on and off that I called Galaxy Rain. It was a multithreaded, 2d-action shooter with draw-line programmer graphics that would make almost any artist cry. I had sent that to my interviewers prior to my interview (I think I had six people interview me total), and it was a hot topic of discussion in just about each of my interviews. It was great because it made me feel like was in control of my interview, which really helped settle the lingering nervousness that I had.
Q. Obviously Galaxy Rain and your lack of lingering nervousness did the trick. Describe what it’s like to work at the studio, now that you've landed the gig.
A. Being a tools engineer at Bungie is like eating at a buffet. You get lots of choices for what programs you’re going to work on, but it’s really best to go for whatever gives the studio the biggest bang for the buck. And you can always go back for seconds!
Q. Any advice for aspiring applicants looking to get their fill?
A. Don’t expect someone else to hold your hand and walk you into a position in the games industry. You have to be self motivated and assertive. Also to pass on what I was told, “Have something to show.”
Big thanks to Tristan for stepping up and showing off his own skills this week. We like getting hooked up with the tools to help us do our jobs too. In this case, these tips and tricks should offer up some valuable insight for anyone looking to land a role in the gaming industry, regardless of what your recruiter might have told you. If you're ready to prove the naysayers wrong, and you're willing to work through a flu in order to earn a seat at a sweet, succulent buffet, you should check out our Jobs Page
. We're hiring.