Thursday, April 8, 2010

8 Hour Interviews FTW!

Back from Boston, after my interview with 38 Studios. I signed an NDA before the whole process began, but I think it's legal to say that everything I saw is so OMFGAWESOME that if I get the position, my head will probably asplode and that will be the end of me.

During the interview(s), I couldn't help but think back to Jong's farewell post where he said he was shutting down his blog and focusing on his job search in the world of banking/finance. No, I'm not shutting down the blog, but one passage from his farewell post kept coming up in my head:

I'm still recovering from a really bad interview I had last week. The interviewer was a freakishly smart guy and spoke with a heavy Eastern European accent. I bet he used to build nuclear bombs for USSR and made a career change into quantitative finance after reading the testimonials on monster dot com.

Did he bust my balls?

Nope, he blew them into smithereens. The left nut kinda blew up right in its place. The right one shot off, ricocheted into the corner baseboard, and rolled under the table.

"Here," he said after kindly picking it up and dusting it off, "I believe this belongs to you."

I walked out of the room quivering. I haven't walked like that since I was circumcised in 4th grade.


To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was expecting the day to break down like. I figured I would be shown around the office, and then sit down with a few guys and go over the usual routine of "why did I want to there, what would I bring to the office, etc etc etc". Instead, I woke up at 6am the day of the interview to find a whirlwind pyramid of a schedule lined up for me.

I immediately began to sweat, and had to pee.

I got to the office before they even opened, and had to walk around a bit outside until people started to arrive. Once I got in, they apparently had no idea I was being interviewed today, and scrambled around to inform everyone. During that time, the GM and Creative Lead sat down in the lobby and casually destroyed me.

I was so nervous, because I wanted everything to work out so badly. I've never been flown across the country for an interview. I've had long distance phone interviews in Japanese, but it just isn't the same.

Anyway, there I was in the lobby, before the interview even started for real, and I was answering questions like "Why should we hire you?" with responses like "I think I can bring a lot of creativity to the team, and it's something I really want to do". The GM just looked at me (through me), and said "You're sitting here in the lobby with the Creative Lead and the General Manager, and the best you can come up with is that you THINK you can bring something to us, and you REALLY want the job? You're going to have to do better than that."

"I'm a hard worker, and I'm intelligent and creative!"

"Big deal. So is everyone that already works here."

"I CAN SHOOT LASER BEAMS OUT OF MY EYES (AND/OR ASS), AND I CAN PERFORM MIRACLES WHILE BLINDFOLDED AND UNDERWATER, DAMMIT!"

Just kidding. I didn't actually say that, although in retrospect, I probably should have.

Alas, retrospect. Hindsight is 20/20, and all that. I can think of a million things to say now that I'm back home in front of my keyboard, but on the spot I just wanted to jump up and choke everyone Homer/Bart Simpson style while screaming WHY YOU LITTLE, JUST GIMME THE JOB! YOU WON'T REGRET IT, I'M SUPER SRS!

I know what these guys were doing, and to be honest it worked. In a good way. They were trying to shake me up, and get me to come out of my shell. They knew I was being interviewed because 'I was that crazy guy that stood out in front of Blizzard' (and every single person henceforth reminded me that I was 'the crazy guy'), and they wanted to see more of that. Not squirming. I loosened up, and tried to put on an attitude of 'screw it, I can do this', and everything started going smoother.

Anyway. Eventually everything was ready, and I began the interview in earnest. The first set of guys were pretty unforgiving in the same manner, and I powered through it. They started getting easier as time went on, and I found myself actually answering many of the same questions over and over with each new session, so that by the end, I had pretty well refined my answers and could bust them out confidently. At the end of the day, I felt like it was going really well, in fact. The last session was with the GM again, and he basically brought it back to full circle. He's very unforgiving, but he's the man. It's his job to weed out flakes. I get that.

In the end, the full day session was not so much a endurance trial kind of thing, as a chance to meet as many of the people I would be working with, and give a bunch of them a chance to meet me. Everyone I met seemed super cool, and even the guys that rode me did it in a way that I understand was in an effort to try and suss out how I would fit in, not because they were egomaniacs going off on power trips or anything ridiculous.

The hardest part is knowing how the whole process went down, and wishing I could go in there again, today, and do it one more time for real. Interview 2.0, commence! At the end of each session, the people would ask me if I had any questions for them, and there was so much being covered that I couldn't think of anything on the spot. Now I would ask how much actual scripting the content designers engage in, how much influence they have over environment creation, whether more of their job is implementation of a larger vision of the Leads, or if Juniors such as myself would be tasked with actually coming up with the vision themselves.

One thing kept popping up in my mind, and that was the whole 'on the spot' thing, and how much significance it seemed to have, which to me felt odd. I've been known to listen to Hip Hop from time to time, and within that genre, there's an emphasis that sometimes gets put on rappers as to whether they can freestyle on the spot or not. To me, freestyling is neat, but I buy the final cut of the album. The takes that they do in the studio, where they sit down with their pencil and pad and practice until they get it perfect. Actors have a similar thing with improv. HERE'S A TOPIC, GO. To me, improv has its place, but I would rather watch Ben Kingsley in Ghandi than watch Ryan Styles fumble around with balloon animals trying to get a laugh. Game devs aren't making the game up as the players are logged in. They plan it out and execute the vision. Eddie Murphy can be cornered and told to make someone laugh, but RAW and Delirious were scripted performances. The level of polish, and flow from one joke to the next is apparent.

My design test and NWN2 module showed that I can premeditate and execute. I answered a few on-the-spot design challenges during the interview and felt like I handled them well, but the biggest feeling I got leaving the place was that when cornered, I was scrambling for intelligent answers (or worse, drawing a blank, and being painfully aware that I was doing so). I feel like I work better with a chance to refine my answers. I ALWAYS edit blog entries after hitting publish. I'm adding this section right now in the edit window. There's a point when a post is done, and I can walk away, but it's rarely on the very first take.

They'll be in touch next week, and even if I didn't get the position in Boston, I can still chalk it up as a learning experience. My NWN2 module is complete, and part of my portfolio, and I can whore it out to any other prospects that I pursue. Now I have an idea what to expect, interview-wise, and can go in guns blazing.

I would hate for all of this with 38 to end up just being a lesson in how to interview better, though.

I was sincere when I said at the end that given a choice today between Blizz and them, that I would take them hands down. Getting in a smaller office working on their first major project is such a huge opportunity... I hope this wasn't my one chance, or that they could see past my initial hesitation and recognize it was caution at not wanting to screw it up, rather than just being sheepish in general.


At any rate, we'll see how it goes. Stay tuned.

26 comments:

Hatch said...

That is a great way to interview. You must have been wiped at the end.

I like to think I'd be able to confidently answer stuff like that right off the bat, but god knows I've choked at interviews before.

Anyway, go go Crazy Guy!

Sephrenia said...

If I was a recruiter, I'd give you a job. Someone with as much passion, innovation and determination as you have counts for a lot more than quilifications, experience and all that sort of stuff.

I've been a lurker of yours for a long time. I've been watching you for a few years actually - since the NotAddicted days (*blush*). Finally I've been prompted enough to actually write something to you - I wish you all the very best!

I also hope they read your blog and notice the things that you "should" have said when you were there!

Please keep your lurkers updated - we're rooting for you :)

Cap'n John said...

If they know you're "the crazy guy that camped out Blizzard's HQ" then they're aware of your Blog so they'll read this (and you, you cunning bastard ;) you're aware of this, too) so there's a small chance they'll take this entry into consideration as well.

Don't be disheartened by your experience because honestly, if they didn't think you were cut out to work for them they wouldn't have bothered to interview you in the first place.

Good luck, you crazy Blizzard Camper ;)

Mike said...

I've interviewed many potential software developers in my time. I used to think the same thing regarding the on the spot vs actual job contradiction. The problem with interviewing is that there is no easy way to test the persons real abilities during the interview, so most interviews are a test of how well you can bullshit your way through a tough moment. This is, unfortunately, a bad way to test potential software creators. I have worked with many people who passed the on the spot interview tests, yet didnt have the proper software programming knowledge to do their job. I even devised mini tests to use during interviews that later turned out to be a very efficient way to weed out the pretenders.

Your NWN2 it useful, but they have to consider that you may have had a friend create it for you. I hope they asked you content related questions like, "Whats your game, and why? Whats your favorite part of it and why?" Stuff like that would be a good way to determine if youre going to be good at making more content.

Tesh said...

Things change once you're in the door. They like you or you'd never have made it that far. Interviewing is as much (if not more) about who you are as what you bring to the team. You really can't be anything but yourself, and it's silly to try.

Go, go, crazy guy! Make Blizzard regret letting you slip away. ;)

SirFWALGMan said...

GL. Boston is a great town. I have lived here all my life. It is a "small city" feel. Meaning it has a lot of culture and night life but is not overcrowded to the extent of like an LA or NYC.

gnomeaggedon.net said...

Whoah Ixo
... Hang on, I was about to burst into rhyme...

That's awesome and they sound like a great bunch if they are going to take the time from the top to pump your passion.

Glad your reputation proceeds you... If nothing else they have realised your brand of crazy doesn't involve a big coat in a park...

Interviews, exams they are unrealistic windows into a persons knowledge, but often they are the only windows. In your case you get to lay down the portfolio as well.

I know what my decision would be, hopefully they reach the same one.

Anonymous said...

Those guys are clowns.
But good luck!

gehrig38 said...

This much I know. You were in the Studio and interviewing which means the team has ALREADY put major time and effort into your potential hire. To me that's a HUGE rubber stamp of approval, even if you do NOT get hired.
Honest to goodness I have literally NO input into hiring designers, nor should I, but I will say this.
Whether you are hired or not you should be beyond proud of what you've managed to accomplish. Dude, we're a start up. We spent the money to fly you out, put you in a nice hotel, transport you around, fly you back. Our budget is our life:)
That ALL happened because you are passionate, that's an UNTEACHABLE SKILL!
You stood out in front of Blizz, as the crazy guy, and you did it for one reason. You love games.
You HAVE to love games to make them in my opinion.
Whatever happens I sincerely appreciate you giving my team time out of your life, and I hope this works out.
Curt

Marz said...

I know it's not a huge team, but the very fact that they used precious director, designer and GM (!!) time to interview you, tells me that they're quite serious about hiring you.

Good luck on the result, and remember if they don't hire you, it's their loss!

Anonymous said...

If you want to do better at interviews read a book about how to interview. You don't even have to buy one, go to the library and check one out. The people who write those books are experts, learn from them.

Dan said...

I'm not sure ranting about World of Warcraft is a particularly good idea for an interview opening spiel.

Stabs said...

Best of luck with the application.

You've caught the attention of the F13 boards:

http://forums.f13.net/index.php?topic=8643.0

but don't be too offended by the cynicism, bitterness is the new black over there.

I think you would be a fantastic hire for them, hope you get the job.

Anonymous said...

Sorry bud, the job is not yours. Here's why:

"At the end of each session, the people would ask me if I had any questions for them, and there was so much being covered that I couldn't think of anything on the spot."

Interview 101. You always ask questions. All those wonderful questions you now have, tells me only one thing. You did zero prep. You didn't take time to find out about the company. You didn't research. Passion and ambition mean nothing if you can't back it up. A lot of us "hope" for dream jobs. Those that are truly interested make it their business to know every aspect, every in and out, always questions, always ideas and innovations that you can present "on the spot". Companies aren't really looking for the perfect answer to an interview question, they want you to come in flowing with ideas, questions, they are honestly looking for YOU to take control of that interview.

Keep that in mind for next time and you'll have a shot.

Sorry I can't be more positive but this was indeed a lesson for you and you'll exceed every expectation next time. I know it. :)

Rog said...

If you don't get this job, keep at it. I don't mean just keep up with sending out applications, but keep designing. Dig in and create more of your own content (NWN2 or otherwise). Create.

That's your best evidence that you can in fact do this and do it well. Designing and implementing.

Hatch said...

Two things:

1) Ixo, I always edit posts after putting them up (but usually for spelling or grammar mistakes that I didn't catch the first time). Can you label new parts as you put them up so I don't have to search the post so see what's new every time the post refreshes in my rss reader?

2) How come the really arrogant, condescending comments are always from Anonymous? I know it's the internet, but seriously, have some gonads. You read a book on interviewing, good for you. Ixo spent that time making an NWN mod. I wonder which of those two uses of time is more valuable to an employer?

Dan said...

@ Hatch:

I assume (in reference to the anon posts) you are talking about the "Sorry bud, the job is not yours. Here's why:" post?

To which I would say, I'm sorry, but it's just a harsh reality. Someone who doesn't ask questions is someone who wants to be good enough, not someone who knows they are.

Larísa said...

It feels a bit familiar. People tryint to tell you about the harsh truth and all that stuff. Well if you had listened to the nay-sayers you wouldn't have made it the way to the interview. I'm glad you never let them let you down. Just keep following your vision and your passion and your intuition and I know you'll find the gold at the feet of the rainbow. Because it IS there. Maybe you did it this time. I hope so of all of my heart, I really do. (And btw I've felt EXACTLY as crappy as you did after those interviews when I've been through the same process AND got the job anyway). But ofc there's always the other option. Maybe they'll miss the opportunity to get you. And if they do the loss is theirs as someone else said.
Don't overanalyze it, don't blame yourself. You've done your very best and I know it will click for you with some company one day. It's bound to happen.

I've always believed in you Ixo and I still do. Thanks for sharing this process so honest and open. It's a fantastic journey you're doing and I'm honored to see glimpses of it.

And by the way thanks for looking after my little inn! I'm just home again. I caught a bad cold and I'm pretty exhausted after the journey. I'll open up the inn again asap, but need a little rest first...

But I just HAD to comment on this one. It couldn't wait. Your future position means so much more to me than my own blog.

Big cheers from your loyal fan and supporter - regardless of if the sun is shining or it's raining

Anonymous said...

Your situation struck a chord with me as someone who's been through a number of interviews lately (and choking at times). I think being nervous is just a sign that the job means a lot to you. If you were super calm and gave all the "right" answers and did all the "right" things (like asking the "right" questions), that might just be an indication that you were very rehersed.

They are not looking for a talented interviewer, they are looking for a talented game designer. Hopefully they can see past any inadequacies in your interviewing techniques and focus on the important points - like would you be a good game designer and how badly do you want to work there.

Shilgrod said...

Way to follow your dreams, put me down for any and all betas. and how bad could it have gone if Curt Schilling is commenting on your blog, who's next Todd McFarlane?

Wolfshead said...

Thanks for the interesting article and insight into the 38 Studios hiring process.

An 8 hour interview was excessive. If they couldn't ascertain if you were a good fit for their company in a few hours then there is something wrong at 38 Studios. There is no need to put someone on a treadmill all day and hope that they fall off with a barrage of questions designed to trip you up.

An interview this long demonstrates insecurity on their part and tells me more about 38 Studios than it does about your competency as a potential game designer.

Here's a tip: always ask the interviewer(s) questions. Do not wait for them to ask you or give you permission. Doing that demonstrates confidence. You are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Turn the tables on them as much as possible. Take the initiative. Believe it or not people like it when they do all the talking and are allowed to expound. Be a good listener.

Also don't be afraid to politely and thoughtfully disagree with the interviewers. Again this shows confidence and maturity. Every day in the industry you'll be at design meetings and to earn your paycheck you'll need to be able to shoot down and critique bad ideas.

From what I understand your main problem is that you have no employment experience in the industry. With all due respect you are one of millions of passionate WoW fans that thinks they know how to design games.

Passion is no substitute for genuine talent. Come back in 3 years after working 16 hour days, working weekends to meet milestones, after you've gained 40 pounds living on Mountain Dew and delivery pizza and you barely see your wife and family then we'll see how much "passion" you have.

Oh and by the way here's a tip: beware of video game companies that claim they are looking for "passionate" people. That's a code word for people with no lives who won't mind working for free and working ungodly hours.

My advice to you is to get an entry level job in the industry and prove yourself. You need to start working on your resume before you can expect to land a job in the MMO industry. Also, it will give you a good idea if you really want to work in this industry. You may just find out that it's not as glamorous as you think it is.

As far as making a MMO that is better than WoW. You need to be able to prove it. Anyone can make this claim. I'd like to see some substantive articles on this blog that outline the defects of WoW or the MMO industry in general and concrete examples of how they can be fixed, overcome and improved upon.

As Blizzard Lead Designer Jeffery Kaplan said, having a blog is a double-edged sword if you are a prospective applicant to a MMO company.

Besides blogs are pretty much meaningless as a meaningful indicator of how well you'd work in the industry, how you can get along with people, the ability to make milestones, etc.

While beating WoW is an admirable goal, the relevant question is this: what is the goal of 38 Studios as far as their MMO is concerned? Where do *they* see themselves in the grand scheme of a MMO marketplace where Blizzard is the dominant force.

You as a prospective game designer have to position yourself to help fulfill the goals of the company you are applying for. You need to be able to demonstrate you have a track record of quantifiable skill sets that can meet the needs of the company.

I wish you all the best and I hope you get the job. I'd be happy to help you via email if you need advice. Good luck :)

Ixobelle said...

@wolf:

to be honest, it wasn't one big 8 hour interview, maybe you didn't see the whole post or read the part about me answering the same questions?

Rather than take a huge chunk or everyone's time, I took a small chunk of many different people's time over the course of a single workday.

With all due respect you are one of millions of passionate WoW fans that thinks they know how to design games.

and 999,990 of those people will never do anything about it. The other 9 will try and fail, and perhaps I'm the one that gets in. Maybe not. But as mentioned, they don't just have all day to visit with everyone. Obviously what I showed was worth a closer look or they wouldn't have bothered.

I'd like to see some substantive articles on this blog that outline the defects of WoW or the MMO industry in general and concrete examples of how they can be fixed, overcome and improved upon.

I'm going to politely say you might not be up to date with the archive. It goes back a ways.



Anyway. What I REALLY don't want this to become is some analysis of 38 and their interviewing process. I simply had an interview with them, and was excited, and wrote about it. This is my blog, it's what I do here. It's no secret they're hiring, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that they're interviewing as well.

This wasn't based on some napkin I scrawled my name on and wrote CALL ME XOXO HEART HEART IXO. I busted my ass and turned out stuff worthy of a second look. Most Anonymous posters CBF to even type a name in the "Name/URL" field of the comment box, but will happily inform me at length why I won't get the job. These same people insisted I would never get interviews in the first place. When I get a job, they'll insist I'll be fired shortly thereafter.

Welcome to the internet, enjoy your stay.

Zzzzz

Coloradoraider said...

You've been linked in a few places, this one by Curt himself ( http://www.fohguild.org/forums/mmorpg-general-discussion/40053-38-studios-copernicus-mercury-other-stuff-75.html#post1672965 )

Good luck, good to see some places recognize passion as a hiring worthy quality!

Chris said...

@Wolf

The point of the 8-hour interview is to for everyone on the design team to meet him. Ideally, it would be better if there were 3 meetings or less with a roundtable of people, instead of all those meetings stretched with individuals. Probably a scheduling issue.

"Passionate" can be a code word for what you described, but studios are actually looking for real genuine passionate designers. You want to love games to love making games. Usually the entry level new hires are super excited to be there they pump out content and new/fresh ideas like crazy, and can really show you how burned out and tired the rest of your team is.

And if you didn't think this interview was for an entry-level position, you're kidding yourself. He probably would be doing data entry or spawning for 6 months at least.

And it seems like your interview didn't go so well. Tell them your IDEAS, tell them what's wrong with current MMOs and what they could do to make them better. Ask to see their game, then give them feedback on it. Make them feel like not having you would hurt their game.

That said, ideas are a dime a dozen. Everyone has ideas. It's doing all the grunt work and campaigning (winning hearts and minds on the team) in pushing them to fruition that matters.

scraphammer said...

I've been reading your stuff since you posted on notaddicted, and it's all great.

I wish you luck. You seem to me like you have a hell of a lot to offer to the game industry (which imo needs a few fresh ideas anyway). The fact that you had the shear willpower to get up of your metaphorical couch and pursue your dream is inspiring.

Kyff said...

So what happened? After a month they surely let you know.