Posts Tagged career

Career Shift

I accepted a job offer today as a game designer/developer from the R&D side, for digital Magic products.  Whew!  It’s been an interesting journey, through working on the construction side of digital games, but I think I’ll be happier on the design side.  I have already been slowly working my way into that sphere, and have come to realize that I am not as happy implementing other people’s games in code anymore.  Well… it’s more complicated than that, I think.

I spoke before about how one of my flaws is I don’t like being out of control.  This applies to my work as a programmer as well.  When I see something that I have input on, I give my input – no problem there.  And in many cases over the years, on projects concerning the Magic website, or our card database tool Gatherer, or even on some of our numerous community web applications, my input was heard, considered and added to the mix.  Great!  But I have found that as a code monkey (so to speak), it’s not really my job to define the projects from the get-go.  That’s what I’m excited to move into doing, and although I’ll miss the immediacy of feedback that programming, especially web programming, delivers, I won’t miss it that much. 😉  I may also still exercise my coding skills from time to time, in personal projects and maybe in simple prototypes.

I definitely feel happier, but that could be simple giddiness for change.  I am interested to see if my raw happiness increases the amount that I expect it will – I’ll have to keep (unconscious) tabs on it.

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Gifts and Potential

In his book Art of Game Design, Jesse Schell discusses the difference between the minor gift and the major gift for something.  The minor gift is when somebody has a knack for something – if you have an ear for music, or are a mathematical savant, or what-have-you.   The major gift is when you love something so much that you dedicate yourself fully to it – you make yourself the best because you want to do it.  I found this quite inspiring, but I also thought it had some remarkable parallels to my thought process regarding experience vs. potential.

Back in the day, when I tried to convince my parents to let me do something (and especially when I wanted another chance to do something at which I had clearly already failed – like saving money or spending it wisely!), they would often say that experience had shown them it was a bad idea.  Aha, I would say, that’s true, but I think you need to factor in my potential to rise above and do it better this time!  This balance between someone’s actual experience, and what you might judge their potential to do it in the future, is at the core of judging a person’s ability to do new things.

I personally value potential much higher than experience.  To me, most tasks are such that an intelligent person can learn to do them well – experience is then merely convenient (it is a shortcut to know the job will probably be done well… less risk, and probably faster), whereas potential is essential.  This is most important for “new” things – things for which experience is rare (think cutting edge technology).  I think the job market is becoming more aligned with my thinking on this as well – one of the most important factors is whether a person can adapt and learn quickly, and not whether they have done it before.

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Pros and Cons: Game Designer

Doing game design has always been something I really enjoyed spending my free time on… so it must be a great thing to consider for a career, right?*  The role as I would like to pursue it is “Generate ideas and refine them into playable game experiences, for [a] given target audience(s).”  At Wizards, currently, I am spending a fair bit of time helping out with TCG Game Design, specifically for Magic, which has its own detail-driven and schedule-specific goals.  In the past, I have already done some indie board game design (and “development,” which for games means final game design –  iterating for fun and balance) and even some simple online game components.

* – The unspoken “gotcha!” here is that when you make something you enjoy as a hobby or free-time-escape into a full-blown job, it can lose the excitement and become mundane.

I’m going to try to identify the core phrases for pros and cons this time, with more detail when necessary:


  • Creative. Game design is, at its core, finding a way to give a great experience to the player.  Because there are so many different possible experiences in person-to-person and person-t0-game interaction, the sky is the limit (or maybe not even that!)
  • Problem Solving.
  • Hands-on.
  • Visible, positive impact on audience. When people have fun with a game I helped create, I am very happy.
  • Fun to do. Similarly, the day-to-day work involved in game design is both interesting (see: problem solving) and fun (see: hands-on).
  • Collaborative.


  • Everyone’s a critic. Although game design is a combination of science and art, unlike some more technical positions like web development, usually everyone (even non-designers) have opinions and will voice them [sometimes angrily!]  This can be frustrating.
  • Not grand scope. Unlike research into new and practical science, giving people fun game experiences won’t usually change the world.  It can certainly make the world a better place, but not the grand extent of change I can imagine myself being part of.
  • Not for it’s own sake. Being a game designer means not just making good games – it means making successful games.  Being judged by whether a product (e.g. a game that people buy) is monetarily successful is not really something I enjoy – tolerate, yes, but we’re talking about ideal career path here!
  • Lots of meetings.  Unlike writing code or doing work in a lab (although to some extent, those tasks are also collaborative), there’s a lot of game design that can only be done in collaboration with others.  If some of those others involved in the process are frustrating to work with, tough cookies.  Note that collaboration is both a pro and a con here!  Wacky!

I’m sure I’ll think of more, this is just a start.

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When Tory asked me to help out creating a “stack” (themed puzzle day) for Todd, I was happy to help.  It ended up taking a loooot of time, but was obviously enjoyed by everyone… because who doesn’t love spending the day hanging out with people doing the fun kind of problem-solving and role-playing?  Is there a market for the creation of puzzle-day type experiences?  By market, I mean like, actually starting a business dedicated to providing such experiences to paying customers on behalf of nonpaying groups.

Tim, Molly and I have talked a little about this, and I’ve had on-and-off discussions before with Nate and Todd about it.  The general idea behind such a business would be to find venues where people would enjoy this sort of thing (off the top of my head, I think conventions, multi-day conferences, team-building type retreats and BIG parties would be interested) and then appropriately define a cost-to-complexity ratio for the kinds of puzzles we would do.

I think the process for a single customer would be:

  • Customer comes to us, interested in an experience for the customer’s group.
  • We nail down an appropriate theme (maybe themeless) with them.
  • We make sure there’s enough time scheduled to develop all the pieces and do setup on location, and then spend a week or two (or longer) generating the pieces of the puzzles and all the auxiliary, important “immersion” stuff: props, costumes, actors, etc.
  • Do the work – this is the fun part!
  • Drive a mobile puzzle setup vehicle to the site, and do setup in time for the activities to start.

At Caltech, stacks were generally teams of no more than 8, organized by 1-3 people in their spare time over months.  I imagine the logistics are crazy difficult but solvable for something like 10 teams of 8 (a huge retreat or open-attendence convention stack), organized by 3-5 people working full-time for weeks.

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Pros and Cons: Web Developer

One of the possible career paths I could take (continue on, really) is that of a web developer – the role is “write code and implement design to create an integrated experience on the web.”  At Wizards, currently, my job is to implement other people’s designs (with some feedback from me) and to help guide the creation of the integrated experience… but mostly just to get it up and running.

I am going to consider my idealized web developer position as one that is more involved in design feedback and one that is also more involved in the planning of the experience.  So, for example, if there were an upcoming site design that I was a part of, I would want to sit in on (and provide useful suggestions) during planning phases and then join the designer and business owner in talking through the implementation of the UI for the site design.

Whew!  So, what are the pros and cons of this idealized (maybe hybridized) web developer position?  (This is probably not a complete list — I will be making a page that lists the career paths I might take that collects the below pros/cons and adds to them!)


  • Web development has an instant feedback component that is very enjoyable.  I write code and can immediately view the effects and synthesis with the graphic design in a web browser.
  • I like the problem solving aspect of web development – there is a very tight connection between solving problems and getting the job done.
  • Compared to game or application development, the turnaround is much quicker which means project adaptability is higher.  I appreciate being able to leverage my skills to tackle problems “on the fly” as it were, in response to seeing people use my solutions.
  • It’s mostly “make your own hours” in that the primary focus is “get the job done by this date,” not “get the job done in the office between 9 and 5.”  I like that flexibility.
  • I enjoy working with “cutting edge technology” because I find it challenging and exciting.  By its nature, work involving the Internet is often at that edge.


  • Most web development I have done *feels* trivial in the grand scheme of things.  By that, I mean I do not feel I am making a large positive impact on the world by doing web development.  This is in contrast to other things I could see myself doing that would feel more like making a large positive impact – things like teaching, research science, or law/political/nonprofit/charity work.  So, I don’t feel it is overall very rewarding personally.
  • I don’t like how often a web developer is forced to work on a project that is content-uninteresting.  I’m not sure how many jobs there are where you don’t have this component (forced to work on something you don’t like), but for example, a game designer is going to be making games – all of which more tightly share an aspect (in essence, designing fun) than the aspect that websites share (in essence, they exist on the web).
  • I don’t find it particularly challenging in the abstract; for me, the interesting challenges are in the specific content and not the specific implementations.  This ties back to the previous concern, since if I don’t get to choose my work, I will often be required to do work that I don’t find challenging.
  • I don’t like that oftentimes decisions are made upstream of development that impact developers’ ability to problem solve, without consulting developers.  The two ways this gets resolved (time is wasted changing those decisions, or the decision is upheld thus reducing the effective number of solutions) are both frustrating.

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On Utopia

This post attempts to clarify my I-hate-money position and also shed some light on my philosophically-driven career plans.

Back when I was in the summer after high school, I worked with my dad at his company in San Jose.  Since at the time, we lived south of the Santa Cruz mountains in Aptos, CA, we would take the nearly hour-long drive together as a carpool.  During these drives, we talked about some philosophy, and got into a discussion about money.

Now personally, I am an idealist, so I have never let feasibility stop me from dreaming up scenarios.  One thing that really bothers me about traditional economies is that there are haves (people with wealth or the capability of generating it) and have-nots (people without those means).  There are a lot of good things about economy – specifically, providing comparable incentives and allowing specialization – but to me, the cost is too high.  I would prefer a world where everyone had what they wanted.  Of course, we can’t have that world as long as the goods and services people want are scarce – meaning, resources are limited.

So why not remove scarcity?  What would it take?  This was the crux of my discussion with my father, and over time I came up with the following plan:

  • Get humanity onto a power source system that provides far more power than we consume now.  The probable answer is nuclear fusion, the kind of power that stars use, since it is the second most efficient form of energy production (matter-antimatter collision is the first) and it would provide power for all of civizilation for millions of years at very little resource cost to the Earth.  And that’s why, around the time I was having these discussions with my dad, I decided I wanted to learn Physics and go into nuclear fusion research and development.
  • Use that power to fuel new technologies – specifically, space colonization, matter replication (a la Star Trek) and automated/efficient disbursement of human necessities.
  • The logical conclusion is that humanity would be freed from working toward survival, and instead could engage in enrichment activities exclusively.  And also that all members of humanity would be equal insofar as all basic needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) would be provided to all individuals.

Honestly, I hate money only because it purely represents economy, and economy exists because of scarcity.  However, as long as we live in a normal, scarcity-bound society, I am forced to obey its rules and “work hard for the money” ♫.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Would your “utopia” be different?

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