Sunday, April 29, 2012

Two Months Later...

This weekend marks 2 months since my last day on the EQ2 team. As I posted on Facebook that day:

They don't warn you when you get hired to work on an awesome MMO like EQ2 that leaving the job isn't like quitting McDonald's; it's like ripping out your heart and stomping on it! But today is my last day on the EQ2 team and it's been nothing but the best times, the best of co-workers, and the best of players, all of whom I'll miss ridiculously much.

On the day I wrote my resignation letter, I ended up bawling my eyes out on the shoulder of my long-suffering ex-boyfriend, to the extent that a lady who passed by as I was crying into my lunch saw my tears and misheard something I said and thought my pet dog had died.  When I explained that no, I quit my job, she looked at me as if I was a bit crazy; but my ex (also being a game dev) understood.  On my last day at SOE I was so sad, I couldn't even manage to stop by and say goodbye to Smed or Smokejumper or several others because I knew I'd just dissolve in tears and be unable to stop.

As most know, I was an EQ and then EQ2 player before being a developer; now I'm back to being a player again, and still logging in regularly to check out the new content and chat with friends both old and new.  Of course I never stopped playing while I was working on the game, but now folks know I'm the former dev known as Domino, whereas before I was just another person in the crafting and homeshow channels.  So I've spent the last 2 months trying -- and I think succeeding -- to reassure the crafters and the home decorators that the world is not in fact ending with my departure, that the game is in excellent hands under Windstalker and Smokejumper, and that EQ2 is still the best, most content-rich MMO out there and will continue to be for a long, long time.  (I am clearly a little bit biased on that last point of course, but I think you can make a pretty good objective argument nonetheless when you look at the wide variety of gameplay options, the independently leveled crafting system, the amazing house decoration options, and just plain 7+ years worth of content!  And did I mention the tradeskill questlines and the house items?  Two of my personal pet projects of course so they must be awesome.)

Despite being sad, I don't regret my decision to go learn new things; it's a fact of life that doing the right thing isn't always the easy path.  But my new co-workers are also a great bunch of folks, and my new project, "Defiance", is very interesting and will present a lot of unique challenges in terms of platform as well as game/TV coordination, and I'm already learning a ton of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise have had the chance to. It's a very different type of game from EQ2 and I think it will appeal to a completely different audience, but it's fascinating to work on so far, and will definitely help me to continue to grow my skills, experience, and knowledge to become the best industry professional I can be.  If you haven't been keeping up with the press releases, Defiance is both a shooter style MMO and a TV show in collaboration with the SyFy network, and I'll be doing everything in my small power to make it as good a game as I can also. Some links:  TV show infointerview talking about the transmedia collaboration, and latest gameplay trailer:

Still, despite 2 months passing, it does still feel like there's an aching EQ2-shaped hole in my heart.  (My friends laugh that I still keep saying "us" and "we" by mistake when talking about the EQ2 team.)  I suppose when you put that much of your heart and soul into a game for so many years, a bit of you just stays there forever, even as you look ahead to what's in the future.  And I guess that's okay; if I have to leave a piece of my heart somewhere, I can't think of a nicer place to leave it than in the magic lands of Norrath.

However, to end this post on a lighter note before I start sniffling again, here's the very first fan video I made, long before I was ever hired to work on the EQ2 team; I think this was made in the lead up to EQ2's expansion 3, and sent over to the dev team (who I had met at the previous fan faire) to give them a smile while they were hard at work crunching.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Why you should flee the country.

I went on a date last year with a guy I met at a co-worker's barbeque. Seemed like a pleasant enough fellow so when he asked what I'd like to do, I suggested he join me for dim sum brunch at a fairly local place called China Max.  He sounded slightly horrified at the idea of being anywhere at 11am on a Saturday (not a great sign, as I'm generally up by 7), but he took the details of the restaurant and we agreed on a day, and the next weekend we met up for brunch.

One might assume that the name of the place, "China Max" (not to mention the location of the restaurant in the middle of a heavily asian area, and the fact that I did say it was for dim sum) might have provided enough clues for him to figure out that the food would, in fact, be asian.  However, apparently this was not the case and so it was only when we sat down and looked at the menu that he mentioned he didn't eat (a) any seafood, or (b) anything "foreign".  Besides causing some rather problematic issues with the ordering of food, this also led to the discussion of foreign travel, to which he was entirely opposed, as he said he was afraid to go to a foreign country.

Since I haven't lived in my country of birth since 1995 this seemed like a rather failed match on several points, and in fact the date was not repeated.  However, I was reminded of the guy when I watched this rather excellent TED video about different ways of looking at things in different countries:

It's not long; I recommend having a quick watch.  But to summarize, the speaker uses a couple of excellent examples to illustrate how we can so easily take for granted that the way we think about things is the only way to think about them, and how our thinking can easily be trapped in a little box that we don't even realize is there.  Exposure to other perspectives -- particularly through travel -- is a great way of escaping this trap and one that people who never leave their home country will always struggle with.

The importance of different perspectives and an understanding of differences between countries isn't just theoretical or helpful in terms of innovating new ideas.  It can be the difference between being an average business professional and an excellent one; or the difference between making a costly and stupid mistake and avoiding it.

A great example from my own experience: when I was hired in 2000 to be the IT manager for a US company with an office in Australia, I moved to Sydney.  One of my responsibilities was to ensure reliable and secure nightly backups of all the servers, including the financial system.  The finance team were clearly still highly traumatized by a recent incident and told me several times over in tones of pain and horror what had happened: prior to my arrival, the US head office had assisted in some updates to the financial software that was in global use by the company.  This wasn't unusual: the software was remotely managed primarily out of the US and UK, smaller offices like Sydney not needing a dedicated IT staff resource just for that one system.  Usually the UK office handled international updates such as Australia, but for some reason this time the US staff had been responsible.  As part of the updates the nightly backup schedule had also been updated by them.

Unfortunately, the US staff member who updated the weekly backup schedule was apparently not aware that pretty much every country except the US uses the date format day/month/year.  He had just assumed that the date format would be the US order, month/day/year, and entered the backup schedule accordingly without checking.  As a result, instead of resuming the normal backup schedule, there were actually NO weekly full backups happening for a period of months; daily incremental backups were fortunately not affected, but the error was only noticed when a problem occurred and a restore from backup was needed.  At which point it was discovered that the last successful full backup hadn't happened for months.  The poor finance team had to spend about 2 days feeding in every single nightly incremental backup tape since that last successful one in order to restore the data (and then spend days more reconciling every last penny to verify it), an experience which clearly traumatized them so much they were still talking about it -- and cursing the US narrow-minded view of the world that had led to the mistake -- even years later.

If that staff member had ever traveled outside the US, even just to Canada, there's a good chance he'd have been aware that date formats can change depending on country, and might have at least thought to double check what Australia used before resetting the backup date.  Experiences in foreign countries and seeing how different regions can do things differently would have made him a more valuable professional, not to mention saving the company and the finance team in Australia quite a lot of both time and money.

Besides practical considerations like the above, it's just a good experience for people to learn different cultures.  I think it makes us both more tolerant, and more accepting of differences.  Besides which it's really quite fascinating what one country considered quite okay while others consider entirely inappropriate.

When I worked in Brazil, it was customary to exchange kisses (on the cheek) with co-workers every morning, at least between men and women.  I got quite used to male co-workers kissing me every morning, so used to it in fact that after 6 months in Brazil when I visited the US for business and bumped into the first US colleague that I knew, I unthinkingly kissed him on the cheek, rather to his surprise.  If my boss here in the US started kissing me and every other female colleague every morning it would be seen as VERY inappropriate, needless to say.  But there, quite normal, polite, and expected.

So if I could give graduates one piece of advice as they start their careers, it's to take any opportunity possible to work overseas.  Visit at least if you can't find work, but if you can find a job then seize the chance.  It's so much more than just a job and an opportunity to travel; it'll expand your perspectives, open your eyes, and make you more valuable and useful in your professional career for the rest of your life.  It's not always been the easiest path to take, but I've never regretted all the moving around that I've done in my career.