Darkened Software


Interviews: Pay attention to the instructions.

by on Nov.14, 2012, under Industry, Interviews

This might be the funniest interview I have ever conducted.  After introductions and a min of baseline conversation I give him the back round for the problem and 3 instructions for the question.

“Topic is X, there is usually around 4 issues that arise from it, for each”

  • Write down the issue on the whiteboard.
  • Write down the data you would collect to track and understand each issue.
  • Write down how you would display the data to the user so they could solve each issue.

I ask him if he understands which he nodes to and then I hand the kid the marker and prepare to be amazed.

He stands there for a few seconds and then says the first issue must be “Y” and starts telling me how someone on the last project solved it.

So I get up and take the marker from him, step over to the whiteboard, write the issue on it and hand him back the now open marker and cap.  He says “Oh right” and then continues to talk.  Not an amazing start, I hope this kid is just a little nervous and gets it together.

He finally runs out of things to say about how someone else attacked that issue before so I prompt him think about what other issues there is with topic X.  He again goes silent for a little while and then says it could also be “W”.  Tells me he has never had to deal with it but thinks it could be solved and starts rambling on.

I get up and pick up another marker, walk to the whiteboard and write down issue “W” right under issue “Y”.  I again hand him the uncapped marker so now he is holding two open markers as he continues to talk.  This time he says nothing as I hand him the marker.  Eventually his mumbling goes silent so I ask what the third issue might be?

He loudly declares there is no more possible issues under the topic “X”.  WTF kid it is not likely I am giving you trick questions.  So after I ask him a few questions he gets to realization of the next issue and declares “well I guess there could be an issue Z”.

This time I am going to see if he eventually figures it out and I just wait in silence for him to write it down.  A full 2 min of mumbling later out of pure amusement I go get the last marker, uncap it and write issue “Z” on the whiteboard.  Then I go to hand the marker to him again but he is standing there with an open marker in each hand already.  So I put the cap back on it and attach it to the bottom of the one in his right hand.  He just stands there silently for a few seconds, so I ask him to go onto the next part of the question and “Write Down” what data he would collect to resolve the issue.

He then loudly declare there is no way to resolve it and thus it is not worth worrying about.  Your right kid, it is quite likely I am giving you problems I really don’t want you to solve.

As amusing as this is it is time to walk you to the door.


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Job Interviews: People that close their eyes a little to much

by on Feb.04, 2011, under Interviews

I had and interview candidate that closed his eyes quite a bit during the interview.  I was not really sure what to make of it so I watched it for patterns and found that it happened often at the very start of his answers for a couple of seconds and occasionally during the middle of a sentence when he was suppose to be switching from overview to details.  Still not sure how to interpret this odd behavior I just made a note to research it afterward and move on.

Several papers on psychology later there seems to be two possible answers:

  • People that try to  visualize a problem might close their eyes for a second to help them focus on only seeing their representation of the problem in their mind.
  • People that are not confident or even scared of the results of their actions will close their eyes so they can delay having to respond or deal with the outcome.

If the eye closing behavior only happened just before they answered the question then the first explanation of visualizing their response to your question would make a lot of sense.  But given he was doing this as he responded to a question or as he needing to provide details that he would later have to defend the second explanation of lacking confidence make a lot more sense.

In this case the interview was going so badly that we did not need any more re-enforcement that the candidate was in way over their head.  But in interviews with more open ended answers to questions this could be a great indicator that although the answer sounds plausible the interviewee is just trying to run a “Hail Mary” response by you.

Related is if you do notice issues in their story do not start questioning the issue right away.  Make detailed notes but save up all the possible inconsistencies till the end and come back to them when you have got the full story already.  If they are being deceptive then putting time between their original signal and when you question them makes it less likely they will realize what gave it away and the time gives them more chances to mess up as they have to try and remember what they originally told you.

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Is it still bad for your career to leave before a project is done?

by on Apr.06, 2010, under Development, Industry, Interviews

When I starting in this industry it was almost a sin to leave a project before it was done and hiring managers would burn resumes with more than a couple non completed projects on them.  In fact it was better to say you had been unemployed for all that time than to say you left a project before it shipped.  Sadly their are still hiring managers stuck in the 1990’s mind set and will toss resumes with a little jumping around.  Here is why that mind set has to change.

Given the current length of development cycles developers can no longer just stick around and finish out bad games just so they have another completed game on their resume.  That would kill their chance of ever working on a hit game.

  • Average Career is 40 years, 25 – 65
  • Average AAA console dev cycle at this time is ~3 years
  • 40 / 3 = 13 chances to make a hit AAA game.
  • < 5% of all released games are multi-million selling unit hits

Thus you have ~65% chance to work on a hit game if you finish everything you start and that is not really great odds when you think about it.

But if you drop the requirement for finishing games and leave as soon as you determine the company is both not on the right path and not likely to turn it around.

  • 6 months average time on a project
  • 40 / .5 = 80 chances to make a hit AAA game.

Thus you now have 800% chance to work on a hit game taking your career odds from 35% chance of being meaningless to working on 8 successful titles.

I am by no means recommending this as a career path unless you want to be a game industry contractor.  Given that leads have to worry about people leaving at critical times right before shipping and major milestones they are still not going to like seeing a resume full of six month stints.  The average consensus is if they see a run of 4 companies jumps with no explanation ( ie they all went under ) then they would only look to hire them as a last resort.

So every once in awhile you are going to finish a game even if it is not a good one and thus the strategy becomes:

  • 3 year to finish game + 3 * 6 months  ~= 1 year on average
  • 40 / 1 ~= 40 chances to work on a hit AAA game

This you now only have a 400% chance to work on a hit game but it ensures your resume never becomes a complete liability.  Of course if you really want to max your odds of working on AAA games then your mission should be to just keep applying at one of the proven developers like Blizzard, Bungie and Naught Dog.  It will likely take you a long time to get in there but when you do you are almost 100% to ship some hit games.  On the other hand if you like to play the odds and bet on the small unproven companies were the payoff can be very big then this might be the strategy for you.

Resumes with a little company jumping in their histories are often not flawed developers but ones that understand the reality of game development and are not going to waste their time at bad companies.  These are the people you want to interview, not the drones working at bad companies just to collect a check and only leave when they have ran the company into bankruptcy.

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Think about how people could interpret your resume, Part 1

by on May.05, 2009, under Artificial Intelligence, Industry, Interviews, Lessons

I have gone to 100’s of pre-interview resume reviews with other programmers to discuss our thoughts on a candidate and determine what everyone will quiz them about.  I am always still amazed how everyone can read the same resume and have completely different take on what could possibly be good or bad about this candidate .  It is a different trigger for everyone, sometimes if anything is a little vague or over sounds overstated people get turned off and suddenly the interviewee  is fighting an up hill battle.

Be very careful with the resume wording because given the chance people will often interpret it completely wrong…

Even if you write the clearest resume possible it is not even close to 100% so you still have to then anticipate all the ways they could take everything on your resume wrong and and figure out how you are are going to convince them of the right story on the phone or during the live interview.  Is it a pain, yes.  Is it right, probably not.  But you literally have to be prepared to defend everything on your resume to make the interview go well.  Some people will always come to the interview assuming the worst about the candidate and you will have to change their mind about every point.

Lets hit the examples:

Worked for company X for a long time.

You might be thinking that it shows loyalty to the company, dedication to your job and that your not a quitter during tough times.  You might also be rightly thinking that is shows how valued of a employ you were, you survived 8 round of layoffs and your position was never in danger.

Others might see X years and think that means you have no ambition at all.   They instantly think you are one of those  people that found a place to hide and have just been collecting a paycheck for X years.

Defending working at a company for a long time, sounds silly right?  When they comment that you about working for a company for a long time.  Don’t just answer yes.  If you started during the beginning, talk about how you helped grow the company and it was pride thing. If you got shares then talk about the ownership responsibility.  If you did not have the above then talk about the great projects you got to work on or great friends you made or how much you learned there.  Make sure they believe you had reasons to stay and now have a even bigger reason to leave.

Have a bunch of grind tasks on your resume.

Say you have done UI, TCR’s and some of the other grind tasks that people do not generally like to do.  You might think this shows you are willing to take one for the team and do what is needed to get the game out.  You might even think is shows you are not a prima donna and will not be bitching all the time.

Others will see it and think that you must not have any real skills if you have been given grind tasks.  They will automatically rank you intern status because that is usually who they give those tasks too (yet they wonder why they often fail first submission).

Defending grind tasks.  If you were on a time line explain that the project could not afford to be kicked and had to get through first time, it was an insurance policy thing.  If you were doing other tasks as well explain that the grind tasks were in addition and you are really a super man in human cloths.  If you were really only doing UI / TCR’s then explain how you were building tools and infrastructure so it would be less work for those that followed you. Point is to make sure they do not believe that you were tasked with grind work against you will or that you were not happy with it.  Make it seem like it was a challenge or accomplishment.

There will be a second part to this topic as there are many more potential issues.  Big take away should be to read your resume over and try to predict how people could take it wrong and be prepared to talk them down from that position.  The thing is they will not ask you to defend your work experience, they will just drop an off hand comment on something and you need to detect it and then take over the conversation till you get your point across.  Missing these small hints in the conversation means people will be leaving the interview with bad thoughts still and you have lost.

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Mistakes people make when applying for a position online.

by on May.04, 2009, under Industry, Interviews, Lessons

Here is often what happens when you submit your resume online to a company.  It gets forwarded to all the hiring managers / leads and since it comes in off a specific email address it gets a rule applied and forwarded into a special folder as these guys can get 100’s of emails a day and do not want that in their inbox.

At this point it is up to the lead to go through all the emails and pick out which ones they are interested in contacting.  S0 now as a lead programmer I see a folder with 400 new resumes in it and this is what I see in the list of subject lines.

Subject                                                                            *   Date *
Job Listing
Job Posting
Resume & Cover
Employment Opportunities
Resume email
7 Years Senior Programmer
Senior AI Programmer Position

If I am looking for a mid level programmer which one am I going to look at first? Most likely the last two and if I find what I am looking for I might never go back and open all 400 others that only say job or resume.  Why would I spend several hours digging through all those other email / resumes only to find out that they producers / artist / designers and not what I am looking for?

Rule # 1 Put something useful in the title, either what you are or what your applying for, its best to put both!!!

ie.   Senior Programmer applying for AI programming position

Next do not make me go digging for all your information.

  • Do not zip your web site up and make my unpack it and fight with broken links just to find your resume.
  • Do not make me install anything of yours just to read your resume, last thing I want to be is responsible for putting viruses on the company network.
  • Do not make me download special plugins for my browser just to view your work.
  • Make sure your resume is not in the latest beta version of word that only you and 3 others can view.

Rule #2 The perfect programmer submission would be.

  • Put basically a Mini summary of the attached cover letter in the body of email (  I believe I can help you guys, here is why you should read my cover letter and resume ).
  • Attached YourName_CoverLetter.doc
  • Attached YourName_Resume.doc
  • Attached YourName_CodeSamples.zip if requested in the job rec
  • Can put info about how they found out about the job, ie reference or listing.
  • Link to web site or sources of more information about you.

This will allow a lead / hiring manager to quickly figure out if they should be talking to you.  You do not want to end up in the email grave yard of 1000’s of people that made it to difficult to find out if they were the right person and were passed over.

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