Breaking In - Alex Gendron
By the time you see something that Bungie has created, be it a game, a web system, or even this interview; it’s been beaten into submission by a ruthless team of testers. They probe our work for weaknesses, see to it that they’re strengthened, and begin the process all over again. They do this until we get it right. Before we let you have a crack at the recent beta test for a re-imagined Bungie.net, it was poked, prodded, roughed up, and worked over by guys like this...
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
Hello there. My name is Alex Gendron. I’m one of the web testers here at Bungie. I do my best to make sure that new changes to the site and mobile apps look as good as they can before you see them. I also help make tools to make the job of the web test team easier.
So you’re on the team that’s giving the Seventh Column a new place to call home? That’s dangerous work. Herds of beasts can be dangerous when their migration is forced, but we’ll learn more about that a moment. When you’re not rebuilding our wildlife refuge, how do you unwind?
I’m a huge fan of playing video games, especially competitive ones. I like watching StarCraft 2 or DOTA 2 matches, but I’m much better at playing shooters. I also enjoy playing guitar, spending time with friends, and watching movies or TV.
You certainly sound like our brand of geek. Did you grow up dreaming dreams about recreating a clubhouse for a fiercely passionate society of gamers?
For a little while, I wanted to be a lawyer. When I was twelve, I changed my plans. I didn’t realize exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew it was going to be in the games industry in some way.
In that case, allow me to lead the witness. With such clear ambitions of working in an environment where games are brought to life, how did you build into yourself the necessary skills?
I graduated from Full Sail University. While I was there, I learned a lot about how a video game is made through all its stages. I’m using the skills I learned for tools development a lot, as we invent new ways for our web testers to track and automate their bug writing. I also learned how to work with a team. We were forced to work in groups to complete multiple projects throughout the program. It teaches you how to communicate and work well with others.
That sounds like a great education, but learning is one thing. Doing the job can be quite another. Did you pick up any other experience before you walked through our door?
This is actually the first job I got out of college. Right after I graduated, I stared looking at places to work here in the Washington area. A lot of my extended family is here, so I wanted to be close to them. I applied to various places that had entry level programming or intern positions. At the time, Bungie had some test positions open, and I applied. A few weeks later I got a call and the rest is history.
Do you have any idea what you did to stand out from the sea of applicants that crashed onto our shores?
My only theory is that my cousin used to work for the test team at Microsoft, and he put in a good word for me. Whatever the cause, I’m eternally grateful.
As well you should be! When you’re looking for a sweet gig, networking is worth its weight in gold. You can, however, take some of the credit. The only thing a good referral earns you is an interview, and those aren’t easy at Bungie. Care to recall the hardest part about yours?
I was trying to control my urge to ramble on. I tried to answer the questions well and not look like an idiot. I guess I didn’t do it too much.
Ramble? Or look like an idiot? Actually, I’ll withdraw that question since you’re here. Instead, describe a day in the life of a tester working on the triumphant rebirth of our website.
A day usually goes like this… I get in and look through emails. I then go through some of the feedback that I see on the forums. If it hasn’t been reported yet, I’ll write it up. After that, I look at the newest build of the site, work on a new feature for one of the tools, or try and break a new feature that was implemented.
You just painted a huge target on your back. Just imagine the Bungie.net users who would like to bend your ear (or twist your arm). Do you really mean to say that you write bugs based on everything that the community wants to see changed?
It depends on the type of issue. If it’s something that’s functionally broken, then it will get logged. Items that aren’t broken, but are viewed as such are harder to quantify as a bug. We do look at the constructive feedback from the community, but if all that’s said is “I don’t like this feature” we might not be able to identify the true nature of the problem. We also have our own vision for where we want to take Bungie.net. To get there, change has to happen.
Speaking of change needing to happen, let’s change the subject as quickly as we can and talk about the basic perks of working at Bungie.
The ability to talk with the people who made the games that inspired me to get into the gaming industry.
It can be intimidating to meet one’s heroes. Has there been a moment when you felt like you stood tall in that company, and were able to contribute to their process?
I made a tool for writing up bugs found on the site. At the time, that workflow relied on some text boxes with labels. After I sent the tool to a member of my team, he said “Holy crap! This thing is awesome.”
Nice work. Now that you’ve had a taste, what are your plans to become even more awesome?
I wrote a bug for you. Work up a solution to this problem: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
Work Ethic, Talent, and then Experience. You have to work very hard to get anywhere. If you slack off, people don’t want to work with you. Talent is next - the ability to come up with new solutions to problems is very helpful. I’d say Experience last, only because I didn’t have a lot before coming to Bungie, so it seems less important. As long as you can show that you are willing to learn quickly, you’re going to be fine.
The time has come for us to return you to the bug hunt. Those little devils won’t write an entry in the database about themselves. Before you go, though, tell us the best thing about your job.
The knowledge that someone will see what I’m helping to create, and it will inspire them to try and join the industry themselves.
It’s likely that’s happening right now. What’s the most important advice you can give to that someone?
Figure out what you are good at and run with it. You also need to really want it if you want to get anywhere. I had never programmed before in my life before I started school, but I knew I was good at math and wanted to make games.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Where there’s a will, and a basic grasp of math, there just might be a way. Of course, we’re simplifying matters, but Alex tells a great story about setting a goal and taking strides until it’s reached. His story is only one example of people following their dreams into a desk on our development floor. There are others, and you’ll find them in the Breaking In archive.