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Breaking In - Jake Lauer

Ever wonder how a fresh dispatch from our secret base hits this blog?{{more}} After I assemble a payload of words and pictures to fire in your general direction, I obtain a green light through a process that rivals the authentication of an order to deploy a missile from a submarine. During the construction of, we rebuilt that launch tube entirely. Recently, the switches and dials on the instrument panel were given a lovely facelift by this guy.

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?  

Sup, guys! I’m Jake Lauer, a Web Development Engineer on the web team. That means I work on the ins-and-outs of, as well as internal tools used by people creating web content (including the inexorable DeeJ). What I do impacts how you interact with your friends, the Bungie forum faithful, and with us. If it’s on the website, it’s part of my job.

When you’re not making the world safe for the Bungie forum faithful (not to mention the bloggers who live to serve them), where do your interests lie?

So many to list! I do lots of stuff for fun. I like to go exploring to take pictures in my free time, so you can often spot me in various areas around Seattle doing that. I also write and record music heart-rending ballads [look me up on band camp]. I spend a fair amount of time running a Minecraft server, and I also run some websites. If I had any extra time on top of that, I’d probably do some creative writing.

Hold everything. I just accepted your dare and looked you up on bandcamp.  What the hell are you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be trying to get discovered in some grungy Seattle club?

Hopefully I can wield the power of the Internet to become a rich and famous music legend. When was the last time you heard of somebody making the switch from a gaming company employee to lavish rock star?

You’ll never leave us, Jake. Aside from rock star and web developer for fiercely passionate gaming community, were there any other impractical professions that you used to dream about?

A baseball player, absolutely. I’m a rabid, die-hard Chicago Cubs fan. I memorize statistics. It’s ridiculous. It wasn’t too far-fetched, either. I had a .516 batting average as a 9-year-old in Little League, and had a wicked fastball.

When it came time to train for the big leagues of the professional world, what variety of higher learning did you sign up for?

I went to college at the University of Idaho, majoring in Virtual Technology and Design. I really can’t say enough good things about my experience there with VTD. I learned how to solve problems in creative ways, which I really think has contributed to my success thus far. No matter what field you’re in, it’s important to know how people think and interact with their surroundings. When you’re able to involve heuristic psychology in everything you do, the quality of the things you produce drastically improves.

This little chat keeps sending me to the Internet to see what you’re talking about.  This time, I looked up heuristic. To riff on that theme, how did you solve the problem of turning an education into a job?
I guess you could say that my hobbies are the reason I got this job. I am self-taught in web development. I’ve been through every single stage of the process, creating terrible site after terrible site, with each one being slightly less terrible than the one before it. I’d say I started creating professional-level websites sometime around 2009.

We didn’t hire you directly from the classroom. Did we?

After I graduated college, I spent about 18 months working for another company before Bungie hired me. I am not sure I would’ve had the chops to work at Bungie if it weren’t for the things I learned from the other web developers.

While you’re not completely self-taught, your problem-solving skills are admirable. How did you provoke us to discover you as a viable applicant?

A few ways. I wrote a cover letter that expressed the reasons why I loved Bungie and their ideologies, and explained the many reasons I had for wanting to work here. I also had examples of things that I had created in my free time that were fairly unique. In my case, my previous work experience wasn’t as important as the actual things I created. I’m also extremely Googleable (is that a thing?), thanks to my complete disregard for internet privacy, so it was probably pretty easy to find out extra details about my skills that way.

We might have cyber-stalked you, but only so that we could push your buttons in the job interview. Did your time in the Bungie interrogation chambers behind Jerome live up to their dreaded reputation?

You know, I have heard horror stories about how difficult the interviews at Bungie are, but I honestly felt very comfortable the whole time. I have had similarly difficult interviews in the past, so that probably helped. It also helps to know that once you’ve walked through the Bungie doors for an interview, it means that you’re at least good enough to deserve that, which is an achievement in itself.

Is that right? Are you sure there wasn’t a single conundrum throughout the day that stumped you? We can do it all over again if you didn’t feel properly challenged.

I guess there was one question I was that asked that I didn’t know the answer to precisely. I didn’t know the exact code that would do the job, so I told the interviewer, “I have never done this before, so I’m not exactly sure how to write it. But I think I can predict how to do it based on my knowledge of the language.” My answer ended up being pretty close to correct, but I think at that point what really mattered was that I showed a deeper knowledge of how the language worked, rather than having memorized the exact syntax.

Ah, yes. That makes perfect sense to me (Editor’s aside: No, it does not). Moving right along, what’s super cool about passing the test and joining the team?

I love that the things I work on are seen by millions of people. It’s amazing to know, especially when so many of our fans care so much and are so dedicated! I have been one of those fans for a very long time, which makes it even cooler.

That does make it cooler. As Bungie newbies, we have a lot of storied history to honor, and we do that one day at a time. Describe just one of those days for our readers.

I walk from my apartment and arrive at the studio around 9:30 or 10:00 AM, where I give a nod to Jerome as I walk up the lit staircase. I grab some breakfast in the café (especially awesome on Bagel Fridays). Then, I go to my desk and go through emails. I set up my programming environment for the day and look at my list of bug-fixes and features to add. Around 10:30, our team has a standing meeting to discuss what we all did the previous day and what’s on our plate for today. After that, the day is full of coding, interspersed with trips to the café for snacks and carbonated beverages, and maybe the occasional free lunch. Some days, I end up staying at the studio after I’m finished working to test out the game or spend some extra time researching something that caught my eye earlier that day.

Aside from unfettered access to our game in development, what’s your favorite perk associated with working for Bungie?

There are a lot of awesome perks. If I were to pick an actual perk, I guess I’d go for the free newbie lunches for new employees, or the tickets that Bungie has for various local sports teams. My real favorite thing about working at Bungie is that I truly love to be here. I honestly look forward to going to work every single day. During my interview process, I asked my interviewers if they still loved their jobs, and every single one of them said yes, and that the honeymoon period never wore off. I believe it.

You fell for that one, too? Despite the fact that you’re new here, has there been a moment of victory that solidified your rightful place on the team?

During my first month, I’ve redesigned the tool that is used to put all the content on the website (including this Breaking In article). Near the end of that project, I was talking with my manager about what it would be like once I had a project that had a hard deadline. He said, “This project has a hard deadline. I just didn’t tell you what it was because you’re so far ahead of it.”

Staying ahead of deadlines is a great survival tip at Bungie.  So is staying ahead of the learning curve. It sounds like you’re a good self-teacher, but can you keep that up with your new gig?

I keep up to date on new web standards because it’s always awesome to be one of the first to put new technologies out there for public use. I have personal projects that I try to keep up-to-date. I also am subscribed to various areas on reddit that have to do with web development and design, so I usually find out about the new advancements in the field pretty quickly.

That will certainly come in handy if we ever need to innovate the way we enjoy cat pics. What recommendations would you make to people who want to work in this industry?

Don’t assume that your job isn’t applicable. I have always wanted to work here, but I never thought I’d be able to because I was just in web development, and I didn’t think there were many jobs available here in that field. I checked anyway, and sure enough, there was an opening. You might not think your field is applicable to gaming, but you never know!

Also, I can’t stress enough that you should “advance your craft” by working on things outside of your job. If you’re doing a project for fun, you’ll be so much more invested in it, and that means you’ll produce something of the utmost quality. Those kinds of things let you expand your skillset, too. There are many times in which it’s been valuable to me to be able to do things that aren’t in my job description. My employers have often utilized skills I’ve picked up just as a result of my hobbies.

Here is your final heuristic exercise for the day: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent?  Rank them in order of importance to your role.

In my specific situation, I think I’d go Work Ethic > Talent > Experience. I had 1.5 years of industry experience before being hired, so I don’t think that was much of a contributing factor, due to my combination of talent and work ethic. Some people say that talent isn’t important, because you can work really hard and get things done, and that’ll put you where you want to be. But I think you also need to be improving all the time. If your talent isn’t growing, then you’re not learning. None of that is possible without a strong work ethic.

In that case, the most ethical thing we could do would be to return Jake to his work. This interview has revealed a common theme for the roads that lead to our studio. If you want to create at Bungie, show us that you can create on your own. Since a game requires so many varieties of creation, you can research the match for your creativity in the Breaking In archive – now reformatted to be friendly!

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