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Breaking In - Josh LeBow

Ever since Destiny emerged from the darkness that we had imposed upon it, we’ve talked a lot about a world worthy of heroes. Some of the unsung heroes of this game will be people that you never meet in the Tower. While you wield the power of the Traveler to battle our enemies, brave engineers will maintain a web of machines that control invisible forces that bring players together amidst the action. To enable this living, social world, we’ll look to people like this guy…

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

Hi everybody!  My name’s Josh and I’m an IT Engineer here at Bungie. I’m part of the team that’s setting up the datacenters that’ll run Destiny. We’re responsible for building the network that’ll host the back-end for the game.

When you’re not making machines play together so that gamers will be able to play together, how do you spend the front-end of your life?

Games (mostly strategy and RPGs), motorsports, and sharing YouTube links with 80’s pop culture references. I read a lot of history books bouncing around from period to period depending on what I’m interested in. I’m also an avid Seattle Seahawks fan. I pretty much grew up wearing a Steve Largent jersey and booing John Elway.

Aside from seeing everyone else’s favorite Bronco get sacked, what did you daydream about (professionally) when you were growing up?

I knew I wanted to do something involving computers. My parents bought an IBM PC Junior when I was six. I disassembled and reassembled it more times than I can remember. I also used it to write simple text-based adventure games in BASIC. I also wanted to be an astronaut. I’d probably memorized most of “The Right Stuff” when it was released, and I wanted to be John Glenn. NASA hasn’t returned my calls yet though.

You’re just going have to stay on the ground with us, then. Where did you seek out your higher learning when you decided that space camp wasn’t part of your future?

I went to Tufts University (go Jumbos!) and graduated with a Computer Science degree.  Toward the end of my senior year, I realized I didn’t really want to be a developer.  I’d done IT work before and took a few classes in that area, so I decided to give that a try and ended up making a career out of it. A lot of the nuts and bolts material I learned I don’t use anymore, but knowing the theory behind how it all works (like Spanning Tree Protocol being based on graph theory) really does help out. I use what programming chops I still have whenever I have to script something.

Have you always worked IT for game developers?

I was with Monolith Productions for several years.  Bungie was actually the first company I applied to when I started my last job search, but I didn’t hear back and eventually accepted the position at Nordstrom.  I got a call from a Bungie recruiter two days before I was due to start.  When she asked if I was still interested, I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough.

Why are games more exciting than adventures in retail?

One thing I really enjoy about working for a game company is that you get some interesting and challenging tech problems thrown at you - things like “how to get a PS3 in Chicago to connect to the Internet with a Canadian IP address.”  I also got to work with all sorts of different technologies (everything from storage to networking to virtualization) which really come in handy when I have to build a solution or solve a problem.  I also learned how to properly dispose of old equipment.

I can’t imagine that your recycling strategies were what sold us on you. Why do you think our recruiter proved that late is better than never?

When I figure out the answer to that I’ll let you know.  Seriously though, I think having worked at another game company and a breadth of experience in a bunch of different areas helped.

That is a help, but it’s not enough to earn you passage into our IT Bullpen. That journey passes through the chamber where the Bungie interview happens.  Can you recall for us your more desperate moments at the hands of our interrogators?

I was incredibly nervous and didn’t want that to show. When I came in for the interview, I paused at the front door and took a deep breath. A little bit into the interview, I was white-boarding out an answer to a question. When the interviewer said “We found the same thing, too.” I was able to calm down a bit.

That’s obviously not the only thing that we agreed upon, given that you’re now qualified to answer questions like: What’s the best thing about working for Bungie?

You get to work with people who are the best at what they do and are incredibly passionate about it. That’s not something you often find.

How does that passion manifest itself over the course of the average day in our world?
I come in to work, grab a beverage from the cooler, and then go through my email.  We have a quick huddle with the rest of the team to go over the upcoming due dates and deliverables, and if there are any blocking issues.  Then, I work on the tasks I’m responsible for then go to lunch.  I come back, rinse and repeat the above, and maybe try and sneak in some Destiny playtime.  Finally, I head out for the day and get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Is there something that Bungie does that helps you keep that routine fresh?

I get to play a very small part in making something that potentially millions of people are going to enjoy.  Getting to work at a place where they literally make “fun” is an awesome perk itself.

What’s been your favorite contribution to our variety of fun?

Our team was working on a milestone delivery and our manager pointed to what I was doing and said “Holy crap that looks awesome, nice job.” (Sorry for being vague on this, it’s related to the datacenter deployment we just did and I don’t think I can put specifics about it on the Internet.)

Vague is our specialty on the Bungie Blog! We’ll be more specific someday. For now, tell us how you intend to top your finest moment to date as a member of our team.

I read. A lot. Even if it’s not something I’m not going to be immediately using, I still try and read up on things that I haven’t used before. It’s good to know how things work, and you never know when you may have to put that into practice. Also, I try out new ideas and technologies in virtual test environments, either at work or on my PC at home. The only way you’ll know if something works is if you try it yourself - and you won’t figure out how to do it correctly until you’ve made a bunch of mistakes.  It’s also usually better if you do that in test and not in a production environment.

Other than the virtues of a safety net, what recommendations would you make to someone who also wanted to manage the systems that power gaming?

Have passion for what you do and always be open to re-thinking things.  This industry is very collaborative and, more often than not, someone else is going to know a better way to solve a problem than you do.

This last question is not a collaborative exercise. You must answer it yourself: Experience, Work Ethic, and Talent?  Rank them in order of importance to your role.

Work ethic above all, then talent, then experience.  Being eager and doing whatever it takes to accomplish a task will get you pretty far.  You also need to have a certain talent for figuring out how things work.  Experience is less important, often times I’ve been tasked with working with something that I’d literally never seen before and just had to figure it out as I went along.

Josh has a lot more to figure out before you all get to play Destiny, so we must now return him to his work. Those machines won’t network themselves – and woe to all of us if they could! Destiny will rely on many heroes, working behind the scenes. If you wish to join them, but have yet to read about a superpower that you want to wield, you should check out the Breaking In archive to peruse the entire spectrum.
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