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Breaking In - Jason Minard

There are members of the Bungie team who land here as soon as they leave college. Others among us venture into the wild of the private sector and cut our teeth on challenges that have nothing to do with Bungie before we join the team. For example, when we realized that our next game would require a lot more muscle on the back-end, we reached out into the world to find this guy.

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

JM: My name is Jason Minard. I do research and testing on some of those back-end systems that you’ll hopefully never have any reason to know or care about, but that everyone’s gameplay experience will depend upon. I also support internal shared environments, keep tabs on our production datacenter, work with our operations team and just generally lend a hand on any issue where a hand is needed.

The back end systems for Destiny will be a door accessed by many someday. What emotions course through your cultivated brain when you contemplate the launch of our game? 

JM: Can it be both excitement and fear? If everything that has been planned over the last several years goes correctly, when folks launch into the game that first day they’ll just get what they expect: to play Destiny. There is a fair amount of pressure to get it right, because you only get one chance to make a first impression.

That chance will come on another day. Until it arrives, how will you pass the time in those odd moments when life finds you away from our datacenter?

JM: Exploring the Pacific Northwest with my wife Morgan, three and a half year old daughter Magnolia, and newly-minted son Domenic. Well, that and playing video games.

Take us back to when you were newly-minted? Did you harbor secret dreams of being a server whisperer?

JM: I wanted to play second base for the Chicago Cubs and be an astronaut. As my friends constantly remind me, I’m rather short and not very athletically gifted, so playing baseball never happened and the closest I got to astronaut was attending Space Camp three times.  I guess the space bug runs in the family though, as I have to occasionally live vicariously through my cousin Steven Wulf (14yrs with the United Space Alliance) and his wife Laura Lucier (Flight Controller at NASA).

When you learned that the ivy of Wrigley Field would not be the backdrop for your career, how did you pivot toward minding racks of machines that would funnel gamers into a brave new world?

JM: I went to the University of Illinois and earned a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and did my Master’s work in History…..sooooooooo I’m really good at research!  Yeah, let’s go with that.  Honestly, I still retain the ability to quickly and concisely comb over material, absorb important points and turn that into digestible bits for others, but please don’t quiz me on the post-structuralism.

There’s a missing link between an education in Philosophy and History, and making video games as a member of Team Bungie. Can you fill in the blanks for us?

JM: I was working in the central office at the Chicago Public Schools virtualizing as much of the aging infrastructure as possible, attempting to come up with creative plans to support the third largest school district in the country without spending any money (you may or may not know that most municipalities are facing some budget crunches) and attempting to keep the lights on.  I learned over and over that with a small team of dedicated individuals you can achieve some fantastic goals.  There are a lot of people working very hard back in Chicago.

Without question, the best and brightest teammates of which Bungie can boast are from that city. How did you make the jump from academia to games?  Was your zip code enough to entice us to size you up as a job applicant?  

JM: On a particularly long night at work in Chicago, I noticed a post on the Bungie twitter feed to come and take their jobs so I submitted my info and got contacted.  I recall having a rather long-winded cover sheet, talking about working at the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at The University of Illinois for nearly nine years, bouncing around the country for a couple of years after that and knowing that I could help with the goal of world domination. They must have liked what they saw.

That tweet was my handiwork. Were you cursing me at any point of your Bungie interview loop? What was the hardest part about your inquisition?

JM: Getting past the jitters of knowing that it was going to be an all-day marathon. No, getting absolutely destroyed in the second interview but knowing that I had a full day of interviews still left. No, getting done and then feeling like I had wasted everyone’s time by coming all the way to Bungie for the interview. Wait, I got hired and I still work here? Nah, it was all awesome!

Is working here as awesome as interviewing to work here?

JM: I’ve worked here for a year now, and I don’t think I’ve gone home in a bad mood one time. Maybe I was frustrated a couple of times. I’m completely serious. Most of the time I go home and talk about something cool I saw or read about today, or how something I was working on was more or less challenging than expected. Part of it may be a contrast to other places that I’ve worked and part of it is getting to come to work with all of the talented folks, but it really is just fantastic to work here.

Be more specific, if you would. Take one day, and tell us exactly what makes it fantastic.

JM: After grabbing my absolutely necessary morning coffee (did I mention that I have a newborn?) and maybe a bagel (if it’s Friday), I head over and see where I am on the tasks that I laid out for the week. With any luck, I won’t have to head down to the meat locker we know as the datacenter and I can do everything from my desk. While most of the other fine folks are heading out to lunch, I head up to The Central for lunchtime round of Insanity or over to the gym for the Thursday War.  After lunch, it’s more research and testing fun, maybe some server scripting tests, or maybe even some new hardware toys to be poked and prodded.

Sounds like you’re a happy guy in your job, which make the creature comforts that we provide for our people overkill. Despite that fact that you don’t need them, do you have a favorite perk?

JM: There is absolutely no way to point at just one thing. Be it the stocked kitchen, endless stream of caffeine, gym membership, entertainment reimbursement, charity matching, family events, and just general love that is sent back to us, it’s nothing short of a joy and honor to work here.

Can you remember for us your finest moment of honor?

JM: I’ve been working towards a big event for a couple of months. I got stopped by a fairly important person in the studio who wanted my opinion about where we were with some portions of the prep. He also wanted to know what I thought about what we should be doing to get to where we needed to be. Not only was it great to get asked, but I gave him the feedback on the spot about what we needed to do to get back on track. Yeah, that was a good moment. Then I got back to work.

The work never stops. The other thing that we can never stop doing is growing and learning. How do you go about that?

JM: Research, asking questions, more research, more questions, more reading. You will never, ever know it all, and there will always be something new to learn. If you work from that frame of reference, you’ll do fine.

Since you’re in the mood to make recommendations, tell our readers what they might do to get started in this industry in the first place.

JM: Firstly, make sure that you know what to do, and then do that. Based upon my time here there appear to be lots of ways to end up in the game industry and not all of them are direct routes. I worked as a traditional IT system administrator for many years in the public sector before finding my way to Bungie. Work hard, do good work, and you’ll land in the right place.

Were it so easy. One thing that’s not hard to do is to tell a guy like Jason to get back to work. Before we can serve up our game to the world, we need the servers ready and willing to go. Fortunately, we have such willing professionals to make it happen.

Jason’s story is just one example of a long and winding road that leads to a job making games. There is no one way to join the Bungie team. If you demand proof, check out the Breaking In archive.
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