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Breaking In - Mike Shannon

Someday in near future, the living word of Destiny will be filled with Guardians fighting to defend our civilization. Their interactions will be born on the back of a brand new infrastructure. It’s an important job, which is why we’ve added expert veterans of technology like this guy to our team.

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

Mike:  I am Mike Shannon. As a Senior IT Engineer on the Data Center team, I’m tasked with making sure all the ones and zeros that float across the interwebs find their way to where they need to be so that you can enjoy playing Destiny. In a nutshell, I manage a large amount of network gear and server hardware.

I’ve heard we’ve made a huge investment in your toybox, but that’s a conversation we'll flirt with at another time. For now, let’s keep the focus on you. Here’s an obligatory cheesy pick-up line: What do you do for fun?

Mike:  I am a huge foodie. On the weekends, I’m usually experimenting and making some great grub.  My goal when the whole tech thing is over for me is to become a restaurateur.  Other than cooking, I like to golf and hang out with my newlywed wife and puppy. I played pool for about 15 years but got burned out so I am still in search of something to replace that.

More. We need to know more about you. Hit the rewind button. Did you always know that you wanted to preside over gear and hardware for a living?

Mike:  I don’t know if I ever really had something I wanted to be. I just wanted to be successful.  Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I had the entrepreneurial spirit. Growing up, I had all sorts of businesses, from paper routes to trading sports cards to selling golf balls/pop/candy through the fence at Bellevue Municipal [golf course].

Hope you don’t mind my saying so, but your walk down memory lane makes you sound like golf’s version of Red (“I’m the guy who can get you things…”) from Shawshank. Moving right along: How did your prowess with technology override that entrepreneurial spirit?

Mike:  I took the road less traveled and dropped out of high school my junior year. Two weeks later I had a job doing third-shift tech support for an e-commerce company. Six months after starting there, I moved over to the IT side to run their production systems and networks, and never looked back. Early on, I’m sure I missed out on a lot of opportunities with companies because I had no college or formal schooling. I definitely don’t recommend my path to anyone. I got lucky and made the most of it, but those opportunities are few and far between. Stay in school, kids.

Yeah, that’s a rare story. “Get busy living, or…” Actually, scratch that. Your advice about education is sound. Not to tempt anyone else to tunnel through the walls of their homerooms, but how did you get so lucky with your career path?

Mike:  Before I came to Bungie, I had the pleasure of working for everything from startups (many) to established multi-billion dollar companies. I’ve seen the entire spectrum of the technology world. I think working for such a diverse array of businesses definitely gives me more weapons in my arsenal that those that have only been with one company their whole career.

How did you add our shade to that spectrum?

Mike:  I refused to take no for an answer! I actually started the process interviewing for a Data Center Manager position. Three or four weeks into the process, the recruiter told me they decided to put that position on hold and thanked me for my time. I didn’t want to pass up a good opportunity with my big toe already in the door, so I asked if they would consider me for the Senior IT Engineer position. She went back to the team and they agreed, so I started the process all over again interviewing for that position.

The key word in that last sentence is “process.” A few other words come to mind, like “ordeal” and “trial.” What was the hardest part about running our recruitment gauntlet?

Mike:  Probably how long the process took for me was the toughest part. I think the time that passed from initial contact to offer was about two and a half months. A portion of that was spent interviewing for two different positions. I remember the recruiter was super nice and kept apologizing for how long it was taking. Patience and determination prevailed!  

Your gig is crucial to our success. We like to take our time in making decisions like those. Now that you’ve gone the distance, what’s the best thing about Bungie as a professional destination?

Mike:  There is a crazy amount of smart people here. I have never seen such a concentrated amount of brain juice in one place. If there is something you need to do or understand there is probably someone here who is an expert on the subject. Having that kind of support team is pretty sweet, and does take some pressure off of me from time to time.

Is there also a perk that’s native to our studio that makes the pressure of making a great game more endurable?

Mike:  Just one?  I would have to say the way the company treats the employees and their families is unheard of.  I remember at Christmas we got some gift bags and in mine was a wrapped gift for my wife.  Seriously – who does that?

We do that. We like for you to know that you’re appreciated. Has there been a moment when you really felt like you earned that level of appreciation?

Mike:  Ask me next year.

Fair enough. We’ll reconvene the jury once the game is out. Until then, what are your plans for expanding on your expertise for servers, and gear, and hardware, and stuff?

Mike:  I always say that if a day goes by that I don’t learn something new, I did something wrong. So many times in the IT world, we’re either troubleshooting or given a random task we might not have completed before. I probably spend at least 25% of my day researching what I’m working on from all different angles. The key is not just getting something to work but knowing how and why it works.

Sounds like you’re never in a position to sit still. You’ve traveled an interesting (Did we say rare?) path to Bungie. Aside from recommending an early departure from High School, what would you say to shape eager young mind out there in the image of your own?

Mike:  This is my first time in the game industry, but I have been in the software industry for half my life. In the IT world, get your hands on as many things as you can. Don’t just install something and say “Yay, I know this now.” Beat the crap out of it. Break it, wipe it, and start over. Do that a couple dozen times, and then it can go on your resume. Breadth and depth of knowledge is what it’s all about.

Mike’s story is full of wisdom that you can employ in your own pursuit of building networks, even if the route he took is a risky one. Again: Bungie recommends that you stay in school. Not everyone is a self-starter like guy – just ask the golfers in Bellevue. There are many ways of being routed into our studio, with many jobs to be done once you arrive. If you see yourself selling through a different fence, you can explore them all in the Breaking In archive.
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