Breaking In - Thomas Wiley
We talk a lot about testing our games at Bungie. To make sure we deliver an experience to you that’s polished, stable, and worthy of your patience, we make our game run a gauntlet of trials. It’s a proud tradition here. We beat the game into submission. We inspect every corner, overturning every stone. What you may be surprised to find out is that we can do some of this work without picking up a single controller. To control a virtual droid army that applies virtual stress to Destiny, we employ this guy.
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
Thomas: My name is Thomas Wiley and I am the Automation Overlord here at Bungie. I am in charge of a fleet of machines that continuously run the game to provide automated coverage of all of our game code. This frees up other testers from testing the boring areas so they can focus on deeper, in-game bugs. I also work with the SDET team on our in-studio websites and tools.
Slow down now. We have an acronym alert! What does SDET mean? How does it impact our development process?
Thomas: SDET stands for Software Development Engineer in Test, and the SDETs at Bungie focus on providing support to the various test teams with tools and internal websites that help their work flows and increase their productivity.
Sounds like smart-guy stuff. So how will all of that impact the experience of the people who play Destiny?
Thomas: I believe my contributions are subtle but meaningful. The majority of the high level crashes are found by the AutoBVT system, which saves everyone time and a headache.
Whoa! Double acronym alert! What does BVT stand for? Aside for more smart guy stuff?
Thomas: Build Verification Test. It’s a series of tests that are run against every build to ensure that it reaches a certain bar. If a build passes the BVT, we allow engineers and designers to work on that build. If it fails the BVT, we require bug fixes before signing off on it.
How do you spend all the time that you save us with your automated wizardry?
Thomas: Just like the majority of the other people around here, my interests revolve around video games. I am an equal opportunity gamer, enjoying both consoles and PC. If the game is competitive, you’ll find me there: Halo, DOTA, Starcraft, Hearthstone – I play them all. Also, my wife and I have just started training to climb Mt. Rainier, so I do leave the house occasionally.
What summits did you used to eyeball when you were just a lad? Did you dream of climbing Mt. Bungie?
Thomas: When I was younger, I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer. My parents really wanted me to be that and said repeatedly that’s what I would be good at. So to spite them, I went to college and got my degree in English!
That explains your masterful prose in this interview. Seriously, your usage of commas has me developing a serious man-crush. Yet, here you are doing smart guy stuff for Bungie? What led you to a more technical field of work?
Thomas: Immediately after college, I spent some time writing technical documentation for the University of Nevada in their Facilities Management department – working with the on-site software engineer there. I think I lucked out with my degree, as I left everything to pursue a career in games, and as it turns out, bug writing and technical documentation are very similar.
Who was it that taught you everything you needed to know about applying a mastery of the English language in a development environment?
You mentioned your passion for games. What was the one game that made you want to make games?
Thomas: I think my obsession with actually creating games instead of just playing them began with Diablo II. I fell in love with the lore and art style of that game. I felt very immersed and played it every hour that I could. From that game spawned my love of RPGs.
How did you get Bungie to pay attention to you as someone who might play a role in helping to make our game?
Thomas: I started at Microsoft, working as a PvP content tester for Halo 4, and I busted my ass to write as many bugs as possible. When that was wrapping up, I had made some contacts at Bungie and I was really excited to be a part of the next big project here – Destiny. Having prior experience was very helpful, but I also have a wide range of skills to bring to the table. I think that ultimately landed me the job. I was very interested in coding and constantly improving.
Think back to your own test and trial. What was the hardest part of your Bungie Interview?
Thomas: They asked me how I would test a magical trash can. I’ve never tested something magical before, and while it was a good practice, it caught me off guard.
Now that you’re here, what is the most magical thing about working for Bungie?
Thomas: Every week that I am here, I come up with a new best thing about working for Bungie. I think the absolute best part about working for Bungie is not something specific, but more that I look forward to coming to work each day. I’ve never experienced that feeling before and I will work as hard as I can to never let that feeling go away.
Very specifically, what will you look forward to when you come into work tomorrow?
Thomas: I work a really nice shift. Since the majority of my testing is done by computers, I typically come in around 6-7 in the morning and start to review results from the previous night. I log bugs and prepare reports for the engineers who come in at 10. The mornings are great because it’s pretty empty in here - and dark. I find it the most productive part of the day. From 10 until around 5-6, I’m usually working on new features for our various websites, writing new scripts to be run, or attending meetings.
Like I said: Smart guy stuff. We’re lucky to have you. What does Bungie do to keep you looking forward to each day?
Thomas: Bungie provides enough beef jerky to feed a small army.
Automated test robots don’t eat beef jerky, which means more for you! Since we’re only human, what would you say is the biggest challenge that you encounter in the role that you play here?
Thomas: I work in a team of very smart people. My biggest challenge is trying to keep up with them. I started without knowing any code, and every day I teach myself something new in order to be the best I can.
Tell us more about that. Each of us needs to function like a learning computer. How do you stretch the boundaries of your neural net processor?
Thomas: When I got a chance to start coding, I went out and bought multiple books to learn as much C# as possible. Now that I’ve grown comfortable coding, I look to find “impossible” problems and tackle them. The best way I’ve found to learn is to be completely stumped and then work hard to figure out how to accomplish it. Overcoming hurdles by yourself through research cannot be surpassed for learning.
What is your favorite accomplishment as a member of the Bungie team? Describe that one moment in which someone appreciated your work, and assured you that you belonged here…
Thomas: About two weeks before E3 in 2013, it was all hands on deck for testing every part of our demonstration because we were doing it live. The build looked extremely stable, but AutoBVT managed to find a crash that no one else had found. We were able to get it fixed and our E3 presentation went amazingly well.
Somewhere out there, an English major might be reading this with newfound inspiration to work in games development. What would you tell them to set them on the right path?
Thomas: I can only answer for the Test department: You need to have an eye for detail and a mind to do things out of the ordinary. Everyone can play from point A to point B and find the issues, but it’s up to you to be able to find that point C. This is where the majority of the lesser-found bugs lie and can cause major issues when the product launches.
And when we all start to play Destiny? What should we thank you for?
Thomas: Everything you see and do in Destiny, you can know that automation has tested that area. Every AI, every activity, every weapon – automation thoroughly tested it all to bring you the best user experience possible!
How about your best experience possible. You’re an avid player of games, so I’m sure we’ll see you in there. What will you be doing?
Thomas: I’m so excited to have a character that isn’t going to be wiped! I have a specific armor set picked out for my Warlock that I want to go and collect.
We’ll let the resting place of the armor that Thomas covets remain a secret, for now. What is not a secret is that Bungie demands the very best from the people who join our team. We seek to draw on talents from every corner of the workforce, and you never know what we might need to add to the mix. For some other examples of the skills that are shaping Destiny, check out the Breaking In archive.