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Engineering Values Handbook – Teams are Stronger than Heroes

(Not sure what this post is about?  Check out Living Bungie's Values as Engineers.)

Let’s unpack our first Bungie value! It’s a good one.

Teams are Stronger than Heroes

How do we live this as engineers?  Let’s look at the more specific ways we try to cultivate high-functioning teams.
We’re a culture of shepherds, eagerly helping and teaching.
  • Shepherd is our word for an expert operating in a knowledge-sharing or guiding capacity.
  • We celebrate explaining things clearly and efficiently.
  • We empathize with the challenges others face, and recognize that offering assistance often moves us all forward.
  • We value helping others, incorporating this into our priorities and timeline expectations for our own tasks.

“I appreciate being in an environment where I'm praised/rewarded for knowledge sharing and ’teaching people how to fish.’ I don't (generally 😊) feel like I'm wasting company resources when I spend time writing up an explanation for how to do something, how things work, why things work the way they do, etc., and it makes me particularly happy to do so.

“I've worked in an environment where it could actually hurt your career progression to do work like that. Spending time to teach someone how to solve problems on their own would end up with them being rewarded for solving the problems, while you were seen as having taken time away from your Real Job™, even though it made the team more efficient overall. At review time, "This person took the time to educate these five people about how to solve certain problems" wasn't nearly as measurable or valued as the correlated "These five people learned how to solve a particular class of problems and then solved a bunch of them." That actively (and financially!) disincentivized helping your peers.

“I feel like that might be slagging the other place more than it is praising Bungie, but even though I've been here for ten years, it's still a breath of fresh air. It's a thing I actually think about really often, particularly when acting as a shepherd/point of escalation. I enjoy helping people, and being in a place where that's encouraged and supported is great for me.”
     
Mark Yocom, 2012-

We prioritize code clarity over brevity.
  • Most pieces of code are read/analyzed/debugged many more times than they are written, and the writer usually has the luxury of deep mental context about the meaning of the code, while the reader is trying to build context as quickly as they can.
  • We value comprehensibility and maintainability over cleverness or terseness.
  • We support this with virtually universal code reviews.
  • Clarity includes a lot of things, some of which are in tension.  A partial list is below.  Specific best practices vary per language/ecosystem and are usually covered in Coding Guidelines.
    • Easy to understand core functionality
    • Low likelihood of reader missing a nuance or trap
    • Easy to discern side effects
    • Debuggability
    • Easy to discern performance implications
    • Easy to discover implementation details
    • Commentability
    • Version diffability
    • Not too verbose
    • Not too abbreviated

“In the early years of Destiny's reward system development (2011-2014), Tristan Root, Austin Spafford, Mark Sachs, and I aligned very closely on coding standards, variable names, and best practices specific to investment systems. One day I realized I could no longer tell who had written what code. We had made it so that two reward system engineers, given the same task or spec, had a good chance of producing identical output. It was awesome. It freed us from a ton of engineering friction and made work feel like a team sport, like rowers pulling all together.”
     Chris Chambers, 2011-2018 and 2021-

We cultivate egalitarian and empathic relationships with our coworkers.
  • We believe every group, discipline, and subdiscipline is full of people at the top of their fields who are essential to Bungie’s success.
  • We empathize with the people who built our technology. They solved hard problems with constraints and context we may no longer fully understand. We don't ridicule their choices or their bugs.
  • We recognize the risk of being perceived as ‘gatekeepers’ to other disciplines and we strive to be worthy of the power implicit in our role as the discipline that most frequently changes what’s possible.
  • We show empathy to those who have to live within the constraints of our decisions, and we’re willing to spend time sharing context and hearing ideas from the customers we serve.
  • We give context or suggest alternatives when we have to tell someone "no."

“One of my favorite teams ever was the Destiny 2 Cross Save strike team. Everyone involved was passionate about making it happen and that made it feel really special. It made me feel like I was part of something much bigger than a single task.

“Given the breadth of groups required to land the experience smoothly, our sync meetings were massive. But there was so much mutual respect and excitement to deliver that—instead of devolving into chaos—I remember these being some of the most collaborative meetings I have ever been a part of. It felt like that mutual respect for everyone's contribution and perspective extended to a belief that if someone had something to bring up in the meeting, it was important enough to discuss and triage at that level. Oftentimes that allowed for a bit of discussion, some humor, and a concrete answer or decision to regroup after the meeting to discuss further. It allowed everyone to be in the know and chime in if they wanted to be a part of that further discussion (even just to listen). I am sure there were times we needed to rein in all the freeform contributions, but they never felt problematic or like wasted time. Regardless of the discipline or skill level, it felt like everyone was able to contribute to nearly every problem in some way, leveling-up all aspects of the final experience.

“I also think we did a decent job showing work early and applauding success. This was especially apparent in the UI/UX design on Bungie.net, where that team would show their prototypes frequently and often helped the broader team spot challenges. For example, we saw an early flow of the user experience for opting in and out of Cross Save, and that allowed us to start the conversation of what information we _needed_ to show players and how the process could fail.”

     Brian Chase, 2015-

We place a premium on high-quality management with high skillset-alignment.
  • We believe there's tremendous value in your manager having a fairly deep understanding of your job—we believe this leads to fairer outcomes, better growth advice, and a wider understanding of management ideals and challenges.
  • We believe people management is a hallowed responsibility, not a distraction from "real work."
  • We believe good managers are "servant leaders” who aren't seeking management for power.
  • We believe management is a deep craft, honed over time, and we recognize and reward people who develop, use, and share those skills.
  • High quality management means deep and authentic caring, with a proactive focus on growth and inclusivity, and that takes real time, often up to ten percent per report.

“I used to be someone who lacked the skills to cope with work stress and anxiety because of childhood trauma. People at Bungie saw through my workplace issues and offered a helping hand, on the condition that should the behavior be repeated, my employment would be terminated. Bungie, along with several years of therapy and medication, has reshaped me, and I’m less than a month away from celebrating my ten-year anniversary with the studio. I credit a lot to my manager, Sheila Perez, who helped me learn to start from the presumption that people I was frustrated with also wanted the best for the studio. Sheila is the premium of high-quality management—she knows how to drill down to a person’s skillset and align their work with it to help drive their career forward, while also helping them become a better person. I don’t think my career would have survived without her.”
     Robert Kehoe, 2012-

We invest in people for the long-term so that we can trust and empower long-tenured experts.
  • We require diligent work on goals and reviews to consistently guide and recognize growth.
  • We operate a systematic and anti-bias compensation system so that people are rewarded fairly for their impact and growth without feeling pressure to self-promote or switch companies.
  • We prioritize transparent hiring for leadership and growth opportunities. We want folks within the company to be able to grow without leaving wherever possible, and we offer clear growth feedback if we don't think someone is ready for a role.
  • Shepherds are more willing to teach because they know the asker will probably be here for many years.
  • If someone leaves in less than five years, that’s a yellow flag for our recruiting/growth/quality-of-life/etc. processes.
  • We’re able to delegate more power and freedom to individual engineers because we know they’re likely to be here to help with the consequences.
  • We don’t want to be one more resume entry for engineers jumping between tech companies every 18 months.

“For my first eight years at Bungie, I was a people manager and I’d even become a manager of managers… and while I feel like I was pretty good at it, it wasn’t what I was passionate about, and I was starting to burn out. I didn’t feel like there were any options for me to change my career path. My manager at the time was Luis Villegas, and he proactively invested time as a part of our one-on-ones to explore different long-term career paths for me. He mapped out what it could look like for me to go deep on being a people manager on the one hand, but also fleshed out what it could look like for me to go back to being an IC and still find progression by pursuing technical work with a broader impact to the studio.

“Before we had those conversations, I couldn’t even imagine that as a possibility for me. I almost couldn’t believe that Bungie would be willing to let me switch from a manager-of-managers to a pure IC and still commit to giving me continued growth opportunities in that role… but it really was true. Since I’ve made that switch, I’ve felt 100-percent supported and I’ve been able to go deep on problem spaces that I’d never have had time for as a manager. I really appreciate that my manager worked with me proactively to make this happen.  I’m happier, more productive and ultimately feel like I’m on a more rewarding growth path.”

     Tristan Jackson, 2011-

“I have definitely felt Bungie investing in me. I have heard from my friends / relatives at other tech jobs that they feel ill-provided for, and kind of just left on their own to fulfill a task they felt unequipped to fulfill. Within my first year here at Bungie, specifically at the beginning few months, I had two different managers constantly drill into my mind that I could ask them questions about anything I needed assistance on. While I felt my friends struggling with getting any time from senior colleagues, my biggest worry was taking up too much time of others offering it. I really and deeply appreciated what those others did for me, and I now try my best to mentor newer folks and remind them that we are always here and willing to help.”
     Mason Coram, 2020-

“There’s a piece of advice I sometimes give to engineering interviewers: don’t get too hung up on exactly how well they solved your interview problem. Instead, think about whether you’d be optimistic about working on a team with them, where you have to maintain their code, plan with them, and help them out when they need it. If you’re a manager, also think about whether you’d feel responsible in asking other people to work with them. Did you just give that team an upgrade or a headache? If you wouldn’t be optimistic about working with them or asking others to work with them, that’s definitely a no-hire. If you would be optimistic, that probably means you’re a hire. That’s what Teams are Stronger Than Heroes means to me—it goes right to the foundations of who we hire, and runs from there through everything we do.”
     David Aldridge, 2008-

See you next time for value #2 – Player Experience First!

-Bungie Engineering

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