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Engineering Values Handbook – Widen Your Perspective

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

Widen Your Perspective

We spent more time to unpack this value than any other, because it’s a critically important area. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of saying uncontroversial positive-sounding things, or the trap of reiterating problematic cliches. Going back to one of the guiding principles of this whole handbook, as much as possible we want to highlight non-obvious tradeoffs or concrete expectations. And it took a while to describe the principles we try to live by in ways that we thought were both interesting and sufficiently nuanced.
We believe we build better games by actively working to be welcoming and inclusive to all.
  • We acknowledge that the US game industry, specifically including the history and culture of Bungie engineering, has long been dominated by straight white English-speaking cisgender men from North America. We acknowledge that the effects of that dominance persist in today's patterns and practices, continuing to disadvantage or exclude underrepresented groups. We believe it's imperative that we actively identify and root out such inequitable or non-inclusive patterns.
  • We proactively seek to identify and mitigate structures or behavior that could, or do, make our people, our job applicants, or our players feel unwelcome.
  • We seek out diversity of all kinds, encourage self-expression, and believe each person's unique story can inform our choices and make our products better. We need linear thinkers and neurodiverse imaginators. We need idealists and pragmatists. We need technology specialists of all kinds as well as polymath generalists. We need people from traditional universities, dedicated game dev programs, and non-traditional career paths. A rich array of backgrounds helps us look at problems from all angles and find the remix diamonds that power our games.

“In 2017, I was engineering lead of Destiny 2's social / rewards / UI / matchmaking effort. Our design lead, ME Chung, championed a biweekly ritual where we'd do a show-n-tell in a cross-disciplinary setting involving Test, Design, Production, and Engineering. I remember having a pretty snazzy demo lined up and her explicitly telling me to show something much less polished. That brought me up short; my perspective was that I’d done a sweet thing and so I should share it, right? ME had a much wiser perspective about the value of low-stakes rituals, and the space I could create for others by lowering the temperature of the ritual. I showed something much less cool and let others shine. ME is a great leader and I'm proud to have worked with her.”
     Chris Chambers, 2011-2018 and 2021-

We offer grace to each other while holding each other accountable for negative consequences.
  • When we feel slighted or hurt, we try to offer grace and consider charitable interpretations of the actions of others, while making them aware of the negative consequences and trying to work through to a place of understanding and empathy.
  • We don't tolerate hurtful behavior, nor do we pressure those hurt to contort themselves into toxic positivity. Sometimes a conflict isn’t just a misunderstanding; sometimes things happen that aren’t OK and we immediately and actively correct them.
  • We offer official support resources through a variety of channels to anyone who’s been hurt - we don't pressure them to resolve issues themselves, especially if there's a power imbalance.

When we sense conflict, we start from the presumption that others also want the best for Bungie, and work to resolve any misalignment or miscommunication.
  • We try to remember that there's a good chance that everyone we work with shares our high-level goals, and that our disagreements are a result of differing local context, priorities, or constraints.
  • When we’re in conflict with someone, we try to resolve it, or at least fully understand our differences in context—we try to never settle into permanent conflict where we're thinking of the other person as ill-intentioned or foolish.

“In designing our culture, we start from something like these baseline assumptions for Bungie:
  1. Everyone wants to be kind to each other and see each other be happy.
  2. Everyone wants Bungie to be successful and to become a better and better place to work.
  3. We want people to feel comfortable being goofy, authentic, and unguarded while at work. We want people to feel that they can bring their whole selves to work and express themselves freely, while feeling psychological safety.

By default, number three opens an incredibly wide space of acceptable behavior, while the combination of one and two gives us some safety buffer when something in three inadvertently offends (for any number of reasons, not limited to ID&E-related scenarios).

However, we don't rely on that safety buffer for everything—we're not building a culture where you can say anything you want and everyone has to tolerate it. This is explicitly unlike the broader US legal system (guaranteed free speech in public spaces, etc.) Bungie's explicit intent is to pursue shared goals with high cohesion and trust, so we want to be a tighter-knit and less-combative group than the country at large, so we design and evolve our culture to support that goal. So, we go back to that wide open space of personal expression and we add some guardrails to reduce the potential for conflict and hopefully increase overall psychological safety. For example:
  • At Bungie it's not OK to be unwelcoming in ways that are widely recognized as such in US culture.
    • For example, you're expected to know that it's not OK to use any racist slur.
  • At Bungie it's not OK to be unwelcoming to people in ways that we know matter to them, even in ways that seem more accepted by broader US culture.
    • If someone at Bungie tells us "I personally find this unwelcoming," we take that incredibly seriously.
    • This is closely related to the Platinum Rule: we treat others as they would like to be treated, rather than as we would like to be treated.
  • This isn't only about traditional ID&E and URG scenarios, it's also about following patterns that support a collaborative culture with high psychological safety—a culture that is deeply welcoming to human beings and their talents, and where it feels safe to be vulnerable and to make mistakes. Here are some examples of constraints we place on naive free expression to pursue that goal:
    • It's not OK to tear down the morale and alignment of the people around you with cynicism. There’s lots of subtlety in the line between cynicism and candid criticism, which we do want!
    • Candid criticism is encouraged, even in groups, as long as it's straightforward, respectful, constructive, and doesn't ascribe evil motives or incompetence to others. If criticizing someone's work helps make it better, that's wonderful, but remember that you want them to be happy. Make sure that your style of criticism reflects that intention. Of course, it's possible to take gentleness of criticism too far here—we don’t want to be a culture where we’re all talking in deeply-couched euphemisms about how the emperor might be a tad underdressed for the weather. You'll want to tune your bar as you work with people—the typical loop is to try what you think is a friendly critique style for the situation, and then ask for feedback afterwards! Sometimes the person will say, "Yeah, that hurt my feelings a bit, I wish you'd done X," and sometimes they'll say, "You spent way more time on disclaimers than you needed to, you can be more direct!"
    • If you think that a leader’s decision is wrong, and you spread cynicism and FUD about that among your peers instead of escalating it to that leader in a professional way, that's not OK.
    • If you catch someone in a mistake, and you call them out on it in a hurtful way, that's not OK—we don't want people to fear that negative emotional experiences will be the result of any mistakes, because that results in (a) excessive caution and (b) hiding mistakes rather than learning from them.
    • Demagogic point-scoring in groups is not OK (leveling a rhetorical attack that sounds compelling but is actually oversimplified or deceptive).
    • In virtually all cases, punching down is worse than punching up in these areas—there's more of an onus on leaders to consistently create psychological safety because of their relative power and security. These guidelines do still apply across any pair of people in the company though—it would be much worse for the CEO to personally insult an associate engineer than vice versa, but neither is OK.
    • There are many more examples like this across our Values Handbook.

With those kinds of guardrails constraining the space of acceptable personal expression, our initial wide space of tolerance-of-expression is now a good bit smaller, but we believe that this makes our culture stronger, especially for the purpose of combining our strengths to make great games!”

     Excerpt from the Tone and Inclusivity Guidelines for Bungie Engineering & Test

We debate with empathy, respect, and humility.
  • We show awareness of our own fallibility.
  • We show respect for the expertise and different context that others may have.
  • We show respect for the priorities of others.
  • We’re eager to grow and to learn from everyone around us. We remember that virtually everyone is better than us at something, and we’re curious what we can learn from each person we work with.

We seek a virtuous cycle of transparency and trust.
  • Our leaders are expected to work to create psychological safety to enable everyone to be heard.
  • Our people are expected to give healthy feedback to leaders and to ask them tough questions in a healthy way.
  • Our leaders are expected to be unusually transparent and nuanced, and in exchange we give them the benefit-of-the-doubt when they say they can’t share information or make a change we want.

“This is the most transparent leadership team I've seen so far in my career. Not to say that Bungie is perfect (we've obviously had our share of mistakes), but the effort that leaders here put into answering studio questions and being as proactive as they can about sharing upcoming things that will affect us is inspiring. I've also experienced members of leadership being vulnerable about being wrong, acknowledging mistakes and impacts to people, and trying to take away lessons from those mistakes that can help make us all better. I picked up on some of these threads during my interview process, and now that I’ve been here a year, I’m happy to confirm that I didn't read them wrong.
     Ylan Salsbury, 2021-

See you next time for value #6 – Keep It Fun!

-Bungie Engineering

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