A New Chapter

Last Friday came and went.  Came and went like any other, but it was an important one.  Friday marked marked my last office day, and the start of a nice vacation before moving my entire family across Canada.  Within one month, I will be departing BioWare and EA, and joining an old friend in Quebec City as part of Ubisoft.  

I suppose it’s common sense to state that change is hard.  Change is really scary.  I’ve worked for Electronic Arts for the last 10 years of my life, the entirety of my career.  This company and the studios that I have worked for have never failed to take care of me and my family, and I wouldn’t think twice about working with the talented people of this company a second time.

But sometimes opportunity comes knocking on your door at the oddest of times.

Since taking up employment in this field, I have been very, very careful about where I chose to work, pursuing studios that properly embody specific criteria that’s important to me.   Just like everyone else who approached this industry with stars in their eyes, I was warned early on about what this field can do to you.  It’s cripplingly hard to get in.  It moves at a blistering pace.  Terrible working hours.  High turnover.  Horrendous business practices.  Hard to raise a family with such volatile factors at play.  Fortunately however, I’ve had a mixture of elements that have kept me warded from the worst that this industry has to offer, so that I can concentrate on growing a stable, rewarding career that helps me balance my job with my family: I am likable.  I am ambitious.  I am creative.  I am damn good at what I do.  And maybe I’m a little lucky.

I have a tempered personality of sorts.  When I’m at home with my family, I want to sit in the same chair, watch the same kind of shows, have the same kind of routine, and feel as comfortable and familiar as I can.  It drives my wife nuts.  Yet when I’m at work, I could not be more the opposite.  I want to learn new skills.  I want to try different things.  I want to experiment.  I refuse to do it the way someone else did.  I need to discover.  I need to move.  I need to be different and to advance.  I have made a name and a career for myself out of my feverish need to find new ways to do old and new things.

Living this far north and this far west has created one of the largest gaps between myself and family that I’ve ever experienced in my young life.  When I have not had family immediately nearby though, the workmates that I found here at BioWare have been the closest thing that I could ask for.  Hundreds of kind, caring people from the top down that have a vested interest in those around them.

I have never regarded work as just a “job” to do.  Work for me has been a place of happiness, of safety, of growth, of friendship, and yes, of family.  I transferred here because of I saw all of those things embodied with the people here, and I have become a richer person because of it.  And as of sending my farewell address in Outlook last Thursday, I now know that they have too.

There are a great deal of things that an “average” place of employment does not do.  An average workplace doesn’t provide breakfast every morning.  It doesn’t change its yogurt vendor from standard to greek style because it’s a healthier option.  It doesn’t meet a new employee and his bewildered family at 8pm the day that they immigrate in order to help them get situated in their new apartment.  It doesn’t give extended time off for employees mourning a miscarriage.  It doesn’t send gift cards to new mothers.  An average employer doesn’t provide career growth through challenging opportunities.  It doesn’t work extra-hard to make sure newly landed children can be involved in the upcoming annual kids Christmas party.  It doesn’t allow flexible working hours so that a dad can watch his daughter’s gymnastics finale.  It doesn’t do everything that it can to ensure that a soon-to-be former employee who is going to a competitor has everything that he needs to get off on the right foot during his exit.  But BioWare is not your average place.

Just like I’ve mentioned before, I am very, very careful about where I choose to work.  And believe me, if I didn’t see those same qualities in the studio that I am going to, I wouldn’t have even bothered with returning the call.

There are fantastic, family-friendly and people-oriented studios out there in the games industry, and they tend to be as modest as they come, which is probably why you rarely hear about them or the good stuff they do.  I am lucky enough to know that I have been working for one of them for the past 5 years, and shortly, I will be taking up residence with another.

To this day, even though I’ve been a lead for 7 years, I’ve never lead a project from beginning to end.  I’ve come in, helped to get the ball rolling by prototyping and inspiring, and then I’ve moved on to do the same on another project.  I’ve sometimes felt bad, maybe even a little jealous of the fact that I’ve never gotten to be there at the finish line, to have my hands dirty as the project is finished.  If anything though, it’s taught me dual lessons about both investing, and letting go. And now by virtue of my abilities and experience with those lessons, I will be responsible for a new roll that fully embraces that kind of nurturing-on-the-fly talent: art direction.

Last Friday was as bittersweet of a day as I could have imagined.  Knowing that a new chapter of my adult life is just beginning, but a current chapter was also ending.  A new studio.  A new company.  New colleagues, new home, new lifestyle, new language.  I have never spoken French in my life, but I sure as hell will be speaking a lot of it in the next few years.

Yes yes, I’ve always heard it said that business is just business, that loyalty doesn’t go far in this world, that personal attachments are weakness.  Maybe I’m just doing this wrong then, and I’m okay with that; here at BioWare and at Electronic Arts as a whole, I know have friends and colleagues for life that are happy for me.  And I regard that as pretty damn special. 

Sure, when I moved here, I expected cold weather, and I found plenty of it.  But more importantly, I found a studio full of warm people that I can count among my friends for the entirety of my career.

Until next time, Edmonton.

Je vais vous voir bientôt, Quebec.

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