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EA turning to IT workers for its next victims

October 17th, 2005 (10:37 am)

I saw this article in an ACM newsletter: IT pros get serious about gaming. At first glance, it's a story about how the growing video game industry has "fascinating job opportunities for certain IT professionals who are young at heart." (Jargon Translation: "IT" means in-house computer people, developing applications for a single company to use, usually on top of other people's software. It's a hard job, but they tend to get little respect from, well, people like me.)

If you read closer, though, it's all about Electronic Arts, talking about how they love hiring people out of the IT world, whose project management skills are better, and whose experience in building things like massive databases is valuable for massive online game servers.

Now, I'll grant you that the IT world tends to instill better respect for process than the packaged-sotware world. However, the other tendency they're famous for is not doing anything really deep and difficult; instead, they build on top of packaged software that hides them from the hard parts. They don't build massive databases; they run them. And you're not going to run a game server on top of Oracle; it's just not going to respond fast enough.

I'm sure EA knows this. So why are they planting an article saying that they love to hire IT people? Gee, I dunno, could it be that they're trying to find people who don't know their reputation for treating their programmers like disposable batteries, to be sucked dry and discarded? (IT people could actually be a great target here, since they're used to be considered a cost center rather than a profit center.)

Comments

Posted by: Raf (greatsword)
Posted at: October 17th, 2005 07:14 pm (UTC)

Actually, I found several skills picked up during the IT phase of my career quite useful when I transitioned into games. I suppose it depends on how much you think about why something works quickly. I may have also had a bit of a non-standard IT carreer.

I'm not sure that games programming would meet your definition of "really deep and difficult" either, though. A lot of it is pure carpentry.

Posted by: Who, me? (metageek)
Posted at: October 17th, 2005 07:38 pm (UTC)
IT versus packaged software

I may have also had a bit of a non-standard IT carreer.

From the sound of it, yeah. :-)

I'm not sure that games programming would meet your definition of "really deep and difficult" either, though. A lot of it is pure carpentry.

Yah, but that's the case everywhere. You ask math questions in your interviews that I can't answer; I don't consider that carpentry. :-)

The real dividing line between IT and packaged software is the economic model. A software company is completely dependent on shipping software, which means that quality pays. More, low quality will directly affect the bottom line (especially if your competitors find out about it); in an in-house IT app, that's rarely the case.

There's also just the fact that packaged software has many more users, and they're much more varied; that means that you have to think about corner cases that an IT department can fence off with a "Don't do that, then".

The key technical difference that comes out of the economic difference is that an IT department is driven to use as much COTS software as possible in building their apps; in a software company, COTS software is a serious drawback (even if we bundle it, the customer usually has to install it themselves), which leads to a lot more from-scratch development. In some sense, this is inefficient, and therefore bad engineering; but the extra practice can make for good engineers.

...or, at least, engineers who are good at building packaged software. ;-)

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 17th, 2005 09:23 pm (UTC)
Re: IT versus packaged software
Wedding

You ask math questions in your interviews that I can't answer;

*world-view is shaken*

Posted by: Raf (greatsword)
Posted at: October 17th, 2005 11:08 pm (UTC)
Re: IT versus packaged software
[dance]

The definition of carpentry varies - to me it's the things I do every day, things that become the basic building blocks for a solution.

I have every confidence that metageek could answer both problems - the first probably by just seeing the problem drawn out, the second might take one related fact.

Posted by: C. Virtue (cvirtue)
Posted at: October 18th, 2005 01:16 pm (UTC)
Re: IT versus packaged software

*world view is better*

Posted by: Justin du Coeur (jducoeur)
Posted at: October 19th, 2005 09:36 pm (UTC)
Re: IT versus packaged software

in a software company, COTS software is a serious drawback

Yes and no. I think you'd be surprised at how much COTS middleware is becoming commonplace in the game industry. Everyone builds whatever their core competency is, but outside of that it often makes oodles of sense to buy and integrate...

Posted by: Justin du Coeur (jducoeur)
Posted at: October 19th, 2005 09:35 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure that games programming would meet your definition of "really deep and difficult" either, though. A lot of it is pure carpentry.

Some, yes, but let's get real -- Looking Glass had in many ways the most sophisticated program architecture of any system I've ever worked on. Indeed, I've spent much of my time at subsequent companies convincing them to adapt the lessons that were hard-won there.

Games, especially at the top end of the industry, really do push the limits in all kinds of interesting ways. From my POV, as someone who just adores interesting systems-programming problems, writing a good game *engine* -- one that is scalable and repurposable enough to make economic sense -- is really kind of neat...

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