Life knocked you down? About to give up? Cowards do that and it ain’t you.

Remember that failure is always the first step to success. No matter how low you feel right now, your can always decide to get back up. Step by step, inch by inch, get back on your feet and try again. Because the true and absolute failure would be if you don’t.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you notto be? … Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson

You’ll never hit your career goals (if you don’t have them)

Dream it - Do it!

I’ve worked with Jim (name changed to protect the innocent) for over a year when he asked me for a career advice.  He was fairly new to the industry, young and ambitious. I knew that he would go far because he was smart, showed initiative and was not afraid of hard work. I also knew that he had multiple career paths open to him – and depending on the path he chose my advice on how to get there would be different. So I asked him – what’s your “end game”? Where do you want to end up?

He looked at me puzzled, then he said he didn’t think about it. He just wanted to advance his career, but he didn’t know what that career might look like.

 

Step 1: Define your career vision

“Whether you believe you can do it, or you don’t – you are right” – Henry Ford

Ever since my discussion with Jim the very first thing I ask people to do in their personal development plan is to come up with a long-term goal, a vision for their career. It does not have to be precise and it is guaranteed to change over time, but it needs to give you a sense of direction. Let’s say you entered the industry as a QA tester. You feel you want to go into production. Well, what exactly do you want to do in production? Do you want to work with engineers (technical producer)? Do you want to oversee art production? Support live online game? How about PR and Marketing? Do you want to manage people? Small projects or large projects? Do you want to be in charge of budgets? Do you want to be an Executive Producer? A VP of Production overseeing multiple projects at once? Do you want to stay in development or have influence over strategy of the products you work on? Or even – do you want to own and run your own studio one day?

Don’t make the usual mistake of setting your goals too low because you don’t believe you have what it takes or that you’re not ready. One of my favorite sayings is “whether you believe you can do it, or you don’t – you are right” (by Henry Ford).  The only reason you can’t achieve something is because you allow yourself to give up. So your long-term career goal must be pretty high.

Step 2: Figure out how to get there

Once you have identified your career vision, it’s time to start analyzing what it takes to get there.  This step in itself will strongly propel you towards the goal before you even realize it – as long you you are pro-active about it. As you scour the internet and the books for information on the role, you gain knowledge needed to fulfill that role. As you ask your superiors  about it, you plant a seed in their minds that you are interested in that career track. Next time they are looking for a person to fulfill a role along that career track, guess who they will think of first?

 Step 3: Pursue the vision, don’t pass the opportunities

Step 2 should create some opportunities for you, and if not, you should start seeking out ways to create those opportunities for yourself. Vocalize your desire to go along that career path to your peers and your supervisors. Ask for tasks in your current position that align with your career vision. Take classes if needed, attend seminars and read books. Find mentors that have the ability to not only teach you the craft, but also help you in your career by either promoting you directly, pointing out good opportunities to you or by creating those opportunities  (s.a.  recommending you to someone in their network).

The next big mistake I see people do (after setting the goals low) is not taking an opportunity when it presents itself. Usually it’s because they don’t feel they are ready to handle it. Here’s the thing – you absolutely cannot grow personally and professionally if don’t step out of your comfort zone. That’s how you learn. Allow yourself room for mistakes, ask advice and help, and do your best. You will surprise yourself.

The first few times you take on new opportunities, you will feel sick to your stomach with fear of failing, anticipation of unknown, self-doubt and worry. Force yourself through it. As you do this more and more, you will learn to appreciate the feeling and love the adrenalin rush of a new challenge. Soon enough, you will start seeking it out.

At the same time try to avoid moves that go against your vision. For example, I’ve passed on higher paying job offers in the past because they were not aligned with my goals and passion, and I have no regrets.

Step 4: Refine the goals as you go

 As you grow and take on new challenges, you may find that you are no longer aligned with your original vision.  That’s perfectly normal and expected. Reevaluate and adjust your career vision continuously based on your experiences and opportunities that present themselves.

Professional and personal growth is a lifetime journey, and it will be much smoother for you if your first step is to define which direction you want to be walking in 🙂

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Laozi

 

This is How Startups “Level Up” After Raising Money

Even if you are not running a start-up, this is a must-read: This is How Startups “Level Up” After Raising Money by Mark Suster. I’ve seen too many emerging leaders fail to “level up” by refusing to release the reigns, trust their teams and adjust to the growing scope of their project or company. Don’t make that mistake.

So my counsel at this stage is often: build out your senior team, let them do their jobs, become a leader more than just a doer, allocate your time to the higher-level tasks like setting company goals, managing investors, talking to partners, managing the press, etc. And mostly your job anyways is to be chief psychologist to the uber-talented team you’ve built rather than being chief dictator.

 

Why you should NOT treat your employees like family

Family first?

Is treating your employees like family a good idea?

Have you ever heard a company say “we treat our employees like family“? I used to think it was a good thing. After all, we typically associate good things with the word “family”. Things like unconditional love. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Safety. Comfort.  There are many articles written on why companies should treat employees like family.

But now I think they got it backwards.  You don’t treat your employees like family to build better teams. Instead, you apply some of the same principles both in family and in organizations to achieve excellence and loyalty in teamwork.

I think a better analogy would be “treat your employees as players on a sports team” because it captures the essence of the team building principles.

 

Team Huddle

Sports team analogy works better for businesses

Principle #1: Don’t get comfortable

The point of being a part of the family is that you will be accepted no matter what. Your family is your safety net. You can fail, you can be lazy, you can be at your worst – and yet the family will forgive and accept.  The very safety and comfort of the family environment fosters complacency and content. It’s not a good driver for innovation and team excellence.

Instead, tell your people you expect them to step out of their comfort zone, push their own limits and believe they can be bigger and better than even they themselves realize. Only by challenging yourself and those around you the team can achieve greatness.

 

Principle #2:  Don’t tolerate mediocrity

As harsh as it may sound, a great team does not tolerate bad performers. If one player is continuously failing it affects the entire team in a profound way. It not only lowers the chances of winning, but also breeds resentment, low morale, lack of pride and distrust in leadership. It can very quickly destroy the team from within.

When you tell your people you will treat them as a family, you set a certain expectation on how you will deal with bad performers. And that expectation is that bad performance is acceptable. After all, you can’t fire your grandmother.

Note that I am not talking about someone making a few mistakes here. Making mistakes means they are trying something new – it’s a good thing. I am talking about a consistent and continuous failure in one or more areas of team performance (cultural, moral, technical, etc). I am talking about the kind of failure that cannot or would not be corrected by coaching or by adjusting the responsibilities and the role of the individual (read:  my understanding of success).

If you embrace this principle, everyone on the team can be sure of their own value, can maintain high self-respect and respect for their teammates as well as the leadership. Moreover, they can maintain a sense of pride of belonging to this team.

 

Principle #3: Demand open and honest communication

Sometimes your wife puts too much salt in your meal but you eat it anyway so you don’t upset her. Sometimes you tell your husband that he’s an excellent handyman to make him feel good even though that faucet has been leaking for over two months now.

While this kind of communication sometimes works in a family environment, it’s toxic in a team. If you don’t have an open and (sometimes painfully) honest communication your team misses out on chances to improve. Therefore it’s of the essence to foster the team’s ability to give and receive feedback openly (but respectfully). They must put egos aside for the good of the team. Which brings me to the next principle…

 

Principle #4: Put the team first

This is the only principle that I feel ties well with the family analogy (people tend to put family first).

This is also the most important principle of building excellent teams. In great teams individuals put their own interests aside and focus on team’s goals instead. They have each other’s backs.  They leave no one behind, even at personal disadvantage.

Even though this goes against our immediate instinct to self-preserve and is difficult to achieve with consistency, any team that has this mindset is destined for greatness. All other principles become easy and follow effortlessly if you put the team first.

 

If you’ve successfully applied these principles, you will have a highly efficient, engaged, loyal team that has a great sense of  pride and belonging. A team like this can achieve greatness.

It doesn’t matter whether this team is built within the framework of a business, sport, army or family. The principles, I think, are the same.

 

Requiem for Molten Games

Note: This post is about my experiences at Molten Games, a San Diego based game development studio. If you have objections to any materials posted here, please let me know and I’ll remove them. 
 
See this post on Gamastutra.

How it all started

It all started about a year ago, around the time when it became painfully obvious that my project at the time will not be able to raise funding it needed to go into production. The day was more stressful than usual when I received a phone call from my friend Blaine Smith. He started with some small talk, but I impatiently interrupted him…. “What’s all this about? Let’s get to the point.”  That’s when he told me he was starting a new company in San Diego and whether I wanted to join in…. After a quick lunch with Blaine and John Fitzgerald (aka “Fitz”, the Art Director), I was sold on the idea. There was no office, no computers, no email, no WIKI, no employees – just the game idea and a pitch video Fitz put together. We were to build the company from ground up.

Blunderbuss original pitch video (screenshot)

Blunderbuss original pitch video (screenshot)

 

Building the team

Over the next few months I learned everything there is to learn about recruiting. I’ve scoured through LinkedIn, sent countess in-mails and talked to many candidates over the phone. Heck, I’ve even started using ATS. At first, it was very difficult. How do you convince a server engineer to join when you are interviewing him at a restaurant in Pasadena instead of an office in San Diego?  How about interviewing 3D modelers in the hotel lobbies? But somehow we did it. There was something great about the idea and the people at Molten that attracted industry’s best developers.  One by one, Molteneers began to assemble.

Our first in-person company meeting at Hyatt, La Jolla

Our first in-person company meeting at Hyatt, La Jolla

We have an office!

Working from homes and hotels was exciting for a while, but everyone sighed with relief when we finally moved into an office. Nothing beats working side by side with creative people. Thanks to Unreal 4 we had multi-player going within a month. Our artists built art for our first few units. The miracle of building the game has begun.

Sprint 2 Review Meeting at the new office

Sprint 2 review meeting at the new office. True story – we tripped the circuit breakers at that office every time we had a playtest. Too much awesome?

After a few months we had outgrown the space and moved into a larger open-floor office with an ocean view. Somewhere along the way something wonderful happened to Molteneers.  From a set of distinct individuals they turned into the most tightly knit team I’ve ever seen.

 

How we became Molteneers

There were practical jokes….

Blaine once told us a story about how he was banned from the game he was previously working on as a practical joke by his co-workers. They gave him a pair of glorious granny panties with “Banned ’08” inscription to commemorate the occasion. Now, how could we resist not to pull the same prank on him again? 🙂

Our CEO was working remotely from Korea for a while… this is how we said “Hello” when he came for a visit…

This is how we welcomed our CEO Jungwon (aka JW)

This is how we welcomed our CEO Jungwon (aka JW)

This is how we said “Congrats on graduating!” to our amazing intern Gennaro (nickname DiGiorno because I could not remember his name when he just started…. I’m old!)…

Congrats DiGiorno!!!

Congrats DiGiorno!!!

There was Halloween…

Molten Pumpkin

 

During the Halloween we had what we’ve called “Molympics” – a championship where teams compete in a series of games (Mortal Combat, Trivia, Toss the Bag, Foosball) to win a trophy.

Epic Tennis Match

Epic Tennis Match

Halloween 2013

Halloween 2013

 

There was Movember…

I think it wan’t easy for anyone… for girls to have to see all the facial hair every day, and for guys not to shave it off.

Movemeber 2013

Movemeber 2013

2013-11-12 00.10.53

Congrats to the winner of Movember 2013 and the owner of the most epic mustache ever!

Congrats to the winner of Movember 2013 and the owner of the most epic mustache ever!

There was Christmas…

We had the most amazing Holiday Party at the Legoland Hotel.

Lego Logo

Lego Logo

Happy Holidays, Molteneers!

Happy Holidays, Molteneers!

Secret Santa! Some gifts are more naughty than others....

Secret Santa! Some gifts are more awkward than others….

Raul was pretty excited about his gift :)

Raul was pretty excited about his gift 🙂

 

 

There was Paul’s coffee…

Paul made coffee once. ONCE.

Don't let Paul make coffee in the morning... he likes it REALLY STRONG.

Don’t ever let Paul make coffee… WAY TOO STRONG.

 

There were trophies…

The entire studio competed in Blunderbuss championship.

The entire studio competed in Blunderbuss championship.

Nothing can stop these guys...

Nothing could stop these guys…

 

A commemorative trophy for me for breaking the build. We never ended up using this for anyone else... :)

A commemorative trophy for me for breaking the build. We never ended up using this for anyone else… 🙂

 

There were nerf wars…

Let the nerf war begin!

Let the nerf war begin!

 

 

There was singing…

We had an amazing number of musicians at the company. As I absolutely love live music, this made me so very happy! Now if I could only convince Yong to deliver on his promise to sing…

 

There was Lavashark…

The Lavashark was Molten's mascot. It came out during Sprint reviews to try the martinis :)

The Lavashark was Molten’s mascot. It came out during Sprint reviews to try the martinis 🙂

 

There were meetings… so many meetings!

At the end of every Sprint we got together as a team to review progress. We watched the videos displaying concept art, gameplay, new platform tools and telemetry graphs; we cheered each other’s accomplishments and discussed our goals for the next Sprint.

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review Meeting

Sprint Review Meeting

 

There was so much more…

It’s impossible to show everything that happened in the past year in just one blog post. There were countless games of Mortal Combat, Foosball, Table Tennis and Darts. There were potlucks, chili cook-offs, birthday cakes and unexpected doughnuts and cupcakes. We watched movies together, went on hikes, had lunches and dinners, and drinks together. Probably too many drinks. We’ve had a few Molten babies born that year – we welcomed them with gifts purchased by the team. We had board games nights and fantasy football nights. We went to see Padres games and Chargers games. We became friends.

And then there was the game!

It took the team about 8 months to build the game. It was a complete Vertical Slice with an installer, patcher, back-end platform (multiplayer, basic matchmaker, persistence, monitoring, telemetry), back-end administration tools, automated deployments, automated test framework, gameplay systems, UI, and of course content – multiple champions and a beautiful map.

It took a lot of hard work. We were agile, we constantly adjusted our goals, re-scoped the deliverables and maintained extreme focus on the goals.

In terms of what we were able to accomplish, I consider Molten to be a profound success.

Before you could play the game, you had to agree to the EULA. Our legal team was not too happy with the wording…

Blunderbuss EULA v1

Blunderbuss EULA v1

And this is the cinematic video for the game itself!

How it ended

On Monday, March 24th, just about a year since I started,  a company meeting was called. Visibly shaken founders stood in front of the team and with tears in their eyes delivered the news. We’ve lost our funding unexpectedly and the studio had to shut down. That was the end.

The team stood silent for a while. Then there were hugs and tears. The team had to leave the office by noon so almost everyone went to lunch together (ironically, we hit the “Rock Bottom” bar). Almost everyone showed up at the office the next day. And the day after. And the day after that. They came to show support for each other, share leads for jobs and just hang out with each other. They were an embodiment of what it means TO BE A TEAM.

The last post on our suggestion board

The last post on our suggestion board. One star = one vote.

 

Molten and all Molteneers will always have a special place in my heart. We’ve accomplished so much. It was the best year of my life and I would have done it again in a heartbeat.

I will miss you.