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Six Things I’m Grateful For For My Six Years at Zynga

6. Facilities, Security, and all the departments that have kept HQ running smoothly.

As a person who likes things clean and organized, I have much respect for the women and men who keep the place pleasant to be and work in. They are the true unsung heroes in making things run as smoothly as possible at HQ.

At the start of every morning, I already see the cleaning staff working hard, doing their routine tasks before most of the employees show up. They continue to keep the place looking good throughout the day, regardless of it being a regular workday or after a company party. It constantly makes me much more conscious to do my part to keep the place clean and leave as little extra work for the crew to do as possible.

Even though I don’t know the reach of Facilities’ operations in the building, I know that there are countless behind-the-scenes decisions and actions every day that make our work life more comfortable, allowing us to do our job. On just the things that we could see, thank you for coordinating all the massive desk moves over the years (and doing it efficiently), for responding to our fancy requests for standing desks, keyboard tray attachments, and “Never mind I don’t like it” keyboard tray detachment, for our seemingly conflicting requests to turn up the AC or turn up the heater, and for making possible big (and small) events that we host from time to time (or every other day).

And the security team, the group of people who are often seen quietly doing rounds around the office. I don’t know what you actually do during rounds, but I shouldn’t know anyway, except that I know it has kept the company, the building, the employees, and the equipment safe.

These departments make up the foundation of our awesome HQ. For these and many more reasons, thank you.

5. The culture to experiement

Whether it is experimenting with our products, with our process, or for myself, I have come to embrace the spirit to experiment, to fail fast and learn. As much as I prefer to develop habits, establish routines, and do things a particular way, I have learned that in order to grow and adapt to change, one must experiment and try new things, at least from time to time.

It is well known that we test the heck out of a lot of things in our products. If the cost was cheaper, we would have tested every single pixel and second of our players’ experience. But the fact that we don’t also taught me to be smart about what we test, to recognize that some things in life are more important than others, and I/we have the power to choose what those things are for ourselves.

At work, there is always something new happening. It may be an org change or a new production process or a shift in happy hour scheduling. I’m sure this happens at other companies as well, but, even though this is my first corporate job, I feel that this happens a lot more frequently than other companies. It took me two or three years to catch on; I had learned that at Zynga, practically everything is temporary. In a way, I see everything as an experiment, and if it doesn’t perform well with the employees, they’ll change it up and try something else until something sticks. It lets everyone in the company be more innovative in finding solutions that work best. It taught me be more open to new ideas and be less set in my ways. It’s the Zynga way, and we’re constantly getting better and better at it.

Similarly, on a smaller scale, I have my own experiments with the way I work. Over the years, I have developed and refined a routine and process that work with my work schedule and with my team (This personal routine that I’ve spent years piecing together is actually one of the things I will terribly miss after I leave.) And when my routine or process stop working and start affecting my performance, I experiment with other methods or schedules or apps to find a better way to work. And I feel that the way Zynga is run allows me to do these little experiments on my own so I can get the most out of myself.

It’s this spirit of not being afraid to experiment that has kept Zynga going, that has made working at Zynga infinitely interesting, and that I will carry with me in my personal life and hopefully in my next career adventure. For these and many other more reasons, thank you.

4. The gym

I must recognize the little family from the Zynga gym and mention how much I owe my health to this place and the people who run it.

I was already exercising regularly before the Zynga gym, but I was mainly doing my own thing, piecing together what little I learned in elective PE classes in college and from articles I found online. Through the classes I took with Jodi, JP, Dan, and a few others at the Zynga gym, I added so many new exercises and stretches into my repertoire. Specifically, the care they took to correct my stance and position in class led me to become more aware of my body posture, and effectively make me feel more confident. I still experiment and put together my own program, but the things I learned from them gave me a much better understanding of what is important, correct, and safe.

During the three-month Tough Mudder-themed competition at the gym, I adopted a particular diet that they recommended, and I have been on it ever since. Even though I am still experimenting with parts of it and making it work for my health goals, the basic philosophy of the diet is solid and genuine putting me on the right path to a healthier life.

The availability and access to massages, reflexology, and acupuncture were also great. Having these services reminds me how stressed out we often get and how important it is to take care of our health.

Finally, I had the opportunity to 1) travel to Nicaragua and 2) stayed in a “boutique hotel” near the beach for 3) a weeklong surf trip with Derek, JP and a few other Zyngites. It was a taste of a different lifestyle that I never thought I could experience. It was also one of the catalysts for my world trip a few years later.
Since many of my coworkers casually pointed out my dedication and consistent workout schedule, I often ask myself whether I spend too much time at the gym, potentially feeling guilty about being away from the office. But I would often reason (with myself) that 1) I care for and am actively taking responsibility for my health, 2) exercising definitely helps me relieve stress for the day, allowing me to come back refreshed and do better work, and 3) stepping away from my desk and from the problem of the day often unlock the solution while I’m running or doing sets. So with both personal and professional benefits, I would say my time at the gym is actually a good investment.

The Zynga gym has helped me grow for the past few years, both physically and mentally. For these and many more reasons, thank you.

3. The food

Zynga Culinary has done an amazing job providing food for the people at HQ. I am always impressed by both the variety and the amount of food it produces every day, not just for regular meals, but also for catering special meetings and events.
I have yet to consider myself a foodie, but I am really picky about what I eat, especially after I adopted the diet from the Zynga Tough competition. But that is totally okay, because Culinary offers the awesome Nirvana line, where the dishes are simple, nutritious, and clean. It’s my default line at lunch; I rarely have to look at the daily menu email because the Nirvana line’s weekly menu is more or less the same, just the way I like it.

It’s a little ironic/unusual that when people rave about the food at Zynga, they’re referring to the fancy or hearty dishes at the Expo line or the main line, or the dangerously good desserts they bring out from time to time, but I love the food at Zynga because of the healthy choices that they offer. I’m even more impressed that they are able to offer the healthy choices along with the “foodie” choices. They could easily and exclusively cater to people’s cravings and sweet tooth by making just deliciously heavy dishes and desserts, but they have people’s health-conscious lifestyles in mind and decided to provide for both, and I admire and appreciate that.

Like the regular meals, the food stocked in the kitchens near the offices is also wonderful. Again, there’s a wide variety of guilty foods along with healthier snacks, with me naturally gravitating toward the healthy stuff. And even then, it was mainly just one item for breakfast: first, it was greek yogurt, and after I began my diet, it was hard-boiled eggs. I feel so fortunate to have breakfast consistently taken care of and provided every day, that even when the batch of hard-boiled eggs that week turned out to be less than peelable, I remind myself of this first world problem and am grateful that there’s even food at all to begin with.

Making all this food and coordinating the operation of it all is not an easy or simple task. I don’t know what and how much they do behind the scenes (a lot, I’m sure), but from what I’ve seen at front of house, where I see the cooks dodge the smoke from the grill of sizzling salmon filets or gourmet burgers, or the servers pace around the floor carrying large trays of hot food, or the staff push shelves of plates and silverware or heavy machines to different spots across the always-rearranging cafe floor, these folks are just incredible, incredible people.

And even though the scale of the Friday brunch service has been reduced over the years, it remains to be something I look forward to every week. After I leave Zynga, I will continue to think about it and miss it, along with all the free food I would have every week. So Culinary, for these and many more reasons, thank you.

2. My managers and the creative teams

I came to Zynga as a graphic/web designer working on UI, became an asset manager, then worked my way from associate user experience designer to senior user experience designer. Every step of the way, I had the support and guidance of my direct managers all in their uniquely wonderful ways.

JC is the most positive, zen, and nurturing person I have ever met. Combined with his expertise in user experience and games, a brief chat with him would make me feel optimistic and motivated for the rest of the day.

Walter is a very creative guy, always coming up with ideas and helping to make my job easier. Very friendly and approachable, he would often crack jokes (and plenty of puns), keeping the mood in the office light and easy-going.

Gunthar’s energetic presence often gave me the motivation and confidence I needed to get the best ideas out of my brain and make them real. Along with the rest of the design team, he welcomed me into the world of professional design and set me up for significant growth and experience in a short amount of time, thanks to the numerous hands-on firefighting exercises that was ZDC.

In addition to already being a talented designer, Spencer was a thoughtful and dedicated manager. He cared a lot about the success and happiness of his designers, and worked with each one of us to take advantage of our strengths and offered practical advice to tackle our weaknesses.

Rhi, Rhi, Rhi. She has done so much for me, so much so that I cannot describe in a few sentences. I am so lucky that she saw potential in me as a designer when I joined the ZDC team, and had since assigned me multiple features and projects that she knew I could both handle and challenge myself with, essentially training me to become an ever better designer.

Nick M. and I share a sharp eye for pixel precision, and it made me feel more normal to have someone as detail-oriented (or more!) as I am. As both my colleague and then manager, Mr. Linens inspired me every day to always stay on my toes and keep fighting the good (design) fight.

Nick G. has only been my manager for less than two months, but in that short time, he’s managed to light up something inside everyone on the design team, motivating us to continue the success of our work and bring more delight to our players. I wish I had met him earlier so I could learn more from him.

Along with these great managers were the teams of truly talented and creatively diverse artists and designers that I had the privilege of working with. Having coworkers in the same discipline just made the entire experience much more valuable, educational, enjoyable. There were so many whom I admire, adore, and wish I could have worked with more. I earnestly hope our paths will cross in the future.

For these and many more reasons, thank you.

1. Everyone who has ever worked for Zynga.

Whether you were my managers, fellow designers, squad mates, teammates, division mates, or fellow Zyngites at HQ or around the world, thank you. Even if we have never met, there’s probably two or three degrees of separation where your good work has influenced my job, and vice versa.

As I mentioned in my letter of resignation, it honestly never ceases to amaze me how many talented people have worked at this company. And I have been fortunate enough to work with so many of them. I learned so much about business, tech, culture, processes, etc. from everyone over the years that it inevitably made me a more well-rounded and thoughtful designer.

In addition, practically all of the people I’ve worked with have been incredibly kind and generous, both with their hearts and with their time. I was taught to do things I would not have thought I would do in my career, like running stats queries, pushing code on Hudson, and working with outsourced vendors. I was also taught things that helped me become a better designer, like preparing specs and assets for delivery, owning the design for many projects and features, and drawing flows and wireframes that everyone could understand.

And specifically, I am extremely grateful that so many people have been patient with me and putting up with my neuroses and special ways of doing things. I love working in an environment where everyone’s unique quirks are embraced as strengths and used to the advantage of the team and the product.

One of the reasons I look forward to work every morning is to be in the company of such great people. To sneak a semi-pun, it is pretty much working with friends. But with my departure, all I could do is to cherish the unbelievable experience and think about all the amazing friends I’ve made along the way.

For these and endlessly more reasons, thank you.

Advice for Design Students

Cardboard pieces

Now that I’ve posted a couple introductory entries to the blog, I can start talking about real stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of design podcasts by experienced designers, like Be a Design Cast and Design Matters with Debbie Millman, and from time to time, the topic of design students come up and they talk about any advice that they would give to students. I’m not saying that I can’t benefit from their advice just because I’m not an institutional design student anymore, but there are some things that I myself wish I had learned about and had applied when I was still in school.

With Be a Design Cast and Design Matters being produced by people at different levels of experience, their advice differ a little in terms of what’s important to be a good designer. And I wonder if my advice now would be different as I get more experience in my career. So here are my advice to design students. And maybe I’ll do this every year to see how much more I’ve learned about the profession and wish design students had been exposed to this while they are still in school.

1. Check your GEs and all graduation requirements.

This is a special, bitter one from me. Even though I’m currently enjoying the make-up class of Astronomy this fall and becoming inspired by science and jazz (from the radio on my drive to and from campus), I wish that I was done done when I thought that I was done done. It’s just not worth all the trouble of emailing and registering and freaking out for not taking care of something the first time around. So check with your advisors, both from your major and from the university, because sometimes your major advisor doesn’t check the university requirements (wink wink, my undergrad school).

Action for advice: Talk to all your academic advisors.

2. Learn about history

You should be taught that design is not about making things look pretty. Design should have a reason, and that reason comes from history. History is boring, I know, but it’s still important. If you want, pick the part of history that fascinates you, and learn about that. I went through a phase of being obsessed with the Bauhaus after learning about it in my design history class, and it turns out that a lot of design today derives one way or another from the Bauhaus aesthetics. That’s only one case of history, but without any knowledge in design history, we would not be any more different from the typical individual who uses Gotham or Optima just because “it looks cool.”

Action for advice: Take history courses and learn about specific topics in history that interests you on your own time.

3. Learn about design and the world today

Speaking of history, current events is history. I believe it’s important to look at what’s out there today, what people are doing that are both related and not related to design. Go beyond the MP3 player TV commercials and the blockbuster movie posters and look at architecture, product design, interior design, fashion design, the arts, music, and film from all over the country and the world. Stay in touch with non-design current events, too: economy, politics, social issues, etc. Art and design partly responds to life, and without life, art and design has no direction. When I was still in school, it bothered me a little when some of my classmates were so in their own little bubble that they clearly designed something based on what they personally like or what they think is “cute” or “cool.”

Nowadays there are so many blogs on so many topics; the community of design blogs alone is so huge that I can’t possibly subscribe to and read all of them. With online tools like Twitter (which I use to share interesting sites and info with people), del.icio.us, Digg, and RSS readers, it is now possible to quickly access so many great designs out there and draw inspirations from them. So there should not be any reason to not know about current events and trends to use as an influence in your designs.

Action for advice: Subscribe to blogs and podcasts, read about what well-known designers today are doing, and use del.icio.us to collect things you like.

4. Learn about the business side of design.

This is an advice that I wish I had gotten when I was in school. It’s also an advice that was repeated from both Be a Design Cast and Design Matters. I certainly don’t have a lot of business experience, coming from design. My two-and-a-half cases of experience with the business side of design are 0.5) working with the publishing company representative for my high school yearbook as the Design Editor, 1) designing, printing, and selling Naps Shirts by myself with anyone who wanted a Naps Shirt, and 2) working for a year with on-campus clients at Creative Media as a graphic artist. Even though my last point dealt with clients, I somehow think that that experience is insufficient for real-world business. With my academic schedule in college, I definitely had time to learn about business near the end of my senior year, but I didn’t know that was so important in the real world, so I wasted that time and opportunity to learn about food.

Action for advice: If possible, minor in Business, or at least take one or two classes on anything related to business, just so you know something about business.

5. Get an internship

This is another one that I didn’t get to do. To be honest, I don’t think I had time to take on an internship with my situation because I couldn’t really travel anywhere outside of campus without bumming rides. But I really think that it’s valuable if you have the chance to do it, because once you’re out of college, you’re expected (I assume) to be ready to work with people as if you know what they know about working in a real company. I’m still glad that I had some experience working at Creative Media, but somehow I think that an internship at a “real” company is more valuable to your experience.

Also, it’s better to get an internship in college than after because half of the internships I’ve looked at only offer payment in college credit. What would I do with college credit after I’ve graduated?

Action for advice: Get an internship in the real world if you have your own mode of transportation.

6. Experiment

I am glad that I was fortunate enough to have had an instructor who openly values experimentation. He even had a class dedicated to that. There were not defined products in the curriculum, as long as we explored our creativity. I am happy to have had the chance to take a course like that; now, I wish I could have taken it earlier in my undergrad, because before, almost everything I designed had straight lines with everything aligned, very boxy and very boring. I know that the design of this blog (at the time of this post) is very boxy. But simple, accessible web design is a little different from physical design. And besides, the concept of Flush fits the design. Nonetheless, I’m still experimenting on a couple little things in this blog where I would not have done if I hadn’t developed the heart for experimentation.

Action for advice: When you have the chance with your class assignments, experiment with different approaches to your usual process, and when you have spare time, start your own projects where you explore ideas and perspective other than your own.

7. Enjoy college

This is probably just me, but I always use the excuse of having to finish design projects for not going out and socializing. Every start of the year or quarter, when I had very little schoolwork, I always promised myself to make time to hang out. Then the projects started pouring in, and by the time finals come, I’m stuck at my desk on my computer, perfecting the kerning on a project that’s due right after I get off the bus which is coming in two minutes. Maybe it’s a design major thing, where you can’t really stop. And it’s funny how your non-design friends think design is “fun” and “easy” when in fact it stresses you out because of the fact that design is judged on a color-wheel continuum instead of a black-and-white-solve-for-x answer key, which means you could practically spend all available time making your design better and better until it’s time to print, crop, spray-mount, pin-up, and BS-ly present your reasons for your design decisions. But again, that’s probably just me.

Action for advice: Party.

8. Enjoy your summer(s)

I certainly am enjoying my five-months-and-counting summer vacation. Let’s hope that it doesn’t continue indefinitely.

Action for advice: Enjoy your summers, especially the one after graduation, unless you plan on becoming a teacher.