Tag Archives: tech

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.

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It’s All Relative

Time

A well-known rule, at least to me, is to avoid going grocery shopping hungry. I often end up buying more food than I should. And once I’ve gotten something in my stomach, I have buyer’s remorse for getting so much food.

It often boggles my mind how time alone can change how a person feels both physically and mentally. Around the time astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was hosting the reboot of the show Cosmos, I found this piece of artwork online done in chalk by a duo of design students who called themselves Dangerdust, illustrating one of Dr. Tyson’s quotes: “The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” The piece was so aesthetically and poetically beautiful that I wanted to get poster to hang in my home. But at the time I was also in the process of decluttering my life, trying to live with less things and being very selective about what I have in my home, like this poster.

Aware of my tendencies to impulse-buy sometimes, I actually managed to resist the urge and instead set a one-month reminder to see if I still wanted to get the poster by then. A month later, with a bit of mental and emotional distance, I realized that while I still really liked the piece, I continued to have trouble justifying the purchase. As a compromise, instead of buying it and putting it on my living room wall, I pinned it on my virtual wall on Pinterest so I can look at it whenever and wherever I want, while enjoying one less item in my home.

Space

I had been fascinated with astronomy at a young age, learning about how the Earth’s tilted axis creates the seasons and how the moon’s revolution around the Earth results in the phases. My knowledge of astronomy expanded throughout the years to learn about the solar system, galaxies and the universe (along with a bunch of laws, properties, and theories that sort of went over my head). The universe is a very very very big place, and that is an offensive understatement. I’m always taken aback when I’m reminded of the incomprehensible scale of our universe when I revisit Carl Sagan’s reflections on “Pale Blue Dot” or rewatch the Eames’ “Powers of Ten.”

The line from “Pale Blue Dot” that got me the most was: “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.” It definitively put in perspective our roles in life and in the universe. In fact, it liberated me from my responsibilities and obligations in life (to a certain extent), and I felt more free to do whatever I want.

Powers of Ten:

Size of Earth and the sun compared to largest known star (among many other things):

Tech

After working for more than five long years in a video game company in the tech hub of San Francisco, I took a leave of absence and traveled around the world. While abroad, when I told people where I work, I tried to reference things they may have heard of, like FarmVille and Words With Friends. But people rarely knew what I was talking about. While understandable, It’s still a bit disorienting to realize that the product I have poured my time and hard work into and supposedly has some market share worldwide actually has little recognition by people in those parts of the world.

Environment

As a person of science, based on the evidence experts have presented over the years, I strongly believe that global warming/climate change is real (regardless of the name it is given). I am very interested in doing what I can to lead an environmentally sustainable life. Recycling, composting, taking public transit, using energy-saving light bulbs, conserving water, automating bill pay to reduce paper mail (and worries), and being very selective about material purchases are some of the low-hanging fruit that I believe a lot of people can do.

But that is only my belief. Based on their beliefs and priorities, some people may care more, some may care less, and some may be actively against it. As a result, they do whatever aligns with those beliefs and priorities: living completely sustainably and carbon-neutral, being eco-friendly only when it’s convenient and affordable, or letting their bottom line dictate their decisions, regardless of the welfare of the planet.

Civil Rights

Similarly, I believe in and support equal rights for people of all kinds and identities. However, beyond voting and independent boycott, I have yet to do much to show my support. Still, there are varying levels of support that people can give. In addition to beliefs and priorities, people’s personalities play a role in their behaviors. Some supporters are very active, practicing their First Amendment right to assembly and free speech and speaking out against injustice and discrimination in everyday social situations. Some, like me, are more quiet, studying the situations, and making small, calculated moves.

Personal Improvement

By my late twenties, many moments and events in my life led me to let go of my need to be perfect and instead to focus on “becoming better.” I stopped constantly thinking in binary terms, like good vs bad and right vs wrong, because I realized that rarely is something 100% good or bad, etc. So instead, I learned to look at situations and judge things on a scale, determining what worked well and what could improve. I would compare it to past experiences, and evaluate its importance against the big picture. This method gives me more opportunities to learn and grow than the black-and-white approach, where I might restart the process from scratch, throwing away the mistakes along with any progress that I could have built upon.

Accomplished and To Accomplish

Once in a while, I look at my life and notice how many things I have accomplished compared to my peers and in the eyes of my family. But very quickly I would compare myself to the world and notice many more great, inspiring things that I have yet to try, explore, and complete. If I focus only in the former, I may get too complacent. If i focus only in the latter, I may set myself up for disappointment. Instead, I look at both sides and get a good sense of where I stand in the grand scheme of things. When I feel defeated for failing at something new, I remind myself how far I’ve come; when I bask in my glory for too long, I remind myself to “get back to work.”

It’s All Relative

Time can extinguish excitement, heal wounds, torture impatience, and romanticize nostalgia. We are the temporal and physical mayflies of the universe. What I value most may be worthless to others. One person’s paradise may be another person’s livelihood. I have done much and well so far, but I can do more and better.

See

7, 17, 21, 26, 29.