Talentism is not a “recruiting blog” in the oft-used sense of that phrase: my topic of choice is not usually how great it is to work at Electronic Arts (EA) . This is a personal blog and maintaining the freedom to discuss the topics that are important to me is something I jealously guard. Never once has a post been published here with the idea “Hey, prospective hires are just gonna love this!” Even the “Join the EA Talent Network” widget is more an experiment in technological utility than a shill for my employer. I always figured that (as was said in 68 Posts) that this blog was a “payment in advance,” a way of creating a market for my ideas based on their value to the reader. I always assumed that if readers got value from the posts and they knew I worked at EA, then by the transitive property some people might think better of EA. I never put more thought into it than that.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Last week I was asked a specific question about EA in an interview and an apparently repressed desire to sing EA’s praises came pouring forth. It was astonishing, to me as much as anybody else.
My self-description would be “contrarian entrepreneurial innovation information junkie” in that I have spent most of my career starting and running small companies. Since 1992 I have not recieved a paycheck from a company with more than 100 employees. And as my regular readers will likely recognize, I have never been a fan of corporate America. So it was more than a bit of a shock to my friends and family when I told them that I was “going corporate”, not only because that didn’t seem to be in my DNA but also because I have a family to feed and my off-the-wall approach to creative problem solving didn’t seem to be a big company’s cup of tea. Frankly, even I was perplexed about my decision to join EA. It felt like the right thing to do, but any further examination of the situation always ended in “Are you nuts?”
And yet here I was, 14 months and 20 days later, telling the Fortune Innovation Blog that “I feel lucky every day I get to go to work.” What happened? Do they literally serve Kool-aid from the drink dispensers that I frequent in the HR department? Perhaps, but the truth of the feeling is inescapable: I have never had more fun working. I am having a blast. That doesn’t mean that it’s all daisies and love 24/7 (but if your idea of fulfillment is a big kumbaya session then you probably need to stick to the camp counselor listings in the want ads). And I wouldn’t say I have gotten hitched – I continue to believe in a free agent market and that all employers need to be recruiting their employees every day. But the much prognosticated (perhaps there was a bit of schadenfreude in there, hmmm?) homogenization of my personality hasn’t occured. I haven’t had to go through some sort of genetic mutation in order to survive here. Quite the opposite – I find that I am rewarded for innovating and hard-charging without the worry of making a payroll (those of you whom are entrepreneurs know the dread of which I speak). Best of all, I get to work with a lot of incredibly smart people who charge my learning battery in ways that I haven’t enjoyed since… well, ever.
Yet I come from a “small band of rebels” background so I occasionally get ribbed by my gamer friends who think that I have sold out to the man. They say that EA is a sweatshop, so I smile and point out that they work just as many hours as anybody at EA. They say that EA doesn’t produce leading-edge stuff, so I smile again and show them that there is as much leading-edge IP coming out of EA (you have got to check out Spore when it comes out – it is truly amazing) as there are supposed “franchise retreads.” I also remind them that Madden was the number one game last year for a reason: because millions of people think it is an awesome game, and as a developer there is no better feeling than knowing what you do is enjoyed by so many people. And then I point out that while they are on the outside kvetching EA is putting a huge amount of resources towards solving the day-to-day problems that challenge every company. Since long work hours, chaos and ruthless crunch-exercises have been a fact of life in the high-technology industry since the 70’s (ever hear of “Tapeout Hell”?) I would rather be on the inside trying to solve the problem than on the outside waiting for someone to fix it for me. That’s about the time when they grumble something nasty about me “still being a sellout,” as they hurriedly SMS me to keep them in mind for future job openings.
So what has gotten me so breathless (a crime of which I so recently accused Friedman)? The industry for one. The Interactive Entertainment industry is just plain cool. Pretty soon there will even be game tournaments on TV. No offense to all the sunglass-wearing bad-boy film stars who can’t get their next deal signed but I would rather see some 20-something rip an alien to shreds than watch some guy with a beer belly and an absurdly small cowboy hat make a call with pocket aces. Kids already spend more time gaming than they spend on TV or at the movies (which in my mind is a very good thing). It is the entertainment medium of choice for a new generation (and, as it turns out, an old generation, as more people my age get online for gaming and social interaction).
“Who cares?” you say. “I want to change the world, not play games.” I'm right there with you: my jones for making a difference is getting its fix at EA as well. As Maxis founder and EA uber-employee Will Wright pointed out in a recent article “But the gamers' mindset - the fact that they are learning in a totally new way - means they'll treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption. This is the true impact videogames will have on our culture.” Or as I said in the Innovation interview, “It is clear to me that everything from medical research to the way that our kids work inside of companies is going to be directly impacted by the way these games are developed and played.” Yes, EA focuses on "fun" more than "serious", but the very nature of the products we create is having a positive impact on the world. The fact that I get both "fun" and "serious" is a big reason I find myself so excited.
I can hear all the Gen Why cynics saying I am a corporate hack, just playing the party line. Fifteen months ago I probably would have had the same reaction. People who know me know that I just don’t have it in me to sell something I don’t believe in. And it may be that the love-fest will be short lived. Only time will tell. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that the flip side of my intense passion is a quick trigger for disappointment and disgust. Loyalty is a strong part of my make-up, so you won’t read negative stuff about EA here, regardless of what happens in the future. There are too many windmills for me to tilt at to spend my time biting the hand that feeds me. But one thing is for sure – if I haven’t posted that I am working someplace else you can safely assume I feel the same way that I do today. And for that, I feel pretty lucky.