Why did you leave EA?

Since I tendered my resignation with EA I have been asked multiple times “Why did you leave EA?   What was the one thing which really pushed you to make the change after so many years?”

bob-not-at-ea

It is a good question.   How can plucky little Roadhouse Interactive have more to offer me than EA?

It wasn’t a simple decision, and there were lots of different factors in the decision.

Spending all of my working hours with C# and Unity3D after 18 years of glacial iteration on MLOC C++ code-bases was where it really started for me.    As I detailed in my End of an Era posting, I fell in love with that world at Xamarin Evolve 2013.

Working in an environment where you can literally know everyone in the company (because you are all in the same small office space) is hugely appealing after 15 years+ of working an multi-national corporation with around 10,000 members of staff.    Even at EA Canada where I worked for the last 11 years there are well over 1,000 people.    Most of the time you are walking around in a sea of strangers.

The opportunity to have more influence in a smaller organization was very appealing. It will be like my first job at Psygnosis Leeds, where I was one of the first 16 members of staff, before that grew to ~50 people within the first year or so.

I get to work with Kayla Kinnunen again, which is very exciting.   We worked together before in a project from the very bowels of Satan, and even that was fun with Kayla, so working together at Roadhouse should be amazing!  She’s just shipped her first game as a Game Director – the well-received Warhammer 40,000: Carnage. And she made Roller-Derby 20xx for fun.

I get to work with Mike Davison again.  That is also very cool.    I had the unexpected pleasure of four straight hours with Mike at my Roadhouse interview.    I didn’t know who I was meeting ahead of time (and didn’t even know that Mike worked at Roadhouse), but in walked Mike and we had the most delightful few hours talking about everything under the sun.     It will be a pleasure to continue that dialog on a day-to-day basis.    There is so much I know that we can build together at Roadhouse.

I get to work with Ben Sheftel for the first time too.    I’ve not had the pleasure of working with Ben yet, but I know that he is a super-star in the making.   We met nearly a year ago because our significant others work together, and it will be a delight to get the chance to work together.     I have another friend, Adam Shaikh, who works at EA whose wife also works with my wife.    On his first day at EA, I was dispatched to go and collar Adam and say “Hello!  I’ve been been told to come and say hi, because our wives work together and we work together!”

Roadhouse is much closer to my Kitsilano home than EA Canada. That means we’re going to be able to get rid of our second car, because I will be able to cycle, run or bus into work. That is a big cost saving and hassle reduction. Roadhouse is less than 5K from home for me, where EAC was around 15K.    I will save an hour or more of commute each day.    That time saving is huge as a father of a young family.

The Roadhouse office is also very close to the Vancouver seawall, so I can do lunchtime runs on the seawall.

All of these things are nice.    Great, even.    But they weren’t the deciding factor.

That was something very simple.    Personal freedom.    The ability to be myself, and to do my own projects in addition to my new day-job, which will be delightful enough in its own right.

At Roadhouse I have the ability to contribute to Open Source projects.   At Roadhouse I have the ability to build WearableC64 and MonoTizen.     I am allowed (even encouraged) to operate Kitsilano Software and Kitsilano Games alongside my role at Roadhouse.    As long as I am dedicated to Roadhouse during my working hours, and don’t directly compete against Roadhouse, we are cool.

Roadhouse like to hire people with passion for multiple things, not just for their day-jobs.   Isn’t that very grown up?     Imagine … the company has hired me because they value my skills and experience, and they trust me as an adult not to do anything which harms the company!

That kind of “humanity” is something which I think it is very hard for a large corporation to achieve.    It is certainly something I was never able to obtain at EA.    There is an onerous process in place at EA when it comes to potential “conflict of interest” issues.   There are forms to fill in.    There are committees which need to meet.    And ultimately it is down to the personal discretion of VPs.    And they can and do say no.    I am very personally aware of that.    It first happened to me in 2009.

I think that kind of conservatism is actually very harmful to EA, not in some theoretical way, but in a very practical way right now.     It creates a barrier to hiring creative individuals, who aren’t willing to sign away their freedom at the door.    It creates a retention problem for more senior staff, who were OK with that constraint in their 20s but aren’t so cool with it as they get older.    Like me.

It also leads to a subversive setup where some people will just do work projects on the side anyway, but secretly under pseudonyms.   That was never “my bag”, though it would have been easy enough to do.    I have too much integrity to cheat an employer in that way, no matter how much I may disagree with their policies.

The fear of allowing staff to contribute to Open Source projects is particularly harmful to EA.   I can understand that there is a legal risk to EA of using Open Source software, primarily in terms of liability to patent claims.    The only real risk in allowing staff to contribute to Open Source projects is that they will be spending time doing things more exciting than their day jobs and they might want to go and do more of that somewhere else 🙂

Realistically, no individual is going to publish valuable EA IP as open source without permission – for two reasons.     Firstly, because they would have to be unbelievably stupid to do so, because they would create the most prosecutable paper-trail you could imagine.   Secondly, because most real-world code inside corporations is really ordinary, and of no value for re-use whatsoever.

I don’t think that EA is unique in having those kind of constraints on staff – namely “anything you create while working for us belongs to us, and you cannot do anything outside of work unless we expressly give you permission”.

The same constraints are probably present in many large corporations in nearly exactly the same form.   These policies are a killer for those other corporations too.  Large technology companies that continue to try to tie down their staff will really suffer for it, because everything in the world is technology-based now.   Technology is ubiquitous.   Saying that members of staff cannot express their skills outside of their work is to deny part of their very humanity.    It’s like saying that they’re not allowed to write, or to talk.

There are moves underway to loosen up those constraints at EA, but they didn’t come soon enough for me.

That is ultimately why I left EA.

That personal freedom and professional trust from an employer is priceless.

Bravo, Roadhouse Interactive for your maturity, and for giving me the opportunity to be me!     I start work in 2 hours time.   See you soon 🙂

3 thoughts on “Why did you leave EA?

  1. Thanks for explaining your decision so candidly Bob! Congratulations on your move, it sounds like an excellent choice. Wishing you and your family all the best. ~Heidi

    1. Thank you! I’m certainly happy with my choice. Met lots of lovely Roadhouse people this morning, and will keep doing so all Week of Geek!

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