Breaking the Ice, One Shirt at a Time

by Darius Kazemi on January 19, 2009

in conversation,know_your_history,networking

When I started at Turbine as a QA tester, the task of making friends outside of the QA department was a little bit daunting. At the time Turbine had about 210 employees, about 30 in QA, and the rest in other departments. I had a lot of opportunities to get to know certain developers: if you’re working on a bugfix with a dev, you will get to know them.

But there were a whole bunch of people I just never dealt with. Artists (I rarely dealt with art bugs), high-level producers, and high-level execs in general chief among them. If I wanted to get to know some of these other people, I needed to figure out ways to meet them outside of my normal professional interactions.
My first month on the job, I made sure to wear a particular T-shirt once a week. It was one of those “Keep Austin Weird” shirts. My reason for wearing this is that even though Turbine is a company in Massachusetts, due to the massive influence of Origin and Ultima Online, which was developed in Austin, TX, almost every MMO company in America has employees who lived in Austin at one point or another. So by wearing the shirt I was kind of fishing for people to ask, “Hey, did you live in Austin?” And I’d say, “No, but I’ve been there, and I love the city, and blah blah blah etc.” Conversation starter.
This worked astonishingly well! I became friendly with a number of fairly high-level folks who’d spend a good solid 15 minutes in the kitchen talking to me, the lowly temp QA tester. First we’d talk about Austin, then we’d talk about other stuff, and sometimes I’d end up getting the inside scoop on stuff that was happening in the upper ranks at Turbine. And of course, I’d make a friend out of it. I still keep in touch with one of these “Keep Austin Weird friends,” as I call them in my head.
So this is an unconventional example of how knowing your history can help you get ahead. It’s also invaluable to use your conversation profiling skills to maintain an extended, engaging conversation with someone you don’t know but with whom you share a common context.


Ken Noland January 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm

Amazingly enough, smoking does the same thing for the company I work for. A couple of the high level producers and execs smoke and so we all get together at random intervals of the day and talk about the projects the company is working on.

I wouldn’t recommend starting to smoke as a way to introduce yourself, but it holds an interesting paradigm, which is just know what the people do during the day to unwind. Some execs go get coffee every morning in the cafeteria, others go outside for a smoke, some play pool for 20 minutes or so. Get involved and don’t be afraid to say hi and don’t be afraid to offer your opinion!

Darius Kazemi January 28, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Nice call, Ken. I mention something similar about GDC as well: take the time to hang out on the smoking balcony if you can!

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