What It Takes

What does it take to be a Senior UI Tools Programmer on the God of War team? What key impact will this person have on developers building God of War?

Gullotti: For this role, there needs to be an equal amount of knowledge and passion. There are a lot of diverse challenges in a game studio, where the majority of the tools are either built in-house or are heavily customized. A high level of knowledge is required as a foundation, not only to approach every problem with a critical mind, but to deconstruct it to the fundamental elements, design a streamlined workflow and express it through a well-balanced user interface. Passion fuels the drive to experiment and get to the most efficient solution. The person in this role will need to persevere in testing and iterating multiple times, taking into account users' feedback and suggest best practices to improve their workflows.

Hagen: Games are also getting more and more expensive and complex to make. We need to think about that complexity and find ways to give our game programmers tools to help identify what to do as quickly as possible, allowing them to make changes as quickly as possible. Like Enrico mentioned, a potential Senior UI Tools Programmer needs to have a passion to make an impact; a want to make this change.

Gullotti: Also, in the studio, you can find extremely talented people in every kind of discipline. Well-designed tools and interfaces are meant to provide them with instruments that boost their productivity and the quality of their work, which directly impacts the final product. I personally enjoy seeing artists and designers use the tools I wrote without effort, coming up with ideas I never thought of and pushing the content creation to the limits. To them, the interface is the actual tool, and a great experience leads to excellent results.

There needs to be an equal amount of knowledge and passion. There are a lot of diverse challenges in a game studio, where the majority of the tools are built in-house or heavily customized. A high level of knowledge is required as a foundation to approach every problem with a critical mind.

What kinds of skills are we expecting a great Senior UI Tools Programmer candidate to have on our team?

Hagen: Skills that we're expecting include a strong technical acumen in C++. We also want them to be familiar with user interface building tools: things like QT or WPF. We want them to know what modern technologies are. But, on the other side of it, we also want them to have a certain level of people skills because UI is a very human effort. A Senior UI Tools Programer will be trying to help people interact with a toolset. We want this candidate to be able to talk to people and understand their needs; someone who is approachable, which is key to getting the job done. It's not necessary that you have to speak on a technical level, but we definitely want someone who enjoys working with people. Some of the people this candidate will work with may not know exactly what they're looking for, and it is part of the job to help them understand that.

Most of your time should be spent listening because it's a customer-driven role. You're building something for someone to use, so they're your boss. It is a leadership role in that it's a senior role, and you're developing something to drive towards solving a problem, but the actual role consists of listening to people, letting them tell you what they need and helping them understand what they actually want. Often times, people will ask for features or ask you to create something, but they didn't think about it all the way through or only understand parts of it. As a Senior UI Tools Programmer, your job is to be an arbitrator. You have to be the type of person who will be able to deal with all sorts of problems. 

Gullotti: To go more in-depth, a Senior UI Tools Programmer is going to shape the look and feel of the toolset used across the studio by coding interfaces that are going to serve diverse purposes: from the control of the pipeline tools to build assets, to the display of real-time information for profiles in game, to the control of plug-ins for digital content creation. The underlying common requirements are a great attention to detail and an ability to design a great user experience. The best tools do not need explanations or instructions to be used because their interfaces are laid out to be accessible and guide the new user to the desired results, while promoting the buildup of correct habits that speed up the learning process towards full proficiency.

Like any engineer on our team, we expect them to be methodical and driven with evidence; not by instinct. You talk to people; you go out and find out what are the qualifications is for having a good UI tool at our studio.

How should a potential Senior UI Tools Programmer candidate balance having quality work and being innovative?

Hagen: In terms of UI tools, having quality work is about how easy is it to use your tools. How powerful are they? What kind of operations can you do with these? What can't I do? Like Enrico alluded to earlier, often, UI is a reflection of how something is done at a studio. I would say that quality of work is about that. Being innovative is about not just creating new workflows but to be able to morph existing things to be proficient. I wouldn't say they're mutually exclusive. We're always trying to work for a high-quality bar. There are times when being innovative is appropriate, but there will be other times when you need to be able to get other people to do their jobs.

Gullotti: From my experience, the recent revolution in digital user interface design, fostered by new products like smartphones and tablets, demonstrates that besides consolidated design rules; there are still a lot of possibilities to investigate the interaction between user and machine. Data can represent any kind of information and showing it in the most accessible and understandable way is still an ongoing challenge. The same happens with the increasing complexity of the controls of everyday tools. Quality and innovation can meet in the creation of simple ways to convey complex messages. It is a very creative and satisfying process that never ends.

For a potential Senior UI Tools Programmer candidate, what will we be looking for in terms of their workflow and portfolio?

Hagen: Like any engineer on our team, we expect them to be methodical and driven with evidence; not by instinct. You talk to people; you go out and find out what are the qualifications is for having a good UI tool at our studio. At Sony, we have a familiar high bar of our expectations on our toolset, so their workflow should be driving to it and always trying to make it the best we can with the resources that we have. 

Gullotti: I definitely agree with Koray here. My personal workflow for designing tools starts with an analysis of the requirements, asking myself “What should the tool do?” This is followed by the design of the user experience, “How does the user make the tool do what he wants?” I usually draw on paper a few sketches of the layouts and controls that are going to compose the final interface and think about the process of using them. This deconstruction is very useful to communicate ideas before writing a line of code and is a very good way to identify possible issues or missing information. While portfolios of user interfaces might look a bit dry and meaningless since they are not "working", to the expert eye, they can convey a large amount of information about the thought process that generated them. We are looking for that approach and way of thinking.

How important is it for a Senior UI Tools Programmer to have strong user experience and user interface design sensibilities?

GullottiKnowing how to write well structured, clean, maintainable code is just half of the skillset of a good senior UI programmer. One needs to have experienced the problems that he or she is trying to solve firsthand to be able to understand them and develop a critical eye and sensitivity.

The key to excellent interfaces is to design user experiences. The graphical user interfaces are just an expression of this design. Even the most advanced technical implementation can be wasteful if it does not serve the purpose it was designed for. A high sensibility toward the user's needs is the way to guide the development process to effective product.

Hagen: I do think if you are in this position, you definitely need to not only have a strong sensibility but a passionate desire to educate that sensibility and to keep yourself up to date. To be able to question your own work, develop things and look at what are the most cutting edge technologies in this domain. One should ask him or herself, how did we get to that point? How did other companies do it? It’s important to be very self-reflective, not just having a good sensibility but drawing on others' sensibilities as well.

Are there any other unique key tips a potential candidate should be aware of when applying to Santa Monica Studio that may be different versus other game studios?

Hagen: So, I would say that something that does make Sony different is about our mission. Santa Monica Studio is different in that we're a first party studio and we think a lot about what that means. So to me, that means that our job is to show how powerful and how cool the platform is...how the PS4 is an amazing piece of hardware and how it is very well loved. We want to build games that are the most cutting-edge, the most fun and also products that showcase the platform. Because of that, there is an expectation that we want to hold that same set of standards to our internal team, and what we want to have in the future is the most cutting edge toolset and workflow and be able to define what that is. Not just work on it but define what that means as this is a new role that doesn't quite exist yet. So there's that opportunity to really make your mark. This role is not just creating something with what we have but creating something new.

Gullotti: Definitely. I also wanted to add that not only do we like working with people that have a deep knowledge in their specific field, but who are also able to pick up any other task that might span across multiple disciplines. Curiosity towards new technologies and research is appreciated and using them for the right purpose that brings actual value to the final product.

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