Tuesday, January 8, 2008

In the begining....

I wrote this article I beleive in 2003 (not sure). I wrote it for Michael Schalhoub whom asked me to write a few articles for his book "The Pinball Compendium: 1982 to Present"

This is the story of how I got my job in the coin-op industry working for Williams Electronic Games in 1989.

It was mid-September, 1989. I was 24 years old. I was due to graduate from DeVry Institute of Technology next month. My counselor at DeVry was hard at work getting me interviews and telling me about job fairs. She told me about an entry-level job opening with Johnson Controls. She gave me the time and address of the hotel for the interview. I shaved, gathered some cool looking resumes into my leather-bound notebook, put on my one suit, and left. I had been on three previous interviews and had a good handle of the process. I was familiar with Johnson Controls and I wanted this job.

When I arrived at the hotel, to my dismay, there were no Johnson Controls interviews. My counselor had given me the wrong date. There was a job fair at the hotel that night instead. Many companies had hotel rooms that opened to a common area in the center of the hotel. You could go from room to room and talk with people that needed people. I was all dressed up so what could it hurt? I went to some of the rooms and started talking to people. After about three brief talks (“Sorry we are not looking for entry-level people”) I got the idea that this fair was not for entry-level people. The fourth interviewer was nicer. I wish I remembered her name. She told me that the fair was not for entry-level jobs but knew a man named Ed Suchocki who often called her looking for people. She asked if I would like to program games. My eyes lit up. It was hard to maintain some composure. She told me that Ed had graduated from DeVry too and that I should call him.

I called him the next day. I mentioned his female friend and that I was about to graduate. I told him I was in the EET (Electronics Engineering Technology) program at DeVry. I told him that I could put together a portfolio and come for an interview. When I hung up the phone I thought what the hell is a portfolio? It turned out not to be hard to gather some stuff I had done: Logic diagrams and schematics from school; art work I had drawn on a program I had written on my Mac; a spider-man picture I had had scanned with my black and white Mac and then did the color-separation to it and printed it back out; art work I had drawn for the playing pieces for a Monopoly game I was writing for the Mac; and some source code of a real-time game I wrote for the Commodore 64. My classmates had told me that I should try for a software job. Believe it or not I was the best at software in my class. Thinking of this and looking at my portfolio I was confident. My girlfriend kissed me, wished me luck, and I left for my interview with Ed.

At this point I was vague about what Williams/Bally/Midway was. My best friend Glenn Wilcox and I had spent many hours playing pinball and video games back in the suburbs of Detroit where I grew up. While High Speed and Defender were my favorite games, I barley knew they were made by the same company. I had no concept of design teams or designers for that matter.

When I arrived at 3401 N. California Avenue, I told the receptionist I was there to see Ed Suchocki. While I waited I couldn’t help but notice all the plaques and awards that filled one wall of the reception room. Mark Penacho and Bill Pfutzenreuter came down to greet me. They told me Ed was busy and that they would interview me. They took me to a small room off the reception area and we sat at a round table. I opened my briefcase and to my horror my leather-bound folder with my cool looking resumes was not there. I apologized to them and we started to go through all the other stuff I brought. It was hard to get a read on them. I wasn’t sure if Pfutz (Bill had told me to call him that) was impressed, but I thought Mark was somewhat interested. Mark then stood and left. He went to get Larry DeMar. Larry came in the room and I briefly went through all the stuff I brought again. At the time I didn’t understand why they were not that impressed with the source code I had brought. I now understand how small the software was.

When I was done talking about all the eclectic things I had brought, Larry didn’t really say anything. Instead Pfutz leaned forward, squinted at me with a very serious look and asked, “Would you rather work on pinball machines or on video games?” I was taken aback. I sat back and thought about it. Was this an offer or a test? These were all pinball people. “Pinball”, I said with a slight hesitation. I did prefer to play pinball to video but at the time would have taken a job in either.

After a small amount of questions about my portfolio, “Do you ever have bugs in your code?”, another test. After a slight pause I said “Yes, doesn’t everyone?”

“What are your favorite games?” I told them Defender and High Speed, not knowing at the time who Larry was.

On my way home I was convinced that I did not get the job. What kind of idiot leaves his resume at home? When I got home I told my girlfriend (later to be my wife) what an idiot I was. I put some resumes in a big envelope and mailed them off to Ed Suchocki. Less than a week later I called Ed to see if he had received them. He said he was glad I called and that he was about to call me. He told me that apparently I made quite an impression and that he wanted to hire me. He asked me what salary I was looking for. I had been told not to give a number to make them give the first number. "$25,000" I said. He said ok. I am not sure if he ever looked at the resumes.

I worked at Williams helping to design pinball machines from Nov 6th, 1989 to Oct 25th, 1999.

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