Back in Seattle

The Puget Sound and Mount Rainier

It’s been several months since my last two blog posts, one of which detailed my New Year’s resolutions while the other accurately predicted an abundance of chaotic energy and change throughout this Year of the Fire Monkey. Perhaps I can blame the Fire Monkey for my less than stellar job following through on some of my 2016 resolutions, but I have accomplished at least one major goal: I am now once again living in the beautiful, coffee-loving, legal-pot-smoking tech hub of Seattle! My path here was quite circuitous, however, so I’ve decided to share some highlights from that journey followed by a brief discussion of the work I’m engaged in right now.

From Utah to Arkansas

It was back in March that I first bid another fond farewell to my home state of Utah. I had been working part-time as a hiking guide for the Green Valley Spa while devoting the rest of my time to various software development projects, most notably the establishment of my own game development company: Golden Drake Studios. While looking around for additional programming work, Insight Global reached out with a contract to work as a software engineer for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) at their offices in Conway, Arkansas. The price was right and the work sounded interesting, so I accepted.

HPE (Conway, AR)
HPE’s office building in Conway, AR.

My trek to Arkansas was hasty, but pleasant. I chose to go by car, not only to carry more things, but also to see some parts of the United States up close and personal that I’d never seen with my own eyes before. Setting out rather late, the sun was already low in the sky as I crossed from Utah into Arizona, passing through the oddly-named and mostly-polygamist community of Colorado City. The sky darkened as I drove on through the Kaibab Indian Reservation. I enjoyed my last glimpses of the gorgeous, rocky plateaus typical of southern Utah and northern Arizona, then night fell as I ascended into the forested regions near Jacob Lake, a small community named after one of my most fascinating recent ancestors: Jacob Hamblin. For a time, the moon had yet to rise and I was far from any city, so I was treated to awe-inspiring glimpses of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. Later, I crossed the vast, moonlit expanse of the Navajo Nation before finally stopping for a few precious hours of sleep at a cheap hotel in Gallup, New Mexico.

Resuming my journey the next morning, I was grateful to once again see my surroundings more clearly. The austere beauty of New Mexico was reminiscent of Utah and Arizona, though definitely possessing its own unique flavor. As a die-hard fan of the Breaking Bad television series, I also enjoyed making a brief stop in Albuquerque.

Breaking Bad
Promotional image for Breaking Bad, which was set and filmed primarily in Albuquerque, NM.

I didn’t have time for a proper tour, though, so I pressed on, eventually entering the first of three states I’d never set foot in before this trip: Texas. I’d heard time and again that everything’s bigger in Texas, and now I was forced to agree. The sudden change to an almost completely flat and unbroken landscape was awe-inspiring, as were the frequent rows of enormous wind turbines slowly turning and forming interesting patterns, like giant dancers performing for the wonder and amusement of passers-by. Darkness fell by the time I reached Oklahoma, affording me the opportunity to glimpse Oklahoma City’s colorful nightscape and then to be pleasantly surprised by thick, moonlit clouds of mist as I reached Eufaula Lake and beyond. This more humid and verdant landscape continued on into Arkansas where I made it close to Conway before finally stopping again for some much needed rest.

The following morning I drove up to HPE’s impressive office building for my first day on the new job. As part of my introductory tour, I had the pleasure of meeting a diverse set of interesting coworkers, including Alan Watson, one of the founders of Ozark Softscape: the studio that created M.U.L.E. and a handful of other influential video games back in its heyday.

Coworkers (Conway, AR)
Some of the interesting folks I worked with at HPE in Conway, AR.

There were ping pong tables, weight rooms, and other facilities now typical of large tech offices, including the oddly named Toad Suck Cafe. Apparently, several spots along the Arkansas River acquired the “Toad Suck” nickname back when steamboat crewmen spent their leisure time “sucking on bottles (of alcohol) till they swelled up like toads.” In fact, later on, around the end of April, I had the pleasure of sampling some live music and local cuisine (and a little alcohol) during Conway’s 35th annual Toad Suck Daze festival.

Toad Suck Daze (Arkansas)
A live band performs as part of the 2016 Toad Suck Daze festivities in Conway, AR.

Truth be told, I’d never given much thought to visiting Arkansas before, but once I was there I was blown away by the simple beauty of “the Natural State” and the friendliness (generally speaking, of course) of her people. I found southern accents, southern cuisine, and southern hospitality quite agreeable and loved driving through forests and along country roads where I could look out across green fields accented here and there by wildflowers and old, picturesque houses. Also, the city of Conway itself was a nice place to live, in my opinion. There were lots of great places to eat, shop, and hang out and I loved the abundance of trees and lovely buildings in and around the University of Central Arkansas. Speaking of UCA, Conway is also home to two other institutions of higher learning, earning it the nickname “City of Colleges.”

As for my work, I was one of many programmers responsible for creating, maintaining, and improving code that handles healthcare data. In my case, this meant writing C code with embedded SQL, along with the occasional Unix shell script. It was a fantastic experience and, for the most part, an excellent fit for my skill set. Sadly, however, it did not evolve into a long-term position like I originally hoped, so I soon found myself back on the job market and contemplating another move.

From Arkansas to Seattle

After evaluating my limited options in the Little Rock area, I decided to go forward with a plan I’d already had in the back of my head for a long time: to return to Seattle, establish a new social and professional niche for myself there, and put down roots among the tall evergreens and misty mountains of the Pacific Northwest. As such, I was back on the road again, this time passing through eastern and southern Texas so I could tour the National Videogame Museum in Frisco and spend a little time with one of my sisters and her family in San Antonio.

National Videogame Museum (Frisco, TX)
The console timeline section of the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, TX.

After catching up on sleep and exploring the Alamo and a few other local sights, I continued west through lands of scarce water and even scarcer cellphone reception before spending a night in El Paso along the US-Mexico border.

Mission San Jose
Mission San José in San Antonio, TX.

My path then took me north through the beautiful wastelands of southern New Mexico, over the gorgeous mountains of Gila National Forest, and across the golden fields, deserts, and mountains of Arizona before finally landing me on my parents’ doorstep in St. George, Utah, in the middle of the night.

I spent some time with my parents and then with another sister and her family in Cedar City before heading north all the way to the rolling hills of southern Idaho. A tire blew out on me just before sunset, delaying my progress for a few hours, but I’m grateful to say that was the only car trouble I had throughout either of my major road trips this year. In any case, after getting the tire replaced, I kept driving until I absolutely needed to stop for a little sleep, and then, “ere break of day,” I was back on the road passing through the greenery of Oregon and on into Washington. Upon reaching the mist-shrouded mountains of Snoqualmie Pass, I couldn’t help but start singing a beloved dwarven song from Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I finally arrived in the Seattle area about an hour later and was grateful to spend the next several days with my brother and his family as I got situated. Having survived my journey back to the PNW’s “misty mountains cold,” my next task was “to seek the pale enchanted gold,” i.e., to land a good day job. Seattle has no shortage of tech companies, so I sent resumes to several of these along with a few places that could make use of my fluency in Mandarin Chinese. Much to my delight, I soon received an offer from a contracting company associated with Nintendo of America, so I now work for Nintendo by day and my own company, Golden Drake Studios, by night.

Nintendo of America
Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Redmond, WA.
The Game Dev Must Go On

Throughout all the transitions I’ve experienced this year, and in spite of the Fire Monkey‘s appetite for chaos, I’ve done my best to stay focused and positive and continue spending time on indie game development and other projects of interest to me. I’m definitely behind schedule and have a long way to go in terms of my overarching personal and professional goals, but nonetheless it feels great to reflect on what I’ve already achieved: I am now directly assisting Nintendo in the production of their excellent games while also gradually bringing my own game design visions to life. And all the while I get to enjoy the abundant natural and cultural beauty the PNW has to offer!

The Puget Sound and Mount Rainier
Looking across the Puget Sound from Vashon, WA, toward a cloud-capped Mount Rainier.

If all goes well, I should finally have my first “real” game on the market within the next year or so. I look forward to sharing it with you, along with occasional highlights from the game development process and other things going on in my life. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck in whatever goals you’re pursuing. No, I take that back. To paraphrase “The Fire,” one of my favorite songs by The Roots, “I don’t say good luck; I say don’t give up.”