I’m quite frequently asked about how I got my job at Neopets, so here’s the whole agonising story as I remember it because I need content for this blog. I should probably note that the process for hiring tech people got much more rigorous as time went on. While I’d like to think I’d still have gotten the job years later, I’m actually fairly certain that Mr. Insane wouldn’t have hired me. Jerk.
After quitting my previous job because of a little thing like not getting paid for three months, I took some time off to visit my beau and also to play every video game ever. When I got bored a month later — probably because I’d finally finished Kingdom Hearts? — I went off on a quest for employment!
By search I mean I went to Monster.com. That was really it back then.
I noticed a listing for a PHP programmer at a “gaming website” called Neopets.com and recognised the name. Coincidentally, the aforementioned beau had applied there a year earlier. Yay! He never got an offer, though. Boo!
I’d also found a very high-paying front-end developer job that sounded really awesome but turned out to be for a porn website. Then another really nice job also turned out to be for a porn website. And then a third. This led to me blurting out “all the good jobs are in porn!” in front of the beau’s parents one afternoon. That was not awkward at all.
In any case, the Neopets thing sounded interesting. I logged into the account I’d created the previous year and looked around. Cartoons, games, British spelling… it seemed like it could be a fun thing to work on for a bit so I applied. Since they didn’t make the beau an offer and he had more PHP experience than I did, I didn’t expect much. In other words, I went back to playing No One Lives Forever 2 and promptly forgot all about it.
I didn’t apply to the porn jobs.
Time marches on and a week had passed when I got a call to come in for a preliminary interview! Bangarang.
When I got to the quiet, unassuming building on a balmy Friday afternoon, I rode a very rickety elevator up to the second floor. As soon as the doors opened, the recruiter I’d spoken to on the phone immediately shuffled me into a small conference room off the main lobby. Oh ho! Hiding things, are we? What secrets lay within these fluorescent, off-white hallways?! I would need to pass a series of complicated trials to find out.
Actually, she just asked me a few questions like what my Neopets.com username was and then put me in a tiny closet where I filled out some forms. Should I mention that this closet was filled with weird, blue, cat-like stuffed animals starting deep into my soul the entire time? I feel like that’s simultaneously irrelevant but also of dire importance somehow.
I also took THAT test. The “personality test” devised by L. Ron Hubbard that everyone’s always curious about. Yes, everyone was given that test in the early days. No, it wasn’t that bad. It asked if you would steal bread if your family was starving and things like that. It actually wasn’t too dissimilar from a test I’d taken before I joined the Army years earlier.
Once my personality was thoroughly tested, she told me I needed to complete a programming test. The instructions were to replicate the very simple “NeoPoker” game in PHP. Click a button to reveal both hands, display the winner, repeat. I had the weekend to complete it and was told to send a link with the finished test on Monday morning.
After a few hours on Saturday morning, I was done. It wasn’t difficult, though that was my first time using arrays in PHP, shhhh. Then I played Dark Age of Camelot for the rest of the day. BOOYAH.
Except, no. No booyah.
The Crippling Anxiety
My brain kept going back to that troublesome test. It had not been assuaged.
NeoPoker was pretty boring, which meant so was my test version, and I just kept thinking about giving it a smidge of personality to liven things up. I kinda had a thing for monkeys at the time — yeah, I don’t know either — so I envisioned some really, really simple themeing in the form of banana cards, a monkey opponent, and silly messages from the “dealer” if you won or lost.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I tormented myself over this all Saturday night and into Sunday morning. They asked me to make the poker game work, not use my lame comedy to ruin it. Why was I even debating this? I was so distracted by it that my DAoC guild was concerned for me because I was healing like some sort of noob. That sounds like a joke but it isn’t. My guild leader and another officer actually whispered me to ask if I was okay.
They were nice people.
As it turned out, I had no concept of following directions (still don’t) and I finally gave in late Sunday night. Kind of. As I was working, I kept giggling at my lame attempt at jokes, which made it increasingly obvious that I was just doing this for fun and would never send this to anyone. Ever. And when Monday morning came ’round, I opened up my email and pasted in the link for Boring Version.
Of course Monkey Version would have none of that.
I went back and forth in my head for eleventy years before eventually deciding to do what I always do: run with it despite the fact that it gets me into trouble. I loved stupid Monkey Version and if they didn’t then I would just go somewhere else. Somewhere where my brand of strangeness was appreciated so nyah. Monkey Version sent.
WHAT IN THE HELL WAS I DOING?
I didn’t hear back from them for what felt like ages. (You can imagine how many whispers I got from my guildmates that week.) Finally on Thursday morning, a whole three days later, I got a call asking me to come in that afternoon to discuss my game in person. Yes!
My task for the interview, besides being interviewed, was to walk them through my poker test even though it was only two pages. I mean, like, it was pretty self explanatory? But then I reminded myself that it was an interview and they were evaluating me and to stop being a pedantic jerk. It was a helpful reminder.
When I got there, after surviving the rickety elevator for the second week in a row, I astutely noticed that the receptionist was dressed like a squirrel, which was kind of strange but whatever. The same recruiter from before was dressed in a black gown with black make-up and a black wig. She led me into the larger of the two conference rooms (upgrade!) and left to get my interrogators.
Sitting by myself in that big room, staring through the glass walls at a guy in the lobby absolutely covered in blood, it finally dawned on me that it was October 31st (2002). Halloween.
I probably should have realized that earlier.
The first person to visit me in The Room was the “lead programmer”. His name was Adam (also known as Borovan, I would come to learn). We talked about Dark Age of Camelot for 20 minutes. He was level 40. I was not. He asked me what my favourite game was. I said that was an impossible question to answer and he was horrible for asking it. He thought that was fair. He didn’t ask me about my poker game, thank the stars.
Bill, the CTO, came in next. He asked me how long it took me to do my game. Damn. I told him about 6 hours total with the graphics I stole from the Internet and then edited together in Photoshop. I carefully avoided the bit about spending additional hours yelling at a cartoon poker game and questioning my own sanity. He did not ask me to demo the game, thank the stars.
Then the COO came in; a jovial fellow by the name of Lee. Adam told him that my test was on the TV screen behind us so we could go through it. Damn. Lee proceeded to play Monkey Poker for a bit and they both actually chuckled. Sincerely, from what I could tell. Well okay then. They didn’t ask me why I decided to change the assignment and imply that their version of the game was super dull, thank the stars.
But then Adam nodded to Lee. A stern nod, like they do in suspenseful crime dramas where one of them is about to go bad-cop. Lee vacated the room in a hurry and Adam and I stared out the window in surprisingly comfortable silence.
But this lasted only briefly because Lee immediately returned with the CEO. The CEO was called Doug and he asked if I wanted to work there. Damn. Wait, no, thank the stars.
I said sure, which, if you’re on my blog reading about Neopets, you probably already knew. I started work the following Monday on November 4th, 2002; the same day as Dirigibles, TPOSG, and an artist who doesn’t have a staff nickname but I KNOW WHO YOU ARE. The Four Horsemen ride forever.
I was later told that other people had applied with much better coding skills than I (obviously) but apparently everyone really loved Monkey Poker. I worked there just short of 12 years, eventually helping to run the asylum, and I loved every minute of it.
Hell if I know. But given who I worked with on a daily basis, I think this whole story boils down to this:
Neopets hired the weirdest people.
Bonus Fun Facts:
- The old version of NeoPoker (that I was originally supposed to copy) was updated to mimic my test version after I was hired. It didn’t have the opponent (your Neopet) or the themed cards before. Take that, Boring Version!
- Now that I know what an Usul is, I know that receptionist was actually dressed as an Usul.
- I mean weirdest in the best way possible. They were the most amazing team and I was lucky to be a part of it.