Goodbye, Magic Kingdom

Mar 09 2014 Published by under General

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Well, that was a bit fast.

At the beginning of last April, I started working at Playdom, the social gaming division of Disney Interactive. As part of the Central Tech team, I wound up working on maybe a dozen different games, from Star Wars to Pirates of the Caribbean. I’d usually just go on to a game team for a short time to help out with something specific – build process, some library integration, optimization, implementation of some specific feature, etc. – then I’d move on to some other team that needed some help.

A couple of months ago, there were some big internal reorganizations and a couple of key execs left the company. Then, a few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal posted a story claiming there were going to be huge layoffs from Playdom. I didn’t hear about the story until the following week, which was after the supposed layoffs were allegedly occurring. Although I was told it was an unfounded rumor, I felt that there was probably some truth to it. Maybe the timing was off, but I suspected something was in the works. Lots of internal factors, such as major reorganizations, shifting production schedules and shifting technology decisions, made me wonder what a lot of employees were going to do.

So last Thursday, when New York Times announced that Playdom had laid off 700 employees, it didn’t come as a huge shock. Well, the fact that they used the past tense, and nobody in the office knew anything was a bit strange, but obviously something big was happening that day. It was an odd day to be a remote employee. But eventually I got THE CALL. And so, now, I am unemployed, along with 700 or so of my former coworkers.

As it turns out, it seems like Disney took pretty good care of the people it let go. I can’t complain at all about the deal I got, especially considering I’d been there just under one year. Without getting into details, it works out that I’ll be taking the next two months off. That sounds extravagant, but it’s not just me being lazy. It’s just how it’s going to work out, and it’s the only logical option. So I’m pretty psyched about that. In my 11 months at Playdom, I didn’t take a single vacation or sick day. So I feel like I’m ready for some time off. Two months to chill out and reboot and do some soul searching about what I want to do next. I can do some other projects or small contracts though, so if anyone would like some help on a project, let me know.

Some thoughts: I’m not sure I really want to go back into a production coding environment. Yes, I can track down and fix bugs in my or someone else’s code. Yes, I can implement new features in existing code bases. Yes, I can optimize and convert existing code. But I’d much rather be building things from scratch. And with my recent Coding Math series, it’s become clear to me that one of my strengths is in education. I’d love some kind of position where I could write documentation, tutorials, do videos, seminars, workshops, sample apps and implementations. So if anyone has a line on such a job, let me know!

Some of the projects I plan to work on during this “sabbatical” are:

1. Playing With Chaos. Several people have been asking for a non-Amazon version of the book, either PDF, other format, or print. I’d started the conversion of this a while back, and got back onto it recently. It’s mostly a lot of formatting work. The Kindle/mobi format is basically reflowable HTML, but PDF and print are page-based, so I need to go over each page and look at how it lays out – code line breaks, image spacing, etc. Anyway, I think I should have some alternate versions available very soon. And then I’ll look at a print version.

2. Coding Math – I was doing three videos per week, which was getting to be a bit much. I was about to post something saying that I was going to cut that down to two videos per week. But now that I have some free time on my hands, I think I’ll keep up the three-per-week schedule for a bit. Last week I only got out a single video due to the drama at the end of the week.

3. I’ve had a couple of game ideas floating around my head. I may try to get those out the door finally. And I need to do some updates to Falling Balls.

4. Woodworking. This is a recent hobby I’ve picked up. Still in the noob stages, but starting to create some half decent items. I have a small basement shop, so I’ve been concentrating on small boxes, toys and puzzles. I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. After so many years of making virtual goods, it’s quite a change to be creating physical items. Here’s some of my stuff. https://www.etsy.com/shop/SquareKWoodworking

5. Get back on track with current web technologies. I was getting into this more last year, but at Playdom I was back in the Flash/AIR world mostly. I still love JavaScript, but have probably fallen a bit behind on the current popular frameworks and technologies that all the cool kids are using these days. I’d like to ramp back up on that really quickly. Suggestions? I’ll probably go to a bunch of local meetups too.

6. I also started learning a bit of Unity at the end of my Playdom stint, as it seemed like we were going to be doing a lot more with that. I may spend a little time continuing to look at that stuff.

7. I’ll probably reboot my running activities. Since my third marathon last October, I’ve been in a real rut. Just can’t get into a steady running schedule for more than a week or two. Maybe with a little extra time, I’ll be able to get back into it.

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10 responses so far. Comments will be closed after post is one year old.

  • Michael Hoskins says:

    Keith,

    Glad to see you’re getting some free time to work exclusively on stuff you like, even if the circumstances could have been better.

    I’ve used a couple of your Coding Math videos to illustrate practical applications of some of the things my kids are learning about geometry in school (things like “Pythagorean theorem is also a distance formula”). I don’t remember any of my teachers ever making those sorts of connections for me, so it wasn’t until I started coding after high school that I was able to learn for myself how most maths are so inter-related.

    Regarding new Javascript things to look at, I’ve been playing around with Three.js lately. Using an orthographic camera, it works quite well as an alternative to canvas-based animation. Plus, you also get the free access to 3d and perspective when you want it.

    Looking forward to future posts regarding this stuff. Keep being awesome!

  • Sorry to hear the news. I know that you will find something that stirs your passion again.

    On the JavaScript side, for UI development look into functional reactive programming, bacon.js and FB’s React are good places to start.

  • how odd, and poorly handled by disney. but i’m excited for the passion projects that will come out of your sabbatical. i only worry that you’ll struggle to safeguard these two months, given the flurry of opportunities that are likely to come your way! good luck with everything.

  • Steff Kelsey says:

    Here’s a great book that I have looked in quite a bit as I got started in wood working: http://amzn.com/1561586889

    Gives a great overall of all of the tools you can possibly buy, a look at what makes a “good” tool for each type (what features to look for), and also gives a nice overview for shop building.

    That and get a Kreg Jig. It’s fun to make stuff. (when it comes out good anyway)

  • Y.Boy says:

    Come on ! You should make somethings awesome!

  • Sylwester says:

    Honestly work for corporation is a waste of your talent.
    BTW. You might be interested in this framework – http://www.pixijs.com/examples/

  • PhilC says:

    As for educational opportunities, Pluralsite seem to be constantly looking for authors/presenters. Might be worth looking into if you haven’t done so already.

  • Jacob Correia says:

    Hey Keith,

    Tiayr and I were lamenting your departure a couple weeks ago. Your name came up again yesterday on another team that probably still could have used you ;)

    Enjoy these couple of months… I am certainly happy that everyone I know was well taken care of; better than I have personally been in the past. Some of my team members did great actually and I’m glad for that.

    • keith says:

      Oh well, life goes on. I’m having a great time off and some very cool opportunities have opened up. Probably all for the best, really.

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