Career Path: Chad Kaminski, Director of QA at Disruptor Beam
What does the career path and a day in the life look like for the Director of QA at one of Boston's leading video game development studios?
Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for work? What was your first job growing up?
I was born in New England but moved to the mid-west for a little while when I was young. Then my family moved back to New England where I have spent most of my life.
Growing up my father was in the technology field. He worked initially as a technician at IBM then transitioned to product management for companies like NEC, Northern Telecom & Motorola. He really helped to shape and foster my love for technology, games, and gadgets. My mother worked part-time while also raising myself and my other siblings.
My first job was working for a small startup company after school that built hardware for chromatography. At that job, I did a little of everything, from pulling parts from inventory to soldering parts onto PCB boards.
You started out your career as a Systems Tech and moved into the field Quality Assurance a few years later. What was it about this field of work that prompted you to pursue a career in Quality Assurance?
As part of my high school vocational school program, I needed to find a co-op job. My best friend dug through the phonebook and started calling places looking for a place for us to work. He didn’t get far down the list when he found a network analyzer company, Azure Technologies, that needed our help doing systems tech work.
As the company grew (and once I finished school), I started taking on more responsibilities. We would ship new versions of software out to customers on a daily basis. The company realized this wasn’t a plan for long-term success. My boss then talked to me about testing, and that was my first step into the world of quality assurance.
It wasn’t something I was really looking for, it was more of a need the company had and an opportunity to learn and tackle something new. And, it just stuck!
Can you talk about some of your first jobs in Quality Assurance?
In my first quality assurance job, I was learning and doing things on my own. I had no formal experience or a mentor to learn from. Initially, it was a lot of just using our products and providing feedback on problems that I ran into.
My next quality assurance position was a lot more traditional and that was where I got a lot my formal test engineering experience. I was a Quality Assurance engineer for 3Com, a large networking technology company. This is where I got the knowledge and best practices around testing that I still apply to some of the work I do today. I also got exposure to automated testing at 3Com, which was invaluable.
You’ve worked at a number of gaming companies like Turbine, 38 Studios, and GSN Network. How did you get involved in the gaming industry?
As mentioned earlier, I was working in the networking industry for a few years. This was during the .com bubble and, when it burst, companies cut back and I was part of a reduction. With my newfound free time, I started to think about my next opportunity. I love technology, therefore I wanted to stay working on technology, but I knew I wanted to move outside of networking.
This led me to video games, which is another one of my passions. I started looking into game companies in the New England area that might be looking for help while doing research into quality assurance best practices in the game industry. To be honest, what I discovered almost scared me away. Simply because I didn’t just want to do playtesting, I wanted to take my engineering testing experience and use it to help make better games. Lucky for me, I learned that QA in games is much more than playtesting alone.
At that time, I unearthed an amazing opportunity to work at Turbine Entertainment as the lead for their in-development game Middle-earth Online which later became The Lord of the Rings Online. Turbine was a great opportunity to learn about the industry and meet a lot of great and talented people.
The experience at Turbine later helped to open the door for me at 38 Studios. The gaming industry is a very tight-knit group. I was informed about this new opportunity through ex-coworkers and I’m sure due to their kind references, received the opportunity to head up QA at 38.
It really is the community of people in the industry that can help you find your next great opportunity.
How did you land your current position as Director of Quality Assurance at Disruptor Beam?
For me, whenever I’m looking for a new opportunity I first look to the company’s culture, as well as their approach to both quality assurance and the overall quality of their products. I want to make sure they value what I bring to the table and share my outlook on product quality.
Upon investigating the opportunity, I found that Disruptor Beam not only had a core group of QA team members that have been an integral part of their product development process, but the company was looking to formalize this process and scale up. I have worked on multiple large-scale projects and helped to scale organizations QA teams, so it seemed like an amazing fit. In addition, the company’s values of Authenticity, Entrepreneurship and Continuous Improvement resonated with me. Overall, joining Disruptor Beam became a great opportunity for myself, and also the company in that my skill set was a new addition to the team.
Does your team or your position require you to test mobile games all day long? Sounds like an amazing profession! But... seriously, what are your responsibilities?
When I tell people what I do for a living, they almost always say the same thing: Chad, you play games all day long and get paid for it.
But, that statement isn’t really true. Yes, doing quality assurance means we get to spend a lot of time testing the games, but we don’t spend the time playing the games like our customers do.
As quality assurance professionals, we’re responsible for providing feedback to the product team. This feedback comes in the form of bugs, quantitative and qualitative feedback. You’ll hear a lot of the time how we are the voice of the customer during the development lifecycle of the product.
A lot of my responsibilities focus on building and executing testing best practices and building quality into the development lifecycle. This includes creating testing strategies for our products and implementing bug lifecycles. I also spend time working with the leadership teams of our products to make sure we are planning the right amount effort on testing, to keep our products at the high-level we expect. My goal is to continue to improve how we develop games and find ways to bring testability and quality best practices earlier into the cycle.
Day in the Life
Coffee, tea, or nothing?
I’m definitely a coffee person. I used to drink my fair share of caffeinated coffee, but these days I’m drinking decaf.
What time do you get into the office?
I’m one of the early birds - I’m just more productive in the mornings. That said, I try to get to the office around 8:30.
Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?
The first thing I do is review my updates from our overnight crew to see how testing went overnight. After that is a review our bug database on the current hot issues. The mornings are also a perfect time to work on pet projects before everyone is in the office. Later in the morning, I have a stand-up meeting with my leads to get a deeper dive into the state of the current projects.
Afternoons tend to be the time I have most of my meetings. At Disruptor Beam we believe it’s important to build strong communication among our teams. I spend quality time with my team members having 1:1 meetings, discussing current projects and career growth.
Then you also sprinkle in project sync meetings and my favorite bug triage meetings.
I like to head home and eat dinner with my wife in front of the TV, then relax and play games. Throughout the evening I tend to check Slack and sync up with my team members after hours, as needed.
What time do you head out of the office?
On most days, I am out of the office between 5:30 - 6:00 PM. One of the great things about Disruptor Beam is our flexible schedule policy. Everyone at Disruptor Beam is given the freedom to work the hours that fit their work style, within the company's core hours.
Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?
I login in a few times during the night to check on things.
What kind of games do you like to play in your free time?
I have always had a sweet spot for MMOs. This is shocking, I know, considering I worked at Turbine and 38 Studios. Outside of that, I play a wide range of console, mobile, and board games.
Over the years I’ve put more time into World of Warcraft that I’d like to admit, but it has introduced me to friends I would have never met otherwise.
Disruptor Beam has developed games from franchises full of great characters. If you had to pick your favorite character from each (Game of Thrones, Walking Dead and Star Trek) who would they be?
Definitely, for Game of Thrones, it would be Ned Stark. I honestly almost stopped watching the show after the first season because of what happened to Ned.
I think with The Walking Dead I would have to go with Ezekiel. Who would wouldn’t want a tiger as your sidekick?
Star Trek might be a bit harder for me, but I think I would go old school and say, Scotty. How can you go wrong with a guy that performs miracles fixing ships?
Images courtesy of Disruptor Beam and Chad Kaminski.