Making Unexpected Friends at Work by Prepping for External Events

When I joined Atomic many years ago, it was a small group of tight-knit developers. With fewer than 10 developers working in an open office environment, it was easy to build and maintain a sense of camaraderie. Now that the number of Atoms is around 60, it’s not so easy to get to know one another. We’ve done many experiments to help build and foster the family feeling here at AO, but we’re always looking to improve.

A few examples of intentional experiments that have worked in the past include an open office environment, very little remote work, and pair lunches. While helping with the planning and development of Atomic Games 2017, I noticed something neat happening.

For those who haven’t heard of it, Atomic Games is a single-day competition where college juniors and seniors pair up to build an AI to play a game. Past years have focused around Connect Four or Othello. This time around, we decided to create our own game. The details are secret until the competition, but suffice it to say, it’s more complicated than Connect Four.

To prove out the game, I whipped up a prototype and started writing my own AI. But obviously, that wouldn’t be enough to balance the game, find issues with the API, etc. So, I started recruiting… actually, I just announced at our daily standup meeting that the Atomic Games engine was ready, and I got all kinds of help.

The best part was how many new Atoms jumped right in and started asking questions. At least three people worked on the code for the game. Over 10 Atoms contributed to creating, playing, and tweaking many different clients. Many of the Atoms building clients and starter kits will also be acting as coaches during the games.

After helping to build the game server and battling a few AIs, I definitely felt more connected to the newer Atoms. I also got to spend lots of “fun time” with some more senior Atoms. And I’ve overhead people talking about this project in our cafe numerous times.

My takeaway is that fun (even external) events like these can act as catalysts for team growth. We host the Atomic Games event for recruiting, marketing, and fun. As a happy side effect, it’s also provided us with a game that we can play internally to build up friendships and some healthy competition. It’s definitely something I’ll remember the next time we build an engine for Atomic Games.

Moral of the Story:

  • Find interesting problems to solve together as a team
  • Play fun games together
  • Compete in code competitions
  • Build your own games (like we did)

I’m looking forward to this year’s Atomic Games event in October. What sort of events have worked for you to build up your team?