Turning in my Geek Card -- or, how being promoted to management rots your brain


Thursday, September 11, 2003


Bear with me, as this is a painful time for me...as HAL 9000 said, "My mind is going..."

My day job is with a large game developer; when I started there 4 years ago I was working in the Compatibility and Technology Lab where we would test the games with all sorts of hardware -- video cards, sound cards, CPUs, you name it, we tested it -- and because we got to play with all sorts of new toys and had to know how to properly install them and update their driver software, a certain amount of technical ability was required.

This past year I was promoted to a Project Lead for the PC Online group, which means that I supervise a bunch of testers who do the actual work; I push paper, go to meetings, sign their timesheets and buy them meals when they work weekends (go go Gadget Corporate Amex!).

I've been checking out an alpha version of a game that we're currently developing and since I was seeing some graphic corruption on my "test" PC, I decided to install the game on my "main" PC to see if the same problem appeared; the PCs have different video cards so if the problem didn't appear, that would be a good indicator that the problem was card-related. I installed the game and double-clicked on the icon; the screen went black for a few seconds, then went back to the Windows desktop -- no error message, nothing to say what the problem was.

I sent an e-mail to the technical lead asking him if there were any known issues with the video card; he told me that the card tested okay in the lab but that I should check my display setting to see if it was set to 32-bit (it was), and that my sound card was working properly (it was). Before he could come up with any further suggestions, I had a blinding flash of insight:

What version of driver software am I running with the video card?

I checked and lo and behold, I was running the generic Microsoft driver that's installed when you set up Windows XP. I installed the latest driver for the video card and guess what? The game ran.

While I felt good about being able to diagnose the problem, the feeling was tempered by the knowledge that if I'd still been working in the lab as a tech, driver versions would have been the first thing I would have checked.

Does this mean that the further I go into management, more of my hard-won technical skills will fade away? I certainly hope not...but I'm going to start paying more attention to technical forums and journals than I have been.