QA Analyst, Riot Games
Heather Jones' professional path began with a daunting setback and being sent to war, but she persevered to follow her many technology interests and land her dream job as a quality assurance (QA) analyst for Riot Games, the Santa Monica, California-based publisher of "League of Legends," a multi-player online battle arena video game.
As a computer-savvy gamer attending tech-savvy Gladstone High School in Portland, Ore., Jones got nearly all As, took advanced-level classes, participated in science-centric extracurricular activities and as a junior landed a paid summer internship as a student physics research analyst at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in Washington state.
But the achievements did not translate into the scholarships Jones needed to pay for college. “I was like, ‘Fine! I’ll just go into the military!' ” Jones recalled.
She entered the Army in August 2001, expecting to earn a college degree while playing trumpet in the U.S. Army Band. That plan derailed with the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Jones took her trumpet overseas when her division deployed to back up the Marines taking Bagdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “We played only twice, but were retrained in duties such as checkpoint security, P.O.W. handling and escorting convoys,” she said of the band. Jones became her unit’s information management officer, handling computer logistics and security.
After leaving the Army in 2006, Jones volunteered for a nonprofit magazine as editor, designer and IT manager and later worked in a suburban Portland FedEx center.
In 2010, she opened her own company, Imperium Creative, and completed a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management information systems. Earning IT certifications to become a Microsoft Certified Trainer, Jones delivered training for Boeing Company—a role she loved—and wrote courseware for classes in Windows 7 and CompTIA Security+. (Jones proudly holds a total of 15 IT certifications from Microsoft and CompTIA.)
After a year as director of customer solutions at a learning technology company, Jones landed her current job at Riot Games, working with an engineering team on the in-game user interface, in March 2013.
“It’s pretty close to my perfect job, but it took me going through all of the different things I happen to like to do to discover ‘Hey, I can actually like to do this!’ ” Jones said. “Not only did (Riot Games) hire me, but they really wanted me because of my background and all of the interests I have explored and enjoyed.”
Tell me what a QA analyst does. What are your job duties?
I look at what we produce to make sure it is up to our players’ standards. I play the game a lot. I check for defects. I check for engineering issues. I go into the code and tweak things —to test extreme edge cases where somebody may be able to do something that might break the game, for example.
It’s fun and challenging every day, and technical but also creative, and I’m working with great people.
What’s it like working at Riot Games? What’s the environment and the pressure level?
This is the best company I’ve ever worked at in my life. QA is not split off from the engineers. We are all one big team striving to make things just the best as we possibly can.
You can be passionate here. You can speak your mind. Just the other day I had to stand up and tell a bunch of senior engineers, "We cannot do this." I told them why. That’s welcomed here—“Player Experience First” and “Challenge Convention” are the first two pillars of the Riot Manifesto.
This is a place where an individual can be extremely good at what they do and they can be part of a fantastic team that builds amazing things. And plus to play video games—that’s definitely a perk.
What were some of your other favorite jobs?
I really, really liked being a trainer. There’s something so empowering about being a 27- or 28-year-old female in an industry dominated by men and getting up there and teaching them something new. And when they get all locked up and frustrated with a problem or a lab exercise we’re doing, being able to go over there and gently work them through it and help them, and just see the learning as it is in progress—that is incredible. I just love being able to impart that kind of knowledge.
How has earning IT certifications helped advance your career?
I would not be here in my dream job without it. Period. How did you get into IT? What was the thing that got you interested in IT?
I leapt into IT because I really, really love computers. That just goes back to my upbringing. I love technology. I love the things it can make, the things it can do, and the ways you can help people with it.
I was very young, like five years old—when we got our first computer, a good old 386.
My dad was in industrial refrigeration and he had a best friend, a programmer named Jim, who helped with a project that he eventually patented.
I would stand over Jim’s shoulder and watch him write this code, and I kept asking, ‘What is that? What’s it do? What’s it for? What are you doing?’ And he would very patiently describe it to me, this very young girl.
It was very, very, very intriguing to me. When I found out you could play games on a computer—that’s when it really got me.
Growing up, I played a lot of computer games, and I also wrote stories, because I’m a big reader. I also played around with programming languages that Jim showed me. I learned QBasic very early and wrote a massive ‘chose-your-own-adventure’ word-based game before I was 10 years old. It was pretty huge for me at the time!
I enjoyed the idea that I could create something that was so unique and my own right on this computer.
I also liked the fact that people thought it was so mysterious. They’re like, ‘How did you do that?’ I was like, ‘You know you just learn how it works and you can make it, just like with anything else.’
How did your career in the military impact your career in general?
I found that everybody has been very accepting and wanting to get me into his or her company partially because I have military background. The discipline, attention to detail and enriching life experiences I gained helped turn me into a worthy candidate for many opportunities.
(Serving in the military) made me really think about what I wanted to do in life. When you are in war, you realize your next step could be your last, so you make every step you take count.
How would you describe your personality? Are you a people person or more of a technical person or both?
I’m one of those people who can get up in front of 100 people and talk about highly technical subjects to people who have been in the industry longer than me or whom I consider smarter than me. But at the same time I tend to like to be alone to myself because I have a lot of thoughts running through my head, things I want to do, things I want to write. I just like to sit down and work, and work really hard and crank something out.
Is gaming your main hobby? Or what other things do you like to do?
I ran a disc golfing club in Portland that’s got 170 people now. I love to go bowling. I love camping. I have an annual hunting trip with my family every year in November. I am also a writer. I’m currently working on a huge fantasy novel. I love to draw. I’m really a big foodie, so I love to go out to eat, and LA obviously will accommodate me quite well. What would you say to someone who might have the ambition to go for a tech job but doesn’t yet have the training or the knowledge?
Start small and start with whatever immediately interests you. If it’s programming that interests you, if you are an analytical person who can think in an abstract level, then go and take a basic Java or C++ course, and find out which one you really like. Or if you just want to be around technology, and like to fix things, try to find a small electronics something and take it apart, look at how it works.
Find the thing, the part, the segment of IT, technology, that interests you most, and you gotta go for it.
Are you proud of what you accomplished?
I am intensely proud of what I’ve accomplished because I went from not knowing what I wanted to do in life to landing my dream job. I had so many varied interests—from astronomy to art to being a police officer to going into the military to working a printing press and making my own magazines and writing novels.
I feel like by pursuing my base passions with technology and gaming, I’ve been able to finally find what I love. I just followed my gut along until I ended up here. I didn’t make any real rash decisions except for one: going into the military. But I feel it helped me to get where I am now. I am really happy.