Engineering; it's a lot like putting your Ghost in a Shell. If you are unfamiliar with the term, then you should probably drop everything and go watch the one of the most influential films second only to Alien.. Maybe... If you do understand the idea, then you may already know a little bit of what I mean.
Every time we sit in front of our blank IDEs and start typing away at our next great creation, we do it with some pride. Even if we don't like our boss, or find our overall project to be boring, there is still something to treasure in problems we are solving. There is something to be said about coding for the sake of the craft and not always the bigger picture.
I woke up feeling especially nostalgic today. I remembered a moment I shared with a friend several years after I quit making football games; it had to have been a good 4-5 years after leaving. I was having lunch with a friend who happened to be contracting with my former employer. He leaned back with his subtle smirk and said, "I'm helping on a port. I saw some of your code today..." Oh no... My heart skipped a beat.
While I worked there, I was under so much pressure. I never slept, and gained weight like an open faucet filling a sink. I had chest pains every morning from the anxiety of just getting out of bed on a Sunday, knowing that I would likely end up in the office at some point in the day. There was always work to be done, always. I lacked any confidence in the work I was doing, but I relished the challenge. I worked pretty much endlessly in such a sleepless dizzy, I was certain that it would need to be scrapped and remade next year. For many months I sort of kept to myself other than the ritualistic group lunches we had. I wasn't sure if what I had done would stand up to time and so I rarely talked about my work except to ask for help when the compiler was bugging out or the code was misbehaving on a platform I didn't have at my desk.
For that brief moment that my brain was processing what I had just heard it felt like I was back there again, that slight panic when you roll in your bed to read the clock and realize the alarm didn't wake you up.
I laughed nervously as I asked, "How do you know it's my code?" It was a logical question. Hundreds of engineers much have touched these files over the years, right?!
Once again with a little smile he told me that the repository showed it was relatively untouched and that it held a stern warning to the effect of, "DO NOT TOUCH this unless you know what you are doing. If you have questions, come find me. - Ben Quintero"
I got a good chuckle out of that for sure. The cynical side of me might have grumbled that I wasn't getting credit for my 5 year old code, but the engineer in me was lit up like a candle. Somehow, the most cryptic and dangerous crop of code I'd written in years just found it's way into iteration after iteration. A piece of my Ghost lived in that Shell for a long time, and maybe still.
As engineers, we may not get the praise or the press that designers do. We may not have the notoriety that an artist may have for their signature style. We may not even be appreciated by most gamers other than our indirect and obscure ability to cast a light on the skills of other professions. But there are few skills out there that can let their Ghost live in the Shell as long as engineers, that can put a piece of themselves into something and let it become greater than themselves.
As an engineer, I get a kick out of knowing that influential games like the Half Life series and Call of Duty still have tiny nuggets of old Quake code in there. If engineers don't always get the attention, we can certainly feel the love every time someone says something amazing about a game we had a part in, even if we aren't working there anymore. =)