by Courtney Ryan
September 24, 2018

Not every developer gets to work on a platform they actually use in their free time, and not every developer can say they’ve played a major role in creating the framework for that platform.

But at Versus Systems, developers often do both.

The company makes it easier for game developers to earn advertising money without distracting gamers with obnoxious clutter like banner ads and videos. At the heart of this venture is a team of engineers — a crew of enthusiastic gamers themselves — who are encouraged to take the reigns and learn as they go.

We spoke with four team members to learn more about how it all works.

 

Pictures on the wall at Versus Systems
photography by Michelle Winters
Versus team playing video games
Photography by Michelle Winters
Versus Systems logo and conference room
photography by Michelle Winters

 

 

FOUNDED: 2014

EMPLOYEES: 25

WHAT THEY DO: Versus Systems is a platform that allows gamers to play their favorite games for real stakes, including downloadable content, physical goods, real-life experiences, tickets, coupons and events.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Los Angeles

NOTABLE PERKS: Unlimited vacation and a stipend for education and conferences

NOTEWORTHY CLIENTS: NASCAR/704 and Rockstar Energy

 

Desmond Bowe laughs with employees
photography by Michelle Winters
Portrait of Desmond Bowe
photography by Michelle Winters

 

Desmond Bowe, Head of Engineering

Desmond hires and manages the engineering team, tweaks the systems development lifecycle, and promotes his team’s accomplishments outside the company.

BEYOND WORK: Desmond surfs and rides his motorcycle.

 

What is your style of managing?

Smart people need challenges and ownership, so my organizing principle is to find interesting things for my team to do. One engineer wanted leadership opportunities, so when a new product pod was spinning up I put him in charge of taking the concept from wireframe to production, including migrating our current data. Someone else is into analytics, so I put him in a room with our business development guys and let them get to work. There’s some oversight — I’m not hanging anyone out to dry  — but generally I match people to what they’re interested in and then delegate.

 

Smart people need challenges and ownership, so my organizing principle is to find interesting things for my team to do.”

 

Who is your ideal engineer?

I like people who are self-taught. Programming is one of the only professions where you can teach yourself what you need to know through free online resources, build something cool and get hired into a well-paying job. It shows incredible initiative to have a background in one thing and then pursue programming. It demonstrates curiosity, perseverance and self-reliance.

 

How would you deal with developer burnout?

Burnout is usually a structural issue and not an individual issue. If someone has something going on in their personal life that’s compounded by work, I’d say go to the woods for two weeks, meditate and don’t think about work. More likely it’s an issue with the individual not being assigned work that’s meaningful to them, or feeling like they’re not being heard. Or the company is lurching about from one half-baked idea to the next and the team feels lost amid the churn. The solutions to each situation are different, but if someone has come to me, then we’ve already passed the critical moment. Ideally, as a manager you’re aware of the team’s emotional state and you can head off these issues before they become full-on burnout.

 

Versus team whiteboarding session
Photography by MIchelle Winters
Portrait of Kalisa Falzone
photography by Michelle Winters

 

Kalisa Falzone, Software Engineer

Kalisa develops interfaces for platform tools, collaborates with other engineers, and helps to plan out and organize projects.

BEYOND WORK: Kalisa is an enthusiastic board gamer.

 

What initially drew you to Versus Systems?

During my interview I was given a copy of a board game our CTO designed, so I had pretty high expectations for this job! I was actually hesitant working at a startup because I had worked at a few that didn’t work out so well. But I’ve been here over a year and a half and have only seen our potential, product and client base grow. Honestly, the primary reason I took this job was the chance to learn from strong engineers, and thankfully, the engineers here are even better than I was hoping for.

 

The primary reason I took this job was the chance to learn from strong engineers, and the engineers here are even better than I was hoping for.”


What are some of your favorite perks?

During the holidays, we were each given $500 to spend on games. Of course many of us are already gamers, but this small bonus helped us play games more than we would have otherwise and gave us a fresh perspective. We also have a lot of activities we do as a group,  from game nights to tech conferences to trivia to Secret Santa to running Tough Mudders. It is amazing to work at a company that has a variety of different activities to bring us together.

 

What’s the biggest technical challenge you’ve had to overcome?

Before coming to Versus, I had primarily worked with JavaScript and the front end. The first thing I worked on here was React Native, which was a slight nudge out of my comfort zone. The team was so supportive that I became more courageous and got better at back-end coding. Since then, I have worked with Ruby on Rails and Elixir, which are both very different from what I was initially hired for.

 

Dan Howard sits with his coworkers
photography by Michelle Winters
Portrait of Dan Howard
photography by Michelle Winters

 

Dan Howard, Lead Software Engineer

Dan’s team is responsible for building the business-facing tools that access the Versus platform.

BEYOND WORK: As a big sports fan, Dan formed the Versus Systems fantasy football league.

 

What about your work is inspiring?

Versus is a truly innovative product that could change its industry. I’ve spent most of my career working at startups, and many times I’ve felt like I was building a product that was exactly like something else in the market. Here, we have the chance to put something out that no one has really seen before.

 

Has this job turned out to be what you expected?

Versus was at a pretty early stage when I joined, so my expectations were extremely general. I just wanted to work on something cool, and if that cool thing became successful I wanted to feel like I had played a major role in that success. Two years in to my Versus career, I definitely feel like I’ve done both. I’ve gotten to work on a truly innovative product that has a chance to change the state of advertising in games, and I’ve done so on a small team where everyone has had a strong voice and played a major role.

 

I’ve gotten to work on a truly innovative product that has a chance to change the state of advertising in games, and I’ve done so on a small team where everyone has had a strong voice and played a major role.”

 

How has ongoing training helped you grow within your role?

My role has constantly evolved since I started, from front-end developer to tech lead to now manager. Constant mentorship from my superiors and access to training and reading materials have helped me immensely in those transitions. We also foster a mentality that failure is allowed and can be an important learning experience. This has allowed me to take more risks knowing that I have that safety net below me.

 

Versus team collaborating
Photography By Michelle Winters
Portrait of Chris Berizko
Photo Via Versus Systems

 

Chris Berizko, Software Engineer

Chris works with back-end languages like Ruby and Elixir, as well as on iOS and Android mobile development and Unity.

BEYOND WORK: On the weekends, Chris play Dungeons and Dragons with friends.

 

What problems are you solving with technology?

Since free-to-play games became popular, they have sustained themselves through either in-game purchases or ads. But advertising in video games is jarring and disruptive since it’s usually a banner or video that takes you away from the game experience. We are developing a system for brands to advertise their products by having them be prizes that are won as gamers complete challenges. This brings advertising into the game so that people actively want to play for these prizes, which makes the game more fun and engaging.

 

What is the breakdown of a developer’s day?

A day for the average developer starts with a stand-up meeting for teams to sync. The rest of the day is a mix of grabbing work from our sprint board and reviewing other developers’ code. Versus allows for working from home three days a week, so Mondays and Thursdays are when most meetings are scheduled. This means meetings don’t break up the workflow the rest of the week.

 

Versus allows for working from home three days a week, [which] means meetings don’t break up the workflow the rest of the week.”

 

Do you have any company or team traditions?

We go to dinner and karaoke as a large group every month or so. This started off as a suggestion and was so popular that it became a regular thing. Letting down our barriers and screaming out some music — what can I say, I’m a metal fan — really helps the team feel more comfortable with each other. It’s also a good way to get a new employee to meet everyone on a personal level.

 

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