Our latest Geek of the Week, Giordano Contestabile, is working at one of the most interesting intersections of technology right now, video games and mobile phones, as the senior director of product and business strategy for mobile at Seattle-based PopCap Games.
But his path to this point was anything but a straight line. The native of Milan, Italy, lived and worked in Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Singapore and Shanghai before moving to Seattle last year. (He jokes that he took the long way around.) And he brought his geek cred with him, as you’ll see from reading his answers to our questionnaire below.
Name: Giordano Bruno Contestabile. Since moving to the U.S. last year, I’m alternatively pained and amused by the attempts to pronounce my name, with varying degrees of success.
Job, hobby and/or other geeky pursuit: I handle product and business strategy for mobile at PopCap Games, which entails working with our development studios and our publishing organization to ensure that our mobile games can reach the largest amount of players around the world. Or, if you will, ensuring that jewels are properly matched and zombies appropriately disposed of on smartphone and tablet devices worldwide. Hobbies mostly revolve around gaming: on consoles, iPhone and iPad, but mostly on the gigantic custom gaming PC that has recently gained pride of place in my apartment, to the chagrin of my long suffering wife, Jean.
Coolest thing about what you do: Games. Jewels. Unicorns. Zombies. All in a day’s work. What can be cooler than that? I’d say that the coolest aspect of my job is being on the frontlines of a revolution that’s changing the way games are consumed, as players increasingly want to enjoy games on their terms, wherever they are and whenever they feel like it. It’s difficult not to be excited when you get up in the morning if your mission is to bring great games to as many people as possible. Also, I get to work on product and business matters equally, which provides much needed balance and variety.
What does it mean to you to be a geek? I think being a geek means different things at different times of your life, and depending on how you look at it. Deep down, being a geek means having a fundamental belief in technology and science as a force for progress and good, and basing your worldviews on that belief. On a more mundane level, it means never losing your sense of wonder, getting stupidly excited about a new game you have been anticipating for a long time and making arrangements for a long week-end of gaming, pizza and lack of pants (sorry). When I was younger, being a geek gave me identity and a group of like-minded friends that made the whole process of growing up more interesting and less painful.
Geekiest thing(s) you’ve ever done, built, or worn: My teenage years were pretty much a postcard picture (or a parody) of geekdom: video games, role playing games, board games, comics, running a BBS in those quaint pre-Internet days, you name it. A big part of that revolved around computing, and for years I had a Frankenstein monster of a PC that was constantly missing the case, as I was tinkering with it, swapping out peripherals and upgrading it. Recently, I wanted to get an up-to-date gaming PC (mostly in view of an highly anticipated RPG that will be launching soon) and, being absorbed by grown-up matters and lacking for time, decided to order it from a custom assembler rather than building it myself. Even so, I spent hours researching the finer points of SLI interfaces, CPU overclocking and liquid cooling, and felt as giddy as when I was 14 and assembling my first 486 PC after years of Commodore Amiga ownership. When the PC arrived (in a crate!), it was the most exciting day of the year for me. I still talk about it all the time and often show pictures of its liquid cooling system and of the dual Geforce GTX590 graphic cards to people that would gladly talk about something else.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life: Come up with a system that works for you to organize your day, and stick with it, no matter how difficult. For me it’s about setting reminders and to do lists for every little thing, be it a business task or a reminder to pay a bill, and making sure that every day ends with zero unattended messages in my inbox and an empty task list. If you fall behind, get up really early and catch up: the amount of work that can be done early in the morning before everyone else wakes up is staggering. Trying to manage work-life balance is silly if you really love what you do: live with it, and do the best that you can not to piss off the people around you.
Mac, Windows or Linux? My computing is now done half on PCs and half on mobile devices, and I’m ecumenical about that: Windows for PC (still the best platform for gaming), Apple for iPad and iPhone.
Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? I am a Star Trek-hating geek. Does this mean I lose my geek cred?
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine, assuming that it allows to travel both to the past and to the future, as I would be able to travel to a time where all those other technologies are available, and make use of them. The thing about time travel is that it potentially makes everything possible. The other thing about time travel, as everyone knows, is that the lack of actual time travellers between us means that most likely we’ll never get there. Or maybe they’re hiding.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup … It’d likely be about games, and I think I’d focus on HTML5-based games, as the technology holds the promise of making cross-platform gaming easier and more accessible. I’m a big believer in the power of getting people to play with each other across different devices, and web-based HTML5 gaming could realize that vision across mobile devices, desktop and potentially any other connected device. We’re probably at least a couple of years away from that vision being fully realized, but a start-up should be forward looking
I once waited in line for … So much stuff, it’s difficult to pick one. Waiting in line was a big part of being a geek in the past, but now it has only a ceremonial significance, as buying stuff online is always better. In general, I’m in favor of any technology that eliminates the need to interact needlessly with other humans
Your geek role models: It might be a cliché, but I have to go with Steve Jobs, as he demonstrated that being different and looking at the world in your own terms doesn’t preclude achieving success, and might lead to world domination.
Greatest Game In History: Toughest question ever. I’ll go with the game that made me want to work in video games: Centurion, a 1990 strategy game that puts you in the role of a Roman soldier aiming to become Emperor through military conquests, politics and diplomacy. It’s not the best game ever made, but it holds a special significance for me. It’s one of the few games set in Italy, even though it takes place 2,000 years ago, and playing it in Milan (where I grew up), I thought that was really cool. Also, it allows you to seduce Cleopatra if you’re good enough.
Best Gadget Ever: My gaming PC, hands down, followed by the iPad. I like gadgets that are useful, rather than just whimsical. Although I love my iCade, an arcade cabinet for iPad that allow to play classic Atari games using a real joystick and replicating the feeling of playing them in a real arcade.
First computer: Commodore 16, bought in 1984 when it was released. Thanks, Dad.
Current phone: iPhone 4
Favorite app: In terms of games, I’d suggest you check out Plants Vs Zombies: I’ve heard it’s pretty cool! Jokes apart, I love Tripit, which allows me to upload all my travel information and keeps me updated on flight delays, as well as providing directions and maps. A real time saver.
Favorite hangout: I’ve been living in Seattle for less than a year, and I don’t have a regular hangout yet, but I can be found in several restaurants around town. The food scene is definitely one of the highlights of living here for me.
Favorite cause: There are many worthy and serious causes, but I’d like to mention the Videogame History Museum, which just raised money and it’s set to open in the near future. Preserving the history of our passion is surely something worth doing http://www.vghmuseum.org/news.shtml
Most important technology of 2011: Tablets and smartphones. They are changing the way people communicate, consume information, work and play, and ultimately our live.
Most important technology of 2015: The Web. I know it’s not a new technology by any means, but I believe that by 2015 most of our computing will be web-based and cross-platform, making information, entertainment and media readily available on any device, anywhere. This is a paradigm shift as big as any we’ve experienced so far.
Words of advice for your fellow geeks: Bathe at least once a week. Failing that, deodorant. In all seriousness, be proud of being a geek: this is our time
Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.
Does someone you know deserve this distinguished honor? Send nominations to email@example.com.
[Geek of the Week photography by Annie Laurie Malarkey, firstname.lastname@example.org.]