Some of us like to visit casinos, but Shannon Romano is immersed in the world of casino gaming — at least in a virtual sense.
Romano is game development manager for Seattle-based DoubleDown Interactive. An experienced developer, she oversees a team that makes the company’s casino-style Facebook games, a casual-gaming experience that gives users the feeling of Las Vegas on the social network (without the hangovers or the risk of gambling real money).
Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for a glimpse into her world, through her answers to our questionnaire.
What do you do, and what’s your favorite thing about it?
I create casual social games that remind us of Las Vegas. I started working at DoubleDown Interactive about a year ago, focusing on a number of slot and poker games for DoubleDown Casino. Now at DDI, I manage an amazing team of developers and together we bring Vegas to Facebook and mobile devices. Whether we have to build a social game from scratch, or reverse engineer one from the IP of our parent company, IGT, I’m constantly challenged in ways that feed my artistic side as well as that geek in me. I mean, it’s pretty cool to say that I get to take a popular vacation destination in the real world and recreate it as a fun destination in a virtual world that attract millions of people each month.
What’s the secret to making an engaging casino game when real money isn’t at stake?
People don’t go to Vegas to only bet with real money; they go because the city offers an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the world. You feel energized and want to play games the minute you get off the plane. The slots at the airport are totally fun and romance you from the start, and that’s before you ever step foot into a casino. We wanted to capture the nostalgia of Vegas that tends to be replicated all over that city – the sound of winning machines, people cheering on others, and the sea of games. Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas if there was only real money gambling and these other experiences didn’t exist.
Has your job changed the way you think about or approach real casinos? Any secrets you can pass along?
I was very familiar with casinos before coming on board at DDI, but I’m more appreciative of dealers now. When I sit down at a BlackJack or Pai Gow table, I’m more cognizant of the dealers and it’s clear that they can really set the mood for the table. They help you connect with others around you, and give you tips if you need them. Many of the games you find in Vegas wouldn’t be the same without dealers.
Your best piece of advice to up-and-coming developers looking to break into the games business?
These days it seems like everyone is searching for talented developers so it is not that hard to get a break. But, I love working with developers who are passionate and take initiative. If someone comes in and has a solid portfolio of the games they’ve created, even if it’s on their own time, or mentored kids, or taken part in a hack-a-thon of some sort, I’m excited to talk with them.
Where do you find your inspiration?
When someone has a desire of curiosity and wants to share it with others; that’s when I’m inspired. I love it when people around me shine, and they push me to do better. I have amazing co-workers who show up each day and work through whatever challenge that is in front of them, not because of a paycheck, but because they have an X-factor. I’m continually inspired by people who want to try new things, discover a new method of doing something or just want to put their toe in the water because the water looks inviting.
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My Android smartphone. It has everything I need to keep me connected when I’m not in the office. Although now if I could find a great app that would allow me to code I’d be golden!
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I’m one of those developers with a standup desk. I don’t like to sit all day and I usually work with other developers on projects so I can’t be chained to my cubical.
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. There’s really no magic trick to manage work and life. It takes hard work and the ability to multitask. Once you accept that, then you can concentrate on getting stuff done.
Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac. I switched from Windows about 6 years ago and haven’t looked back!
Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? Umm…. Janeway! Hello?! She’s a forceful boss lady in charge of an entire Enterprise and has the respect of the entire crew. That’s pretty badass.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? A transporter would save me so much time, which has become a priceless commodity these days. Also I’m a history buff so going back and seeing what really happened at certain moments in time would be interesting.
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I’ll tell you for $1 million, and I actually have a few ideas for all you VCs out there! But something non-tech, I would love to be involved in an all-girls camp or program that is focused on science and engineering.
I once waited in line for … Coffee. It happens daily at the Starbucks in our building.
Your role models: Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who was the first to develop a compiler and she coined the phrase “debugging.” She was a maverick. I admire her. I think she paved the way for women working in science and computers. I’d also say Sally Ride. I remember watching her on TV in the Challenger broadcast. I totally wanted to be an astronaut for a while because of that. She was a good role model for girls in my generation.
Greatest Game In History: Stratego – played it for hours as a kid.
Best Gadget Ever: Lifetime Best Gadget for me was the Walkman. It was a lifesaver for me when it came out because I didn’t need to haul around a huge stereo anymore. Recent Gadget Award would go to the Tablets. Finally smaller devices are getting powerful enough.
First computer: I spent hours on my friend’s Amiga 500 in college. The games on those were awesome for the time. I actually didn’t personally own one until about 1997! Probably just some random Dell.
Current phone: Samsung Galaxy, waiting to upgrade to the S3 soon.
Favorite app: Besides DoubleDown Casino, I love Skype on my phone and this Flashlight app is handy.
Favorite hangout: Any bar stool with WiFi
Favorite cause: I’m a supporter of the whole “local foods” movement. I’m glad it’s the “thing” to do these days and gets the attention it deserves.
Most important technology of 2012: Nothing has blown me away this year, although recently a friend of mine turned me on to the Google Goggles and I’m totally geeked out on those. I want a pair! I also love the retina display for the iPad.
Most important technology of 2015: Anything technology that gets us away from wires.
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: The biggest responsibility we have is to teach the next generation of geeks. Make the time to share your secrets and knowledge. It benefits everyone in the long run, including yourself.