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Diamonds Among the Rubble, says Former Zynga PM

Brian Kahrs details how ex-Zynga employees stick together, and how the giant's struggles ultimately produced some great talent

The following is a guest post from Brian Kahrs, a Zynga product manager who moved to SGN last September.

As the Zynga Story unfolds, meeting rooms and beer-side chats frequent the topic, and there seems to be a resurgence of prophetic talent among the population. In contrast, conversations among ex-Zynga employees take a strikingly different tone, and a shared Google Document, formed in quiet collaboration of these folks, is testament to the success that is found in the post-Zynga Family. 

The Google Doc, started by an unnamed employee, is evident to the family that was built inside the doghouse. Within hours of the announcement that Zynga would lay off 18 percent of its workforce, this employee created and shared a publicly accessible Google Doc intended to help place dislocated Zynga talent. Two days later, former Zynga employees and Zyngite allies at over 223 companies had listed positions and contact information in an attempt to hire their former colleagues. Family moves, but it doesn't quit. 

"The pressures of building and iterating games at a relentless pace did, in fact, create diamonds. These diamonds are of the kind Wall Street doesn't measure"

In the startup world of under-served overcommitment, brain-crisping hours, liquidated or rescinded stock, layoffs, and shutdowns, there are plenty of reasons for prospective employees to be wary of the road ahead as they sign up for new opportunity. Financial success is a profoundly powerful blinder. However, as a former Zynga employee, I can assure you that the opportunity to walk forward shoulder-to-shoulder with the brightest minds is a major and oft overlooked motivator. The pressures of building and iterating games at a relentless pace did, in fact, create diamonds. These diamonds are of the kind Wall Street doesn't measure. 

Whatever becomes of ZNGA, the ex-Zyngites I've spoken with won't declare their time at Zynga a failure. Instead, they tell tall tales of long nights, short sprints, surreal milestones, and pressure tested relationships with the best people they've ever had the opportunity to work with. 

I hope employees at other startups will focus on the few rewards that can be had independent of stock price or IPO. Targeting financial rewards is great, but major payouts are few and far between. Build great products and meticulously foster relationships with your teammates. The cash may follow. Even if it doesn't, you'll still be better off. 

The Zynga story isn't over, and many of the individuals responsible for past successes are still building the company's future. For that reason alone, naysayers should nay cautiously. 

For those looking to hire former Zynga talent, may the best recruiters win...

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Latest comments (2)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 3 years ago
Core creators should never be employees.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development3 years ago
I think every employee should be a core creator. :)
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