When Guitar Hero 2 came out, I was addicted. I would sit at home for hours on end playing “Message In a Bottle,” texting my roommate to brag about my score. I met HMXHellion and learned about Harmonix Music Systems, the amazing company that made my favorite game, and I had a mission. I wanted to work for Harmonix. I used to email HMXHellion every few months, asking about open positions and including my resume, constantly trolling the job openings for something I could do.
Last fall, I finally had my chance when a publicist position opened up. I had been unemployed for six months when I started at Harmonix, over the barely bearable Boston winter. I started in April, just as winter was ending, and my second day, I had the chance to try out The Beatles: Rock Band. We played “Here Comes the Sun,” and I felt like the winter, unemployment, how unhappy I’d been, everything, just melted away. This might sound cheesy, but I teared up. I was just so happy to be here and to be involved with something so amazing.
That feeling hasn’t gone away. I come to work happy to be here every single day. When I can’t be here, I miss it. I miss my coworkers and my work, and I feel like I’m missing fun. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Harmonix was named No. 3 in The Boston Globe’s 2009 Globe 100 Top Places to Work.
Harmonix was #3 in the Top 100 Places to Work
“People here love what they do and are excellent at what they do,” said Alex Rigopulos, founder and CEO of Harmonix. “Working alongside people who love what they do and are excellent at what they do feels really great.”
There are a lot of things that make Harmonix a great place to spend 40-plus hours a week. Here are a few of the perks:
- Weely is our weekly company-wide meeting. While other companies run through status updates in stiff boardrooms, ours are given as we eat catered lunch, socializing and, over this summer at least, watching coworkers show off their a cappella singing skills.
- Every Thursday at around 4 p.m., one of our resident rock stars, Kurt Davis, comes over the loud speaker with a cheerful “Fruity Fruity, yo!” and everyone pours into our break area, the Freq Pit, for fresh fruit and socializing.
- The parties, oh man, the parties! The company is truly invested in giving employees a chance for recreation with each other, and HMX definitely knows how to throw a shindig. I could tell you more, but I don’t want to incriminate anyone.
- A few times a year, we all get together during the work day, not at work. In the spring, there’s an annual bowling day – we all head over to a local bowling alley as a team-building event. Teams of random coworkers are picked, and the balls start rolling. Over the summer, there’s the annual clambake on George’s Island. They put us all on a boat, and we head over to the island to play games and eat lobstahs. We are in Massachusetts, after all.
- We have tour leave, for crying out loud. There are so many musicians who work here that the company has a policy that you can take time off to go on tour and still have a job when you come back.
The company also does a great job of supporting its employees. Over the summer, my career as an amateur wrestler with the Boston League of Women Wrestlers ended when I broke both of my wrists during a tag team match. I landed badly on one wrist, thought I could finish the match, and then landed really badly on the other wrist, resulting in what came to be called, thanks to HMXPope, “Double Trouble.”
I was out of work for a bit and had to have surgery to have a metal plate inserted to hold my arm and my hand together. When the pain subsided, all I could think was, “Thank god I work for Harmonix.” The company really takes care of its employees, and I got emails, presents, flowers and cards from my coworkers.
HMX TLC OMG
“We allow our folks to be able to take really good care of themselves,” said HR maven Janet Freed. “People call with a problem, and I love that I’m able to say, ‘It’s OK, don’t worry.’”
All this stuff is awesome, but it seems everyone agrees on the absolute best part of working at Harmonix. It all boils down to the fact that there are amazing people working on amazing things here.
“My favorite thing about working at Harmonix is the people here,” said Caleb Epps, senior sound designer. “Obviously, the work is interesting, challenging and fun, but the thing that makes me look forward to coming in every day is the great group of people that I work with. It's like working with a gang of your best friends every day.”
That feeling isn’t coincidental. Harmonix puts a lot of effort into pairing the right people with the right job.
HMXSean - Monkey edition
“When we're looking at potential employees, we look for talent (of course!), but also for the kind of passion that just comes at you in waves through every interaction you have with that person, whether it's online or in real life,” said our recruiter, Kevin Fanning (HMXKFan). “We like people who are so motivated and creatively driven that regardless of what it is they do – whether it's art or programming or design or music or whatever – they would be doing it even if there was no money on the table.”
That drive extends throughout the company. I’ve never been here at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday and been the only one. Harmonix employees are committed to their jobs. Associate Producer Aaron Price calls it the “genius factor.”
The IT scene
“It’s an open-minded culture that’s fun and relaxed, albeit incredibly stressful at times due to how serious we can be about ourselves,” he said. “Working here is like being surrounded by geniuses that act like completely normal people.”
That’s a facet of the company’s culture that Alex said was an important part even when Harmonix was just starting out.
“We have always looked for people who are exceptional at what they do, who are true believers in what the company is trying to accomplish, bringing both talent and passion, and who have good hearts and can be trusted,” he said.
The office culture is definitely one of support. Employees come from all backgrounds and are creative in all different ways. We go to each others’ music shows, sporting events, art openings, comedy shows, parties, BBQs and picnics. Of course, we’re especially supportive of each others’ work efforts.
“Harmonix employees really inspire each other, and motivate each other to do their best work, across all disciplines, every day,” said HMXKFan. “That's a big part of what makes working at Harmonix so fun, and what makes the work we do successful. Put amazing people in a room together, and amazing things will happen. This is science.”
A few quotes and memories from HMXers:
“I never knew my work life could be so amazing. I’m that girl who loves coming to work every single day.” – Janet Freed, HR maven
“I moved into Hardware from QA, where I got exposed to the inner workings of Harmonix and have been able to be part of the evolutionary process of a new and exciting part of an already exciting company. It’s a great feeling to know that my skill set is growing alongside the evolution and development of the organization around me. It is a company that fosters that kind of growth.” – Nate Stoddard, QC coordinator for Hardware Development
“One of my favorite memories was walking into the building one morning and seeing a middle-aged guy sitting there in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals, just thumbing through magazines while waiting for a meeting. I thought, ‘Well, this guy looks cool enough to come here casual for a meeting.’ I nodded hello, and he said something friendly back. I rounded the corner and someone asked, ‘Hey, what’s Jimmy Buffett doing here?’” – Brett Milano, writer
“I love the people here. They are creative, intelligent, passionate and fun. And just like me, they love the games we make. Every day, I think about how much joy our games bring to people. Making games that celebrate joyful interaction and bring people together around music they love really rocks!” – Tracy Rosenthal-Newsom, vice president of production
“My favorite thing about working at HMX is knowing that the product we make actually makes people happy. Recently two friends of mine who had been together for years found their marriage on the rocks. Every time they went out or tried to do something nice they ended up in another fight. After giving up on any attempt to go out, they decided to have a few beers and play Rock Band. It ended up being the best night they had together in a very long time. I’m sure they were exaggerating, but they told me Rock Band saved their marriage.” – Izzy Maxwell, senior sound designer
The Scribble Ball Room - one of the many HMX play spaces
“A personal memory that means a lot to me has to do with the amazing content we’re exposed to. I had the opportunity to listen in on a session at Boston’s Wooly Mammoth Studio, where Eric Brosius (HMX audio director) and Dave Minehan (Wooly owner/engineer) were remixing and bouncing stems for ‘Stop’ by Jane’s Addiction for Guitar Hero 2. We had the master tracks and very few tracking notes, so we were listening to every track to figure out which tracks were the keepers, which were scratch tracks, etc. We then rebuilt the mix. It was super cool. We do this all the time at Harmonix, but I can’t imagine that the thrill of listening to master recordings ever wears thin.” – Daniel Sussman, project director
“When I was at PAX, preparing to participate in a panel on the Rock Band Network, I peeked my head around the corner to see how many people were waiting to get in. I was shocked to see that there was a massive line of people camped out. I followed the line and it looped all the way around the lecture hall. It was utterly insane. Seeing how much people love our games was really humbling and made me realize how lucky I am to work here.” – Caleb Epps, senior sound designer