Software Engineering STL

No Flipper Mashing Here: Seth Seavers on the Parallels between Pinball and Software Development

Seth Seavers

From a wide angle, pinball restoration appears overwhelming. It involves learning hundreds of switches that communicate states of being to program ROMs.

But individually, the electrical engineering for each component is relatively simple.
If you ask Seth Seavers, the curiosity that led him to take on pinball machines is the same that led him to software solutions. Perhaps it’s no accident that exceptionally good pinball players and developers are both called wizards.

His interest in pinball developed during his formative years, though he knew nothing of strategy then — he just mashed the flipper buttons.

Recently, he bought a house and realized he could restore old pinball machines in his basement. He now has four machines: WhoDunnit, Fireball, 8 Ball, and his personal favorite, Swords of Fury — a medieval sci-fi/fantasy game that’s “hokey and oozes ’80s. The voice callouts are just ridiculous, and it’s great.”

But pinball is not a game of chance. There’s more to it than setting off flashing lights.
For example, the game Medieval Madness has a castle in the center of the playfield with a drawbridge and gate. The primary objective is to hit the drawbridge to lower it, then to hit the gate to open it. From there, you have to defeat five foes. But on either side of the castle are a joust, catapult, dragon and peasant — each of which unlocks a multiball. If you unlock all of them, you achieve Royal Madness, where you score huge points.

It’s very challenging to make all the shots, but it’s super gratifying when it finally happens.
Through Daugherty, likewise, Seth gets to tackle some of the most interesting, complex work at some of the largest and most well-known companies in the world. It’s super gratifying to see a real impact.
Seth approaches challenges first by learning as much as he can from somebody’s who’s already done it, then by seeing if he can improve upon that core knowledge.

“You’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “Learn how you got there, learn how to improve on that.”
The other night, for example, he was clear coating the playfield of his 8 Ball machine. He’d been instructed to leave the lights in their light sockets, so clear coating wouldn’t seep in. What he didn’t think about, though, was that he should remove the lights after applying the clear coat. Now he has 30 bulbs stuck in place! But he won’t make that mistake a second time.

In the same way, he’s strived to absorb as much as can from his Daugherty teammates.
It’s kind of like nudging, a technique in pinball to make games last longer. Nudging involves strategically shaking the machine to control the ball’s movement. But you have to be careful: Pinball machines have a tilt mechanism that gets triggered if you nudge too much or too hard, in which the flippers lock up and you lose the ball.

Just as nudging can move the ball to an advantageous position, so the consultants at Daugherty nudge one another to produce outstanding results.

A stretch? Ok, maybe.

“I absolutely love all the people at Daugherty,” Seth said. “They strive to be helpful and changemakers. They want to make a difference.”

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