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Downtown Talks: Five Questions with Patrick O’Kelley

February 17, 2021 - by Mason Luvera

Downtown Talks:
Five Questions with Patrick O’Kelley

Keeping things running at one of the industry’s best-known video game studios takes creativity and skill. Fortunately for Bungie COO Patrick O’Kelley, his background in literature and time spent at Amazon and Microsoft gave him both.

We’ll be hearing from O’Kelley in our next Downtown Talks on February 23, where he’ll share the story of Bungie’s history, how they created venerable titles like Destiny and Halo and what’s ahead for the local game development industry here in Downtown Bellevue.

In anticipation of the premier, we sat down with O’Kelley to learn how he found himself in our city and leading the teams at Bungie...

BDA: You were a literature lecturer at Princeton before jumping to tech – how did you find your way to tech companies and the Seattle area?

PO: Well, yes! A lot of my graduate work was on the history of science and literature, I was also doing computer science in the early days of what we were calling the “humanities computing.” I worked on teaching using the Internet and other technologies for a humanities education. Remember, this is like 1993… we were doing things with online education and were very early adopters of Internet technology. I've done a lot of work in areas where my brain was sitting between the left brain in the right brain, so to speak. It was between the arts and the sciences, and technology and teaching – I increasingly started to see that the best path for me was one that was going to combine the two. Initially it was working for Amazon which was about books and technology - they hired me as an editor, so I actually started doing book reviews for Amazon, back when Amazon was just a bookstore. I was also doing project management related to getting content on websites, and so I was the kind of technology person that could talk the talk to both the writers and the technical side. I always loved video games growing up, and as someone who played video games it became an art form. The industry rose to this place where it seemed like an actual career path and eventually I got there.

BDA: Besides the obvious allure for someone who plays games, what do you like about being in the industry, especially right now?

PO: I think gaming sits at this amazing interface of storytelling and classic arts with the bleeding edge of technology. It's created something that's truly interactive and also social. For Bungie, our core purpose statement is that we create worlds that inspire friendship. That statement to me fully embodies what I love about video games; you create this deep world that you can walk around in and you can do it with your friends. You can connect with your people down the hallway in your dorm room or abroad. You know, we hear stories all the time about families that gather to play on a weekly basis with each other through the pandemic, it's been our way to stay connected, and that's great to be involved in.

BDA: Stepping back a moment, you started your tech career at large enterprises like Amazon and Microsoft. What do you like about leading a smaller team?

PO: The exciting thing is that I'm working with creative people while also running a business. I get to create new things, so it's kind of the marriage of work and play. I love working on things people care passionately about, that mean something deeply to them, and that creates opportunity for lifelong experiences. People who play our games, it’s like a hobby for many of them. That's central to their life and their recreation, just like you have baseball fans or football fans. I love being part of that.

BDA: On that note, as Bungie’s COO, what leadership qualities do you value and how has that helped you lead your team?

PO: You know, part of our 10 year vision that we're halfway through, as we enter the next phase of what we want Bungie to become, we’re strengthening a culture of lean empowered diverse teams. We've really focused on that by intensely creating high power teams, where people understand what the goals are that we can work collaboratively. That is really central for me, that’s we’re fostering empowered teams where people can take that and transform it to use their creativity and technical prowess to do great things.

BDA: Speaking of creativity, have you lost your literature touch? What do you enjoy doing outside of work? And where might we find you around town?

PO: Ha, I do love Shakespeare. I love to read and I'm total nerd. I also play video games, of course. I'm a huge baseball fan and have been in a fantasy baseball league with a group of people, a bunch of my ex-Amazon colleagues, in fact, I think for 20 years now. Oh, and I collect comic books. In terms of being out and about, I like a good walk around Downtown Park - it’s such a great thing to have right in the city. And I have to say I really love the Starbucks on my corner because I've gotten to know the team there.

Behind the Screens with Bungie premiers February 23! Don’t miss the full conversation - get the details and add it to your calendar.

This blog is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.