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State of Starfighter: May 14th, 2016 - Starfighter Community

Howdy guys! Patrick here. You might sensibly be wondering "Hey, what happened to Starfighter the last few months? You guys have been vewwwwwy quiet."

[New here? Starfighter, if you're new here, is a company which makes fun engineering challenges that you can play online for free. We launched Stockfighter, our flagship product, in mid-December. A goal for the company, and the way we make money, is to introduce great engineers to great jobs, about which more below.]

So, what happened the last 5 months? Great question. In the main:

For obvious reasons, I'm not going to dwell too long on our health issues.

How Are The Trading Levels Coming Along?

Very well! They've got at least five nines nine fives of reliability. No, seriously speaking: they stay up more than enough to create a lot of value for players. We've solved many of the scaling and technical problems. Under peak load (e.g. when we end up on the top of HN) things tend to break down, but things are solvable when not at peak load.

We've made the more-or-less considered decision not to hunt the failwhale while the ship of the business still needs to sew a sail and our captain needs to learn the difference between tack and tact.

Sorry, I've been reading nautical fiction these last two weeks. (Red Seas Under Red Skies, second book in the Locke Lamora series of semi-gritty medium-low fantasy; highly recommended.)

How Are The Low-Level Programming Levels Coming Along?

Thomas and Erin, who have written 99.8% of the technology between our low-level tech tree (described in-universe over here), have been hard at work getting it ready for public release. The components to this include an emulated AVR microcontroller, an emulated hardware device built out of three of those microcontrollers, a scratch-built C compiler, a scratch-built fully-functional debugger, and an in-browser UI to tie everything together.

Think Microcorruption, dialed to 11.

Stop me if you've heard this story before -- we had an ambitious engineering project which slightly underestimated the development timeline.

Jailbreak is almost ready. We have been doing a progressive dark launch (available on the production servers to handpicked users) for approximately the last week. The dark launch is expanding by a factor of about five today.

We're planning on making it publicly available approximately next week.

Jailbreak will not launch as a CTF, but rather as a technology preview of the CTF. You'll get the full UI/emulator/compiler/debugger to play with, but we won't expose the actual levels or mission objectives. This is to give folks some time to do recon of our particular variant of C and the quirks of AVR assembly (and as Erin and Thomas can tell you, oh God, are there quirks) prior to folks racing to complete levels. (Our challenges stay up on the Internet perpetually, so don't feel any particular need to race, but some folks in the security industry consider that something of a hobby.)

How Is the Starfighter Community Doing?

We're enormously impressed with our players both as individuals and as a community. The forums (you're on them) and the unofficial Slack (player-administered) have been enormously useful, happy places to learn about programming and trading, and folks have been having fun with the game.

Starfighter players have written over fifty OSS clients for our API. This compares favorably with the Starfighter team, which has written a total of zero.

Perhaps even more impressive, several players in the community have written fully-functional emulators for our stock exchange. They organize PVP events independently of us. We're quite proud that folks are taking our ball and running with it, and want to continue encouraging that wherever we can.

How Is Recruiting Coming Along?

Starfighter does two things for the engineering community: make fun challenges and get great developers great jobs. We're modestly happy with how the challenges are progressing. On the recruiting side of things, we're still in very, very early days.

We started Wave 1 of our recruitment efforts in approximately January. This resulted in us representing about three candidates. All received interviews at one of our clients. You'll forgive me if I don't talk about the results of that, as that is between our candidates and their employers.

While I was running this recruitment effort, I noticed opportunities for improvement on our side:

So we took what we learned from that and tried again, with a second wave of candidates. This time, we had more clients onboarded, better software and processes in place to manage the recruiting efforts, and some slight inclination of what was about to happen.

Wave two found a new set of challenges:

I'd rate our recruiting efforts as about a 3/10 at the moment. You can read unsolicited opinions from other geeks here: Ask HN: Experience with job hunting on

I was honestly terrified when I saw that thread title, because I had been jumping between fires. As far as I knew, the whole world was awash in smoke and flame. I was pleasantly surprised that our candidates were mostly happy with their experiences:

It was overall great and exactly what it said on the tin.

Pros: Fun game, good hiring companies, great players. Cons: I would not expect to be hired right away if I was needing a job.

[Patrick] very quickly lined me up an interview with a very well-known company (well-known, in this case, can be interpreted as "thousands of search results on HN").

I had a 15-minute non-technical phone call with an internal recruiter, and then we scheduled an onsite interview straightaway.

I ended up not getting an offer. Not sure whether that's due to my having an off day, or them picking up on legitimate qualities they didn't want, or merely the tendency towards avoiding false positives at the expense of false negatives.

In any case, I have since found a job I'm very excited about (starting soon), to which I was connected through Triplebyte.

(You can probably imagine that I'm enormously happy that a great engineer found a job they are thrilled with. The businessman in me sure would have loved that commission, though. Oh well. Pip pip for Triplebyte -- every additional take on improving the shoddy state of our industry's hiring practices is another experiment that might yet find the cure for the common job interview.)

We're shortly going to be launching Wave Three of recruiting, applying some of what we learned during Wave Two. (Lots of software got written to streamline the process. We might talk about it sometime -- writing software is one of our superpowers relative to traditional recruiters and it is one we use with abandon.) Also, we're going to be stepping up our operational tempo as a recruiting company, rather than sinking back into the dev cave where we're comfortable for weeks at a time.

Any Fun Behind The Scenes Stuff Happening?

The really fun stuff I can't talk about yet.

There has been a lot of Boring Business Administration stuff which might be interesting to the sort of demented kind of person who founds a software company. For example, we successfully founded a Japanese subsidiary and got a bank account for it at a major Tokyo bank despite our only on-the-ground presence being a Western techie with an interest in fake-money exchanges. (If it isn't obvious why that doesn't put one at the top of a major Japanese bank's list of prospects right now, you clearly haven't been following Mt. Gox. I have been asked about my views about Bitcoin at length, let me tell you.)

Incidentally: should you ever go in to get a bank account at a Japanese bank, remember to edit your company's website to take the words I rob banks because that is where the money is. off your homepage prior to the initial customer interview. Irony doesn't translate well. ("NO NO NO, we're not bank robbers; we're a video game company! Honest!" "What, like Nintendo?" "... In a manner of speaking, almost exactly like Nintendo.")

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