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Haven Kafe - Cristian Donoso

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Haven Kafe - Cristian Donoso

Haven Kafe - Cristian Donoso

Our second Haven Kafé interview is with Cristián Donoso, our Cloud team lead (more on exactly what that means below). Cristián’s path to the Montreal game dev industry is a bit different from most, and we sat down to chat  about his journey to Haven.

HK: You’ve had an unusual path into the game industry - can you tell us how you landed here with us at Haven?

CD: I’m actually one of the few people on our team who doesn’t have prior experience making video games. I’ve wanted to make games ever since college but for multiple reasons I didn’t act on it, and instead became a “normal” software engineer in Chile. I’ve worn a lot of hats: worked at an airline, was a full-stack web developer and even worked at an electronics simulation company. But I always felt something was missing, and I just wasn’t sure how to make the shift to  games or “real” cool software.

One day I discovered Handmade Hero, which helped me rediscover my love for  programming and learning. This eventually led me to build a Gameboy emulator from scratch, just to see if I could (debugging it required me to play Link’s Awakening a few million times, I know the beginning sequence by heart). A friend suggested I post it on LinkedIn, and sure enough,  a couple of days later I was poked by a Google recruiter asking if I wanted to apply there. I was certain that it was a scam. Three months later I moved to California and was working as a Cloud Network investigator and later wrote a C++ debugger for a cool new OS. The kind of thing I would’ve never dreamt of being able to do just a few years before. 

But even after making this move, I still felt the yearning to try game development. When Stadia popped up I immediately transferred to Montreal. It was a great experience while it lasted, and then Leon (Haven’s CTO) asked me to join him to help build Haven. I absolutely love making games and there’s no question that this is where I am meant to be at Haven. 

HK: Given that you were one of Haven’s very first official employees, how has it been setting everything up?

CD: It’s been an amazing series of stages. For the first few months, there were only a handful of us setting up infrastructure for the incoming storm of people that would join, but at the time it all felt very orderly and calm. After that my role has gone through several transitions, from focusing on our overall technical architecture, laying some foundations for our cloud setup, building our build system and later on growing the team.

I had a couple massive work machines at home, which became our first “datacenter”. It was fine in the winter, as it heated my whole apartment, but once summer came around it turned the room into a very uncomfortable sauna. No bueno. I tried making a makeshift cooling rig, which didn’t work at all, so everything had to be moved to Mana the cat’s room (aka. the room where she normally sleeps). She was very happy when those machines eventually left my home.



Makeshift cooling a server with a plastic bag and duct tape. 

Does not work.


Mana the cat - upset that her room is so warm. 

Does not work.

Now things have progressed, the cloud team has grown, and I spend less time programming and more time working to ensure we are moving our project forward at the level of quality we aspire to - we’re a very ambitious team!

HK: Can you tell us a bit more about what Cloud engineering entails here at Haven?

CD: A romantic way of describing it is “making the chaos feel (more) stable”. We’ve got over 60 people now at Haven and we want to make sure everything feels like it “just works”. And there are a lot of things one takes for granted when joining an established company (think IT, security, connectivity, developer experience and flows, etc.). Our team is responsible for a lot of these elements and it takes quite a bit of time to build.

But for us at Haven, there is another aspect to it. Rather than having an “Infra” team that is responsible for maintenance and debugging, we wanted a strong engineering team capable of developing our own solutions as needed and solving upcoming challenges by pushing boundaries and making cool stuff. We do write quite a bit of software on the team and our vision is to create platforms and self-service tools that give our engineers more autonomy. 

An interesting aspect is that we get to determine a lot in terms of HOW we work as a company, especially engineering - from the software we use, the languages we code in (Go ftw!), the tools we need, and even how we connect with one another. We have a big say on the technical architecture and definitively get to influence many aspects of how the company runs: from how we will build our tools and games, how we manage our cloud infrastructure, how content creators get their programs, enable automation and testing, and how we write our online services and others.



Cristián’s WFH battlestation.

Does not work.

HK: How is that different from how this role works at other organizations?

CD: For me, one key aspect is the mindset of how important it is for us to have a strong team and vision on this topic. We are very lucky to be working with people who have set up several studios before and know the pain of not being able to “own your own destiny”. So it is super empowering to have the trust to chart our own priorities, projects and timelines and let us take longer time bets with our infra and solutions. 

HK: That sounds fun! Last question: What are you most excited for?

CD: To be honest, I really want to launch my first game. This is the first game I will ship, and I can’t wait to have our game out there and sit back to watch our community play something we made, and have the opportunity to interact with our players. Every game dev tells you the moment you go live is the coolest, and I can’t wait to live the experience for myself!

We hope you enjoyed this peek into Cristián’s life at Haven and our approach to Cloud! Next month, we’ll be talking with Mathieu Latour-Duhaime about his work as a concept artist and how he “prints people’s dreams''. See you soon!

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