“ The international experience I’d got from AISZ meant it was easy for me to put myself in the shoes of people from other cultures"
Leading video games tester Michael Johnson, Class of 1988 (1985-1988), says arriving at AISZ from Indonesia, aged 13, was a shock. But he was instantly wowed by the breathtaking views across the lake. “Oh, and the incredible smell of chocolate that would waft up the hill from the Lindt & Sprüngli factory in the mornings!”
Although he clearly leaned towards maths and computer science – classes that were “such a treat” – Michael is surprisingly nostalgic about his creative writing classes. “The teacher was the first Irish person I’d known and she had a wispy, windblown air, and a love of language and literature that was so contagious that you walked out of her lessons feeling you really could be a poet or writer.”
After studying at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and Dublin City University, he graduated from the University of Washington in computer science in 1995. “My parents had retired to the area and it was while I was there that I got a student job helping students and faculty fix their computer problems. I loved it and it was definitely significant in leading to my career in computer software testing, rather than developing.”
Indeed, when Michael landed a graduate job as a software test engineer at Microsoft, testing code to make sure it was doing what the programmers wanted, “the international experience I’d got from AISZ meant it was easy for me to put myself in the shoes of people from other cultures,” he says.
Later, a company restructure led Michael to the team developing the original Xbox. “I wasn’t sure how I’d make a living working with video games,” he laughs. “But actually I used the same skills to understand how foreign visitors would make sense of it – and because the company was keen for Xbox to be popular in Japan, my area of focus became ensuring the Japanese version of software worked well.”
He has now moved to Bungie, whose video games include Destiny, a multiplayer online game for Xbox and PlayStation. “If I’d have grown up in the US,” he says, “I honestly don’t think I’d have had this career.”
Words Kate Hilpern, Photography Brooke Fitts