Photo: Amanda Wixted
Amanda Wixted turned down an early position at Instagram that could have netted her millions of dollars when it sold to Facebook for $1.2 billion.But Wixted wasn’t fazed. She’s already had an amazingly successful career anyone would kill for.
She was Zynga’s 75th employee and the first on its mobile team. Now the mobile division has a few hundred people.
Before Zynga, Wixted help create the first version of Pacman for Namco on the iPhone.
Wixted spoke with us about Zynga’s early days, her awesome career, and what she’s planning to do next.
Here’s the (lightly edited) Q&A:
Business Insider: When did you join Zynga?
Amanda Wixted (AW): I joined Zynga in October 2008. I was the 75th employee (I think) — 16 people started the same day as I did, so it’s kind of hard to tell what number I was.
I was the first person hired for the mobile team, so I worked on all the mobile titles that Zynga’s done up until I left about a year ago.
Zynga is such a big part of Facebook’s business now. Facebook’s S-1 reported about 12% of its revenue came from Zynga.
AW: I was actually surprised it wasn’t more. Being at Zynga, our whole deal was Facebook. We had a couple games on other platforms, but Facebook turned out to be the dominant platform that we developed for.
Is that true even of Zynga’s mobile games? Are they all made with Facebook in mind?
AW: The mobile scene has been getting better at figuring out what works on mobile because it’s totally different from developing for the web. When I started, up until about six months before I left, the mobile team was about 10 people and now I think it’s in the hundreds—I’m not sure. Mobile is definitely
blowing up at Zynga.
How did you end up in the tech scene?
AW: I went to University of Arizona in Tuscon and after I graduated there was a small games startup that had just landed a deal with Nokia. It was hiring aggressively so I kind of lucked into getting a job in the game industry right out of college. Most people who want to be game developers try for years to break into the industry and often can’t do it; I was in the right place at the right time. That company later sold to Sony.
I moved to San Jose and worked for Namco Networks. I worked on Pacman and Ms. Pacman for the iPhone, and those were out on iPhone launch day, 2007 (2008 maybe).
AS: Have you always been interested in computers and coding?
AW: I was definitely into computers growing up but I didn’t even know what programming was until I got into college.
I was planning on being a dance major but I figured out there’s not much you can do with a dance degree. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer and I didn’t want to teach dance.
I was also taking calculus my first semester at college and a bunch of my friends were computer science majors. In our study group they’d all be working on homework and I was like, “Hey, what’s that? Show me what this is—I’ve never seen anything like it.” The next semester I took a computer science course and completely fell in love with it.
How’d you find Zynga?
AW: I moved out to San Francisco and started working for Zynga. When they recruited me I had never heard of Zynga before because they were so small and didn’t have that many popular games yet,but they were definitely on track to do really well. They had one of the highest rated games on Facebook with the most monthly active players, so I figured it would be a good bet for me to go there and start them help the mobile team.
Since 2008 mobile has blown up, so you must have been a pretty hot commodity. What kept
you at Zynga?
AW: I guess a lot of things. I was always working on cool projects like mobile poker, mobile Mafia Wars, Scramble and Farmville.
I definitely got a lot of calls from people asking me to come join their companies. Instagram was one of those companies but I said no because I liked being at Zynga so much.
And it was hard. Zynga is a really hard place to work because it’s always grown so quickly; everyone there is new and the structure was always in flux.
But, the kinds of projects we were working on were so difficult that it made it really fun to be there and do that kind of work all day. And everyone who works there is super motivated and smart, and I’ve never worked anywhere else that had that calibre of people.
Why’d you turn down Instagram?
AW: I think games are harder to code than anything else. Writing a photo app or something like Instagram can be done in one month or something.
The client side is not that hard. The server side of Instagram is much harder because it had to scale so much, but client side is not hard at all. Games are way more challenging. So that’s why I decided to stay in games.
What was it like when Zynga IPO’d? Were you there?
AW: No, I left about a year ago, last May, so it was before the IPO was announced.
My brother actually works for Zynga now and he was there during the IPO. I think it was his first week.
Why did you leave Zynga and come to New York?
AW: My boyfriend started a company here. His name is Timothy Fitz, and he started Canvas with Chris Poole.
But the reason I left Zynga was to start my own company. We moved out to New York and then about six months later I met the person who was my co-founder. We started a game company called Turf Geography Club that is going to launch soon.
You’re not working on Turf anymore? What’s next?
I don’t have any idea what that business idea might be, but something in the mobile space, probably game-related, and something awesome.