Interview

Remote Working: AppLovin director Jerome Turnbull on Machine Zone being acquired in the middle of a pandemic

Remote Working: AppLovin director Jerome Turnbull on Machine Zone being acquired in the middle of a pandemic

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field – especially in these complex times we are all living through at the minute.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the scenes as well as how employees around the world are adapting to the life of remote work, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry in our Jobs in Games: Remote Working series.

This week we spoke with Machine Zone and AppLovin director of media buying Jerome Turnbull.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Jerome Turnbull: I am the director of media buying for AppLovin where I help fuel our partner studios' growth by driving as many loyal users into their games. It's an exciting role and I get to work with a talented team of media buyers and analysts across a wide range of games and monetisation types.

I wanted to focus more on games and decided to join Machine Zone in early 2014 when Game of War was on its way up
Jerome Turnbull

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into this role?

I was first introduced to the mobile games industry at a small, mobile-first advertising agency in Boston. Mickey Mouse tapped me on the shoulder and I took an opportunity to join Disney Mobile Games' User Acquisition team in the Bay Area.

At Disney, I was able to support a range of mass-market games. I wanted to focus more on games and decided to join Machine Zone in early 2014 when Game of War was on its way up. The last six years have been a wild ride.

This past Spring, I joined the AppLovin team when Machine Zone was acquired and I'm looking forward to all the opportunities available here.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I have a liberal arts background, which taught me to think critically, communicate well, and become an effective writer and speaker. However, I learned most of my day-to-day skill sets on-the-job. I started in a marketing operations department where I learned SQL and then worked my way over to business strategy, but no matter which department I was in, being good at Microsoft Excel always helped.

If you have the opportunity to advance your technical skills, I would recommend taking business courses that focus on case studies, microeconomics, and analytics that use real business data. These types of courses give you a preview of some of the work you'll encounter on the job.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

User acquisition (UA) is a well-known growth concept, but it gets tricky depending on the landscape you do it in. As mobile games continuously evolve, your tactics need to evolve with it. The best people in growth are humble and nimble and are able to adapt and move quickly when they find something that works.

Machine Zone was aquired by AppLovin in May 2020

What advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

Smaller companies or smaller teams tend to provide you with more ownership and opportunities for professional growth. You'll get to wear many hats and get exposure to different areas of the business. It's sometimes painful, but you'll grow personally and professionally.

How has the shift from office to remote working impacted your role, if at all?

My role has changed a lot since we started remote working but personally, I've thrived in the remote working environment. I am more productive and spend less time in meetings, which I attribute to AppLovin's 'no meeting' culture. Already having workspaces and communication tools like Asana and Slack made the transition to remote work easier.

During shelter-in-place, Machine Zone was acquired by AppLovin. At first, it was a challenge to merge two large teams into one cohesive unit in a remote environment, but communication and transparency have been key. We don't know all the answers, but we can find them by working together.

I focused on building relationships and meeting new team members and department leads as if we were still in the office. Smaller groups of 'happy hours' and one to ones have also been helpful and allowed for a more casual way to get to know my new colleagues.

I'd like to see offices with more flexible workspaces where teams can safely collaborate with different colleagues
Jerome Turnbull

My scope has also expanded from managing UA for one studio to a portfolio of studios across different game categories and time zones. Since everyone at AppLovin and Machine Zone is working remotely, there are fewer location barriers and greater collaboration between teams.

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

I have more time in the mornings to exercise and focus, so when I sit down at my workstation, I'm in a good headspace to start the day. First, I'll review reports and then kick off or pick-up conversations that require collaboration. Towards the end of the day, I set some time aside to check in on the team. For me, I've found that evenings are best to focus on more time-intensive projects that require fewer distractions.

What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of remote working?

Remote working offers more flexibility on your work hours and greater ability to focus with fewer distractions that you might experience in an open work environment. Illnesses would also spread around the office more often when we were all in the same building working together.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to draw the line between work and home. Now that in-person meetings are all from your computer, we're sitting for hours at a time. so it's important to set reminders to stand up, walk around, or stretch. With our recent team integration, building relationships and meeting new team members also requires additional effort.

Is there anything you wish you had known before moving to remote working?

Luckily our industry and company culture easily adapted to remote working. This has been an interesting learning experience, especially onboarding and integrating a new team, and I've grown a lot from it.

Do you have any advice for others who are struggling to adjust to remote work?

Set time aside for yourself and find a schedule that keeps you motivated. Some of my team members will take a one to two-hour break in the afternoon and come back to finish projects in the evening when they can focus.

I've become more of a morning person as a result of the change. Create a workspace you enjoy, but separate from your recreational space. Since we're interacting with computer screens a lot more, natural light is important. Incorporate other personal items that show off your personality like plants, art, or something from your newest hobby - which for me is having an aquarium.

Turnbull's remote working setup

After the pandemic ends and if you were given the choice, would you prefer to continue working remotely or go back to working in an office?

A mix of both. I've seen the team become more productive in a remote environment, which demonstrates trust and accountability. I also want to make sure everyone feels connected, which a physical workspace can provide.

I'd like to see offices with more flexible workspaces where teams can safely collaborate with different colleagues. With my particular case, I would likely be splitting my time between our San Francisco and Palo Alto offices and my home.

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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