Rock or get a real job? He chose bothJuly 5, 2012: 10:57 AM ET
Joe Raposo, Zynga's 41-year-old quality assurance lead for CityVille, has an uncommon moonlighting gig. He's the bassist for a SoCal punk band with seven studio albums, a zealous following and regular tour dates.
By Richard Nieva, reporter
FORTUNE -- Joe Raposo, 41, works for Zynga as the quality assurance lead on the game CityVille, which lets players run and develop a virtual metropolis. But when Raposo is not leading a team that finds and fixes bugs in the popular social game, he's got an uncommon moonlighting gig: Raposo is the bassist for Lagwagon, a Southern California punk band with seven studio albums, a loyal following and a regular touring schedule. (He and the band recently returned from a month-long European tour.)
The Silicon Valley native has held video game testing jobs at Sega, Sony (SNE) and Electronic Arts (ERTS). Playing in several punk bands during the 90s, he joined Lagwagon in 2010 to replace its departing bassist. His two worlds may collide more formally this month. Rasposo and his other band King City are in talks to play their first gig on the Zynga (ZNGA) campus during a company happy hour.
Raposo took some time to talk to Fortune about balancing the pursuit of both a full-time career and an outside passion, and the advantages of doing both.
What's your advice to those who have steady jobs, but are also tempted to do other time-consuming things?
First rule is just to get with a company that understands your situation. I love working at Zynga because they really support anything you do on the creative side, and they nurture that. Then come to some sort of agreement where you're able to do both and be productive at both.
You have to be ready to quit a job, basically. And that's a hard thing to do. It takes a certain type of person [to pursue both]. It's not for everybody and it's definitely not for the faint of heart. So if you're going to do this, you better be ready because it's not the easiest thing to do. But if you can, there are great rewards all the way around.
It sounds like a difficult conversation.
It was a hard decision. I didn't want them to think my commitment wasn't there anymore. And it's easy for people to think that way. I've had jobs before where I've told them I wanted to do music, and I didn't get opportunities to become a full-time employee because they thought, "This guy is just never going to be here. He's going to be a flake."
At first, I was really hesitant to tell work that I wanted to tour. I was really scared to ask. But my girlfriend convinced me that I had to do it. So she gave me the confidence to go to my manager and ask. And when I finally did, she was super receptive about it. And she was stoked and happy for me.
Logistically, how do you get any work done while you're on the road?
I did a tour last year in Europe, and I wasn't supposed to work because I was on vacation. But I took my computer with me. And even though there's a time difference in Europe, when I logged on, I actually helped out. In this tech field, where I can VPN into a network, I can work from anywhere.
When I went on tour again, it worked out really well because I was able to put in eight hours a day and still do sound check and the gig, and sometime even get back online after the show and help the team out. I have an Aircard [Internet connection device] through Zynga, and I'm able to work in the tour van while we're cruising. Of course, there are some days where you don't have a connection and you have issues getting online. There's a lot of downtime while on tour, and everyone else is trying to do things to keep busy so they're not bored. For me, I'm just working.
Do your band mates give you a hard time?
The guys give me shit sometimes. They see me working on my computer, and my job is really in-depth. If I'm Skyping people and stuff, I'm on my computer for hours. They'll say, "Dude, you've got to throw that fucking thing away. Drink some beer with us." Joey Cape [Lagwagon's lead singer] likes to come in every once in a while and go, "Hey, what's your high score on that thing, dude?"
How has being in a band taught you how to lead a team?
When you're in a band, it's a democracy. It has to be in order to work. You've got to be open to ideas. It's a very personal thing, being in a band. You have to let your personal opinion about things go. That's a hard thing to do at first, but once you do, it opens up the floodgates to being super creative with other people.
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How is creating music similar to working on a game?
You're using creativity and constantly changing and learning. When you're songwriting, you're basically trying to make a product that is the best it can be. It's always challenging, and no matter what you do, no matter what you write, no matter what you program or make, you can always make it better. So everything is a learning experience. When I'm writing music, I listen to what I'd written before and try to take the things out that I didn't like about it. It's the same thing leading a team. Where did we mess up in the past? Where did we slip? How do we not let that happen again?
Do you ever find yourself thinking about work while you're on stage?
No, not at all. When I shut down my computer and I'm on the road, I'm done with work. That's usually the time that I start taking shots of Jameson and drinking a couple of beers. I grab my bass and start practicing a little bit and I get in the mode of performing. It's actually a great release, too. It frees my spirit enough that I can come back to work and hit it 100%. I can let myself go, then come back to reality.