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Minecraft's studio head says devs and studios benefit from generous time off policies

"Whether it's parental leave, or elder care leave, or a sabbatical, we need opportunities for people to take a break and not have to start over from scratch when they come back."
"Whether it’s parental leave, or elder care leave, or a sabbatical, we need opportunities for people to take a break and not have to start over from scratch when they come back.”

- Minecraft studio head Helen Chiang explains how offering devs more opportunities for leave can benefit multiple parties.

Helen Chiang is the recently appointed studio head for Minecraft, a position that, coupled with her own 9 years of experience at Microsoft, has given her insight into how studio culture varies across different countries and which practices US employers could stand to change.

Chiang, who stepped into the role in January following former Minecraft head Matt Booty’s job shift, tells Quartz that her time working with Minecraft developers in Sweden has deepened her belief that the industry in the United States would benefit from an employment structure that allowed developers to take leave without fear of professional or financial repercussions. 

One important point she calls out is to not disqualify applicants based on gaps in their resumes. She says her Minecraft team notably has a lot of mothers returning to the workforce after taking time off for maternity leave, something she ensured recruiters were emphatic to. In a similar vein, she says that employers in the United States could stand to embrace practices common to countries in Europe in regards to sabbaticals and time off, noting that, in her experience, those devs come back to work with a new found drive and energy.

“I’ve really thought about this because half of my Minecraft team is based in Sweden, and I looked at some of these European countries that support a gap year, or more extended parental leave, and it really gives employees the opportunity to really enjoy or immerse themselves in their life experiences—whether it’s having a baby, or something that’s happening in their family,” says Chiang.

“And I see my Swedish employees coming back more energized, which convinces me that we need to support more flexible work arrangements and allow for something like that in the US. On my team, someone is about to go on sabbatical, and someone else is taking an extended summer leave to go work on a passion project, and I don’t look at this as proof that they’re any less committed to what we’re doing," she continues. "When they’re at work, they’re working hard and fully committed, but we need to recognize there’s more to life than work, and I think it’s great that they’re invested in things beyond the office. And I know they’re going to come back re-energized and ready to take on that next set of challenges for us.”

Her views on the value of time off are only one small part of the interview, however. The rest of the chat examines the unique insight being a woman that has spent nearly 10 years working for a major company like Microsoft has given her. She explores valuable topics individuals of any gender should be aware of, like empathy for resume gaps from maternity leave, dealing with criticism of being called too quiet or too pushy, and addressing things like gendered merchandise and marketing practices.

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