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Please fix your hiring practices
by Anthony Farmer on 03/04/14 11:58:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

As GDC approaches it seems appropriate to reflect on the industry and our careers, but I’d like to take it a step further and talk about industry hiring practices – in hopes it sparks introspection and conversation at the conference.  While I could wax on using generalities, I’ve decided to put myself on the line and use personal experience to provide concrete specifics rather than anecdotal theoreticals.

THE PROBLEM

I've been creating games and game engines for over 20 years. In that time I've adapted many different platforms and technologies and have developed and published games on all of them.  Missing from this list are the countless company-specific libraries & engines as well as things I'm just not recalling at the moment.

  • 6502 assembly, 68x0 assembly, x86 assembly
  • BASIC, Pascal, C, C++, Obj-C, C#, Java
  • TRS-80, Vic-20, Timex Sinclair
  • Apple IIe, Atari 800, Atari ST, Amiga
  • SNES, Saturn, Dreamcast, N64, PSX
  • DOS, Win16, WinCE, Win32, Linux, Mac OS, Mac OS X
  • WinG, Direct2D, DirectX, XNA, etc.
  • MFC, TurboVision, Qt, OWL, WinForms, WPF
  • OpenGL, OpenGL/es, STL, Boost, etc.
  • MCI, DirectSound, Halestorm, Miles, OpenAL, Hekkus, etc.
  • Renderware, Flash, SDL, Cocos2Dx, Unity 3D, etc.
  • Farseer, Box2D, Chipmunk, etc.
  • Smacker, Bink, etc.
  • PalmOS, iOS, Android

There have literally been hundreds of games built upon the engines I've created over the years and some of them even shipped! (Game industry humor there, sorry if it hits too close to home...)

But despite this vast wealth of experience, I am certifiably un-hirable in the video game industry. Nobody wants me, at any price (I've offered myself for free and nobody was interested). All they want are new grads with a Unity 3D side-project or two under their belt. They're cheap, they'll work heinous hours without question because they don't yet have a family, and best of all -- they'll shut the hell up and do as they’re told.

That last part is the dirty little secret of our industry. The moment someone has enough experience to know when stupid decisions are being made (and when they're being taken advantage of) and enough integrity in their work to say something about it, they're castigated by the industry management caste. Their job ads always say they want creative, independent thinkers who are self-motivated and passionate about their work -- but they don't really mean it. I just wish they'd be honest about it, with us as well as themselves.

THE PIGEON HOLE

Unfortunately, I have even more experience than all the above. That's just the Software Engineer parts. I've also held the roles of Game Designer, Producer, Executive Producer, VP Engineering, Technical Director, Founder, Marketer, and Business Developer. Most know the term Renaissance Man, but the word polymath has crept into our industry lexicon over the last few years, and it too is an apt description of my background.

But I used the word "unfortunate" because all that experience is, once again, viewed in a negative light by the video game industry. Nobody wants to hire someone with this background because they assume the worst about that person.

This attitude is vocally denied, but reflected in truth by their interview questions:

  1. What do you really want to be when you grow up?
  2. But do you want to be a programmer or a manager?

In their narrow little view it's “impossible” for someone to be attracted to and successful in every role. Yet here I stand, having been an Executive Producer at one of the world's leading publishers and currently writing game engine code for Android & iOS. I'm a paradox.

The questions they ask also belie their self-denied age discrimination. The only person for whom #1 is a relevant question is someone young and fresh out of college. Anyone 10-20 years down the road should already be doing what they want to do when they grow up. Why ask questions when the answers have no relevance or value?

I've been in this industry long enough to know what I want, so trust my answer. At some point both the employer and employee need a measure of trust, right? My answer to the above questions is always the same, but nobody likes them because (again) they don't fit the cookie-cutter responses they've been trained to want.

  1. My family is my primary focus. What I want out of an employment relationship is a place where I can work on really cool things with really great people that will hopefully become friends. I'd also prefer a company that appreciates work/life balance, especially for people with children.
  2. I can do either. Really. Look at my resume (you HAVE looked beyond the current job, right?). I want to find the right place, right project, right people, and then fit in however I can -- there are numerous ways I can contribute! I applied for the position you called me about because I know I can do it. Time is my most valuable commodity so trust me I wouldn't waste any of it if I didn't think I could do the job.

The way this always shakes out in practice is (a) Nobody will hire me as a Producer or Manager because I've got too much development experience to be a “real” manager; or (b) They won't hire me as a Developer because I have too much management experience to be a "real" programmer.

On the Production side, there's a bias against people without current-generation console experience as well, but seriously how different can it possibly be than prior generations? Hilariously, they also won't consider me for Mobile producer roles even though I've been working on Mobile products (sometimes in that role) for the past ten years.

THE TEST

On the Development side, it always comes down to the dreaded programming test. Many companies, especially those in video games, are real assholes when it comes to programming tests. Most of them won't even talk to you until you've taken their 4-8 hour online test, which immediately indicates how little they value your time.

Moreover, a programming test is rarely the final arbiter of hiring decisions anyway so why not at least meet me first? If you don't like me or don't like my philosophy on games, software development, or whatever, then neither one of us has to waste more than 15 minutes.

Most of the time, test questions contributed by existing team members are designed to show their managers how "clever" they are. But at a minimum they test for depth of knowledge, not breadth, so I'm at an extreme disadvantage from the very start.

Even if we ignore my vast non-programming experience, just within Development my background is massively more diverse than most industry programmers -- who tend to focus on specific platforms and specific pieces of technology (shaders, physics, Windows, Wii, Mac, or whatever).

Just in the past five years alone, I've developed for and shipped on Windows, Surface, Mac, Android, iOS, WinCE, and Linux in C, C++, C#, Obj-C, Java, Cocos2Dx, SDL, and Unity 3D. It's completely unrealistic to expect a person to have deep knowledge in every one of those technologies -- even if the hiring company only uses one of them.

And that's where companies make their mistake (IMHO) and miss out on great hires with tons of relevant experience like me. Their programming interviews are based upon a myopic view of what makes a great developer. Regardless of what they write in their job descriptions, all they really want are Code Monkeys who are deeply focused on the one or two technologies they deem as currently relevant.

Sadly what the video game industry has shown time and time again is how this ultimately hurts the Developers doing the testing. What happens when technology inevitably moves on every few years? Companies throw out the "old furniture" and remodel – because developers are completely fungible, right?  Just look at the current console transition to see this same old pattern emerging. You're a PS3 pipeline programmer? Sorry, that's no longer relevant on PS4. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Another huge problem with myopic programming tests is they ensure a monolithic gene pool. Ever notice how the pool of developers at a company tends to be cut from the same cloth? There are a lot of different kinds of developers, and if you hire only one kind you're doing a disservice to your management, products, shareholders, and customers.

The marketing literature would have you believe all developers are the same – they “love” solving problems.  But some of us aren’t like that.  I freakin’ hate problems – they prevent me from realizing my creative expression.  For some people, programming is an end unto itself.  But for others, it’s a means to an end.  You need both types.

I got into this industry to create entertaining experiences, not to play with imaginary numbers.  And you know what?  There’s nothing wrong with that!  Intellectual diversity would be good for many companies.  They should consider it.

One example of how these tests produce static gene pools is the old Westwood Studios programming test. They're not the only ones like this by any means, but their entire test was riddled with questions like "Add these two numbers using only the left shift & and operators". Other companies may focus on language minutia like "Please explain the 'volatile' and/or ‘mutable’ keyword".

I can answer one of those and Google the other one pretty quickly, but seriously -- what's the point? Outside of device driver authors, nobody does those things anymore. I'm happy to see you're getting your jollies asking insipid questions about arcane language features, but here in the real world usage of these things is considered poor practice.

They ask these questions because they assume a person who knows obscure things must be “legit”.  Nothing is further from the truth of course, and worse (for the company) is these kinds of questions backfire.  Anyone who knows how to write high-quality, maintainable software will question working with people who write such poor code.

The bottom line is an age-old adage that's been known for centuries -- If you want the right answers, you have to start with the right questions.

THE QUESTIONS

IMHO the entire industry needs to mature its hiring practices for software developers. It's fine to ask some basic sanity-test questions in an interview, like "Explain polymorphism and give an example of when you've used it in the past." But the focus should be on talent, not mere skill set, because the skill set will change in a year or two and all you're going to be left with is the person.

There's a software industry problem that's grown much larger than the video game industry, thanks to overseas outsourcing, and that is a devaluation of people. Software (and by extension video game) companies don't value people and don't value talent. They can deny it all they want but the hard data is reflected in their hiring practices.

Regardless, the best way to focus on talent rather than skill set during an interview is to (gasp) ask different questions! Having been a hiring manager on many occasions, the programming questions I like to start with are:

  1. What is your favorite feature of C++ (or C# or…) and why?
  2. What is your least-favorite, and why?

These two simple questions give you far more insight into a candidate than any programming test ever could. Companies say they give programming tests because people lie on resumes and can't be trusted, but I think that's just laziness on their part. People who lie on their resume (i.e. don't actually have programming experience) cannot satisfactorily answer these two questions. Five minutes and you're done.

CONCLUSION

For people like me it ultimately it comes down to this: We will fail your programming tests. You will conclude we are not “worthy” to work at your company or even “qualified” enough to write code (must've lied on that resume!).

Yet somehow I do this every day and have been doing so for 20+ years. How is that paradox possible? Simple: You've asked the wrong questions. You've focused on skill set instead of talent. And both your team and your company are less than they could be because of it.


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Comments


Brian 'Psychochild' Green
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A friend sent me a link to this, and it feels like I could have written the same thing. I don't quite have the depth of programming experience, but I do have a experience running my own company and being lead designer on a few projects that never shipped. The past several years I've worn many hats at startups, and I did what had to be done from design docs to doing business development. I've had a wide variety of experiences, so I also don't fit into a neat little box.

And, likewise, I don't really do well on programming pop quizzes. I'm not going to know as much C++ trivia as other people, but given that I've taught myself languages like Python and AS3 in the past, it's not going to be long before I get up to the level needed to contribute to the team. An old-school programmer of mine who now does management commented that the whole "stand and deliver" type of programming tests really favor younger people fresh out of college. Perhaps another form of weeding out the older people.

The good news is that I have a few solid leads on my own job search. But, these were mostly from people I know from before. Which just goes to show why "it's who you know, not what you know" that really lands jobs for you. But, yeah, the industry really does need to figure out how to deal with experienced developers who don't fit the typical profiles.

Michael Joseph
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Welcome to the commodification of your trade. Experience is fine and dandy, but when you're a commodity, your biggest advantage is youth and the perceived vigor, pliability and naiveté that comes with it.

I think much of what you're describing is ultimately a result of age related discrimination. But if anyone starts throwing around the "d" word online and who knows what red flags will be generated.



abbas saleem khan
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i couldnt have put it better. this applies to artists as well especially given how mapping and rendering techniques have changed so much since the time i started out. before games had a very specific way towards art being made but nowadays with all the advances in technology, its become closer and closer towards post production.

Gokhan CANCI
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with 15 years as hobby and 6 years of professional experience in software development, they are still asking me "what is the difference between 'public', 'private' and 'protected' in java". of course i will say "I don't know, what is the difference you tell me?". because you've clearly haven't read my resume or you think global telecom companies are stupid enough to give me a software team to lead with no knowledge on software. in both cases, i won't want to work with you, so i'll terminate the meeting with an answer like that... (yes, it brought up some memories that includes anger) :)

i'll work for a fastfood company or supermarket instead of working for a company like that...

Michael G
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I've had a different experience with exactly the same result. I'm only 25 but about 7 years ago I went to a dev conference where I spoke with someone from Lionshead (can't remember who exactly but someone on the development team of Fable 2). Most people were asking what qualifications they would need to get hired and the most consistent response was that a portfolio, not a degree was the deciding factor.

I heard similar things from indie developers and another studio tied to a big publisher (Sega I think), so I decided to focus all my energies on getting to know the technologies, mechanics and processes of each area of game development that interested me, with a particular interest in AI.

7 years later and a portfolio of tech demos, concepts, system prototypes and a nice little cover letter and the first response I get every time is "You need a degree".

Whether there is some disconnect between the management and the developers, I don't know but I have since taken a job at a visual effects company instead. As far as I can see the games industry doesn't want creative, free thinking individuals; they want game processing units.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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I can't say that this is the exact reason, but I know that a degree is almost always needed for a work visa if you are working in another country (Japan or the UK).

Wes Jurica
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It's a nasty little lie that rarely applies and is told to make people feel good. Gabe Newell himself said something like, "We don't care what degree you have, show us your portfolio. As long as you can make a game..." But, then look at the job openings at Valve (http://www.valvesoftware.com/jobs/job_postings.html). Almost every one says it requires a degree.

The one's that don't mention a degree are art based positions. If you want a job in the corporate video game industry, and you are a programmer/sound designer/anything non-art, make sure you have a degree.

Otherwise, start and indie company or start working for an indie company.

Michael G
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And a degree in mathematics and/or physics. Video-game courses and even computer engineering/programming courses are fluff.

Dominik Gotojuch
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Nail on the head. Your article comes off as a bit of a personal rant and I believe that's good, because it makes it even easier to get into your shoes. This might be an excellent opportunity for those younger devs to understand what might happen to their career in several years. With increasing budgets, compartmentalisation and turning many dev houses into corporations it's no wonder that hiring is focused on people working in narrow fields. Like you said, your diverse skillset appears to some as a lack of specialisation, which is a huge mistake - since one of the most important abilities you need to have in game dev is adaptability. Tech evolves quickly and game tech even moreso.

Chris Herborth
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As an "experienced generalist" this really resonated; I'm not in the video game industry, but this problem exists out in the general software development industry as well. I think in the past 15 years I've had interviews with two different companies that didn't spend all their time focusing on specific language/technology Trivial Pursuit. My current employer was one of them, and I'm definitely doing things that a "normal" terrible interview would suggest I'd be unable to do.

I think company size usually correlates with this sort of stupidity. Small companies and startups are more likely to look for "culture fit" than specific skills/experience, while big companies are looking to fill a very specific role. They'll also view developers are interchangeable cogs that can be easily replaced, so expect layoffs whenever skill/experience requirements change... hey, it's cheaper than training, right?

Robin Tan
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You should be working for yourself, with your vast experience, you should easily land yourself as a technical cofounder. The sad truth is expertise in older technology is not really an advantage. In those days, if you can get a animated skinned model on the screen, you are god. Use your experience to pick up new skills faster, or a company that still needs those low level skills.

Just to let you where I'm coming from, I have 15 years exp in industry, and running own company so I get your stance.

Anthony Farmer
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I agree that starting my own company is the correct solution, but as someone who doesn't come from money and doesn't know people in finance circles, it's a difficult hill to climb. Especially when the priority is keeping a roof over your children's heads.

I've gone to multiple financing panels at GDC and asked the VC & Angel people why they won't fund someone like me who is guaranteed to complete a project because I know how to not fail. They directly said it was because of my age. They prefer people in college or just out of college even though those people (with them on the panel) admitted they don't know what they're doing and constantly make lots of mistakes. It's incongruous and I'm glad none of my hard-earned IRA money is in their hands.

As to "older technology" having no relevance, I disagree. Having a full perspective on where we came from and how we got here is invaluable. It's just that very few people appreciate that value. Plus I'm conversant in lots of new & current technologies as well (iOS, Android, Unity 3D). What's scary is how that's viewed in a negative light.

Wes Jurica
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Anthony,

Please email me: wjurica@gigabitgames.com

It'd be nice to chat with you.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green
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Speaking as someone who ran my own small studio for about a decade and who has worked a number of gaming startups, the problem is that working for yourself has a lot of insecurity. Startups are risky and have a high failure rate, even with awesome people. Running your own company requires a lot of additional skills. Honestly, as a contractor/consultant you spend so much time making sure you get paid that it almost feels like you are working two jobs, and there seems to be an attitude that it's okay to stiff contractors which doesn't help.

Sometimes you just want to make cool games using your experience, and you want even the little bit of security the game industry can offer. "Going indie" or working for yourself is a much, MUCH larger step than most people realize.

David Crain
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What are you saying -- We reach a certain age working in the trenches and then it's become an entrepreneur or get out? I'm a great programmer, and a pretty good manager, but do I HAVE to become a business owner also?

David Paris
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Wow, you've described so much of my experience it isn't even funny. As in no, its not funny at all :(

I've worn many of those exact same hats (Senior Producer, CEO, Programmer, Designer, etc... ) and the sheer variety kills me when job hunting. I largely have to prune my resume to focus on exactly what a given job is hiring for, so they don't become lethally distracted by the other stuff.

I too, have learned tons of new languages as they came into vogue, and adapted when the next one arrived. I don't fear new technology, because it is all learnable, and all can be used to solve the same problems we were solving with the technology before it - generally with some advantages here and disadvantages there, based on the specific implementation.

But now that I'm older, with a family, and a great wealth of past experience to draw upon and potentially benefit a company with, job hunting is an absolute pain in the ass. Because I'm competing against a ton of guys who are really focused on the one thing that's being used now, and are young enough to have boatloads of time, no distractions, and don't yet understand they should have any rights or life outside of just working.

Brutal stuff.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

David Paris
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I think a lot of these issues are really driven by the project-based funding model that game development runs under. Small to mid-sized gaming companies aren’t built with a sustainable ongoing model in place, but rather are structured around specific projects. The desperation to acquire those new projects is huge, and taints good decision-making, causing contracts to be taken for too little money and with too little time to produce. Since most of these companies don’t have a large reserve buffer, they can’t afford protracted negotiations or periods of inactivity when the right project isn’t available, something that publishers frequently use against them in the negotiation process. They have to staff to meet the needs of specific projects, and only for the period that that project needs it.

This causes constant hardship on employee security. A project that peaks at 30 employees may only do so for 3-6 months. That means for the rest of the project, some significant number of those 30 people need to have some other way to support themselves. Unless you are one of the company’s core employees (every company tends to have a few, usually guys that started the company or are just absolutely crucial), then you can look forward to being regularly unemployed for periods of times as projects come and go. That’s rough in a good economy, but absolutely hellish in the current financial climate.

This tends to be coupled with dodgy practices that many small companies engage in as they try to find ways to survive the poor cashflow of this contract based work. Generally speaking, just laying off your whole staff between projects is pretty lethal as a company, since not only will they all go looking for other work, but the people you are negotiating with for new contracts will come do their due diligence and realize you have no employees. So the company will try to string them along, with partial hours, partial layoffs (for periods of time or groups of people, but don’t worry, if we land contract XXX we totally want you back!), or the altogether common late paychecks, as the company falls months behind paying you. This practice is very common, but leaves no good options for the employees. The company has effectively just taken money away from you and you have no real recourse… getting the government involved will end your job (granted that isn’t paying you, but might some day), end the jobs of all of your friends, and potentially blackball you in the industry for any potential employer in the future. So you bleed, and bleed, and bleed.

It is no wonder that the game industry constantly hemorrhages talent. We all show up filled with the bright and shining love of gaming and want to make good games, but we’re probably going to end up working on someone’s badly designed version of Franchise Quest XXVII anyways. Developer salaries are horrible, bonuses non-existent, and cost-of-living adjustments simply don’t occur. Every year you just fall further and further behind.

David Lee
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@David Paris - well put.

Paolo Gambardella
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I am currently living exactly the same sad situation. Plus, I don't have your experience. I guess that in some case even the overqualification is an issue for a HR department. That is the problem of the modern times, not only in gaming environment.
How can we fix it? I believe that we have to make our job. Always. Even if not working for a company. I really love my job, and from your sincere words I believe that you too. As we can see from the comments we are not alone. Which is good, that means that there is a solution.
Maybe the solution is in there: believe and make. We need to practice that learning by our errors. As game developers, first of all we are gamers. And gamers are always believing that an epic win is possible.

"you may say I am a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..." :D

Ian Richard
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I don't believe this is age discrimination actually. I think it's simply that they don't give a **** about you. Every few months there is another article about the absolutely heartless way this industry hires... and it's all true.

This industry will only hire you if you know someone or if you don't need them because you just sold minecraft. Otherwise, you aren't worth the paper you're printed on.

It is funny though... they want "Motivated", "Free thinking", "Self Starters"... and yet they don't see getting board games published and teaching people to make their own games as "Relevant".
.
- - -

I've pretty much given up on returning to the game industry. It's too much like a fast food job.

They have a constant source of students who will work for nothing and won't recognize poor business practices. Work these ones until they break... and then replace them with more fodder.

I love making games but too many companies see overtime as "What we do". I've made enough game's to know that no amount of overtime will compensate for poor development practices.

jeff grant
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I think a large part of the problem is the HR department. They just don't (in most situations) understand development, or have a background in the technical side, so they just can't appreciate the skills that are presented to them. Job applicants are a skills matrix with check boxes for them, and if the peg doesn't fit perfectly in the hole, then "thanks for coming out".

My last job was a case of meeting HR, being turned down, meeting the technical director through a friend, and then after talking for 10 minutes I had a 2 year contract leading the dev team.

The gatekeepers are the problem, and the more we can do to involve the actual technical teams in the selection process, the better. Any time HR is involved in filtering potential applicants based on technical merits, there will be problems.

Jesse Mikolayczyk
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I completely agree. I got an interview one time for an entry level programmer position that lasted less than 2 minutes. He looked at my resume and said 'you don't seem to have experience in our programming language' I told him 'that's correct but I did research on your language and have extensive experience in several very similar languages and am good at teaching myself and learning new languages quickly' and he said 'maybe, but you don't know the language we use so I don't even know how you got an interview so just leave.' If you don't fit their checkboxes, they don't care how much experience you have in anything because they don't even know anything about the jobs they're interviwing for.

Neil Aemmer
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I agree that the HR department is most of the problem with hiring practices and I've been frustrated by them in every job search I've ever done. I think you also have the solution too: the technical people need to be involved more in the hiring process.

That said, why do HR departments exist? What value do that add to a company?
1. Establish employee conduct standards & enforce that standard
2. Keep company legal in regards to employment law
3. Act as a neutral party in employee complaints and problems
4. Document and complete all paperwork related to employees
5. Ensure employee compensation is fair (or at least satisfactory enough to keep employees)
6. Filter, interview, hire, and fire employees

I'm not an HR person so I may be missing a few other benefits of an HR department, but these are the reasons I'd have an HR department. The structure of companies is to place the HR department as mostly isolated from the rest of the company. I think this serves #2 through #5 well, but doesn't serve #6 well at all. Since HR workers don't work with the rest of the company, it's safe to say they don't understand what the rest of the company does. (HR people are really only qualified to hire other HR people.) So the trick is to figure out a way to get more competency in the HR department in regards to hiring highly skilled technical positions without compromising its other priorities. Perhaps having a 3 month rotating technical position that is filled by a technical worker that only works in HR for 1 day a week and they do their regular job the other 4 days.

Kenneth Hurley
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Wow, isn't this the truth.

Even Cybercoders are a real problem. They prescreen your resume and then tell you if you are a fit.

As a hiring manager, I had to constantly work with HR to not prescreen people. Luckily I had worked with one lady that was very good. I was able to hire out a good team in 4 months.

Merc Hoffner
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It's definitely not limited to just the games industry. Sadly this discordance between what employers say they want, what they secretly want, and what they actually need affects industries as important and dependant on innovation and critical thinking as medical science and regulation. Employees who I'm friends with at companies I've failed to get jobs at have said the senior interviewers loved me, but the junior interviewers were intimidated by my skill set. Lots of people have told me I need to appear dumber than I am. I tried it and now I have an offer. What are you gonna do? But we all have to eat.

Anthony Farmer
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Indeed, I think we've all "focused" our resumes at some point. Apparently there are a lot of people in hiring positions that don't look beyond your current position. The only thing they read beyond that is dates -- because if you changed jobs frequently there must be something wrong with you. A huge topic for another day...

Ryan Blanchard
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So get a copy of Unity and prove you have the skills. If a student can do it, you should too.

All paths lead to indie so waiting for a job is pointless.

Jon Jones
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Wow. I empathize completely with your situation and I sincerely hope things turn around for you. However, I hope you put this under a pseudonym, because publishing a rant about how you can't get a job is not going to help your case. Employers use Google to look up job candidates, and when they find this rant, it will not present you in a good light. Presentation and perception are of paramount importance when you're acting as a professional. Branding yourself as "jaded veteran that can't get a job" doesn't exactly inspire the "I should hire this guy!" feeling in a hiring manager. Sorry dude.

Anthony Farmer
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Yep, that was definitely a fear of mine when deciding whether to publish this or not. But a smart company should Google this and say "Wow, that guy has guts and a lot of personal integrity. That's invaluable."

I guess it's not clear from what I wrote, but I do have a job. I've been with the company three years and it's an amazingly great group of people working on incredibly innovative new technologies. They prioritized talent & experience and came out ahead.

Ultimately, I decided to post this blog because it needed to be said and nobody else was going to do it. One of my rants against software developers in general is it's our own fault if we are "held down by the man". If we're too timid to even speak our minds, then we've already ceded control.

I made a very important life decision a few years back -- never make any decision out of fear. You may keep your job in the short term, but the long-term consequences will be the same and you will have lost personal integrity in the process.

Jon Jones
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Congrats on finding a place that values you! And I completely agree with never making a decision out of fear. It's a damned hard thing to do, but it absolutely pays off going in clear-headed and being willing to say no to something you know isn't right.

And cheers for your reply. I was hoping my comment wouldn't come off as being rude or provocative. I've just seen other devs post articles or comments that do themselves disservice, and my immediate reaction when I saw yours was "dude, nooooo!" combined with sympathy for a fellow dev.

Juliette Dupre
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Honestly I don't personally find anything objectionable with expressing frustration over frustrating hiring situations. I don't think you said anything that isn't a valid point. On the employer side, I hope you know there are companies out there that behave differently. I'm sorry you haven't found any. It's frustrating for us to work hard to not have these issues, and have candidates pass up our job posts. We generally interview before testing (except for interns unless there's a crazy overload), and we are strongly interested in experienced developers, particularly who can program AND manage. Our tests could absolutely be improved, but production takes priority and that gets in the way of making time for test revisions - in large part because we are committed to reducing OT. So, there ARE studios out there that try to do things in the better way you describe. Not that we are perfect, but we work to be reasonable and respectful.

Jeff Godfrey
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I agreed with Jeff Grant's comments. I think a lot of applications never get out of the HR department because they are not equipped to recognize talent. "Oh this job is for a character artist, your last job was art director. Next!" When I was trying to hire an artist at THQ, HR only filtered about 5 applicants a week to me. When I was hiring at my own company I looked at every applicant starting with the portfolio.

Rey Samonte
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I can definitely relate to all of the above. Like the author, I've been involved with all types of game development: console, mobile, web, etc. Not only that, but if you look at my history, you'll see that my skills progress and includes a diverse list of tools and have been involved in many disciplines like design, programming, and project management. It's almost if the person reviewing my resume completely missed the fact that I have a thorough understanding of the kind of work involved with making games. Not to mention the ability to adapt to multiple tools (proprietary, open source, etc.) and development pipelines.

It can be frustrating when the kind of questions they ask is so basic that sometimes, we don't even think about them on a definition level. Or sometimes the questions they asked were purely opinions. Worse yet, questions they haven't been able to answer themselves! I've had one interview where they asked me to design something and when I came up with something that I thought was fitting (taking into account the time limits of the interview), I found out they were looking for a solution they can use for their current project!

My last phone interview involved very simple questions which mainly dealt with my thoughts and opinions. But the interviewer did not even dive into my past experience or even inquire about specific skill sets that I could potentially bring to the team. The only mention of those experiences was when he asked me to give a brief introduction of myself. I came out of that feeling rather empty because we never really discussed the role I was applying for and what kind of person they're looking for. But based on those simple questions, they made up their mind about who I am.

Oh well, things worked out and I managed to find a job outside of the game industry. I know enough and have done enough where I can get something out on my own. I still plan on being involved with game development on the side, be it freelance or personal projects.

I agree, there's lots of talent being overlooked but it's just the nature of the job market right now. At this point in time, companies can afford to be picky.

Joel Lamotte
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Oh wow, that's totally what I think, written there. I don't have the same experience but I sure have a strong similar view on the hiring practices.
Also, it makes me think a lot about the day I would have to setup my own team. My experience is that setting the right team, alchemy of people, with common goal, is far better than trying to bingo all the skills in my requirement list.

Jason Taylor
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It's true that the industry does a bad job at hiring. (Shameless plug, I've written an article about it as well. http://gamasutra.com/blogs/JasonTaylor/20130529/193238/Interviewi
ng_Software_Engineers.php)

It's not that they don't want to hire because you are too old or experienced; it's that each person involved in the hiring process has different goals, and those goals are not usually aligned. Plus, as you say, they ask the wrong questions.

Recruiter: Wants candidates with resumes with degrees, titles, and tech buzzwords.
Director: Wants to fill a specific req with a candidate with the matching level of experience and salary requirements.
Producer/Manager: Wants candidates that have shipped titles and will get the job done.
Engineering Lead: Wants candidates that can code, follow a coding standard, finish things, and work well with others.
Engineers: Wants a candidate who is just like them (technically and socially), but slightly less experienced. :)

For one job in my life when I was hired the CEO said, "I don't know what position to offer you because you can probably do anything. I'd rather hire you now and figure out where to put you later." That experience has never been repeated. Hiring is usually very targeted.

My advice to you in this regard is to understand what the role is and tailor your resume and message to align with as closely as possible. It's a matter of emphasizing how you fit the role and de-emphasizing skills/experience/interests that distract from that singular message. Once you have a job at a company your broad experience and interests again become an asset as they allow you to move around within the company.

Julianne Harty
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This last paragraph is on the ball.

I have seen resumes that give me their life story* and expect me to figure out how their experience tallies up to the job requirements. I don't want to do that. I want to you tell me how you fit my requirements.

let's say, instead, I'm shopping for a house. I'm looking for a 3 bed, 2 bath one story with a garage. I get a flyer advertising a house. The flyer says that the house was built in 1975, got a LEED certification, and 2 families have lived in it previously - a family of six and a family of three with two dogs.
Now, I can make an assumption that, because families lived there, that it would have more than 1 bedroom... but I don't know. And it certainly doesn't tell me anything else that I'm looking for.

Your resume is your sales document not your biography; your interview is your sales pitch, not a segment on This Is Your Life. Have you noticed how companies tailor their message to say "come work for us! We're awesome" and not "Come work for us, we have massive crunch times and you get free oatmeal in the breakroom."


*I also get a lot of resumes that have nothing to do with the job posting, and it's clear that they just randomly applied to a job. Applying for a job =/= suited for the job, which is what a lot of genuine jobseekers tend to forget.

Anthony Farmer
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One of the reasons I wrote this blog post was to point out that this type of thinking is what we need to correct.

Someone can be a great developer but not a great sales-person. With the approach outlined, you will miss out on the opportunity to have that resource on your team. Unless part of their job is writing sales brochures, that shouldn't be a criteria for filtering them.

I believe the best recruiters and HR people understand that this is all about PEOPLE. Individuals that must be approached individually. It's about quality, not quantity.

When staffing professionals can't be bothered to understand their client's needs in detail or the value candidates bring to the table, everyone loses.

Kenneth Hurley
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On the nose.

That's exactly why I was able to hire some of the best talent and fill out a team in 4 months in a company where others haven't been able to hire for a year.

One of the main reasons I could hire, is because I can read between the lines. I prefer a biography, not just scanning for keywords.

By the way, the guy that couldn't hire for 1 year, just scanned for keywords, like Android and java experience write apps. He's competing with Google and others who are better companies to work for and only wants a very specific person.

It reminds me of women looking for their "prince charming". No one is going to fit the exact checklist you have.

Bram Stolk
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You should start your own video game company, with blackjack and hookers.
As a matter of fact, forget about the video game company.

But seriously: since Apple's rise, you no longer need a publisher.
Everything can be done from your basement.
No starting capital is needed, just your time.
Provided you can do programmer art as well.

Go for it!

Eric McConnell
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It's sad but we all know this. Anyone who's held a number of jobs in the industry, knows the perils of having a technical screening with someone from HR who hasn't touched a video game in their life. We know when the product we are working on is a crap shoot and when it fails everyone will be laid off. We know the "big" companies you dreamed of working at are just giant corporations who only care about using and abusing your work life balance. We know games are designed by sales projections and marketing departments, not by fun and value for the costumer. We've all been there when 10-20 year vets get a producer straight out of their MBA who starts ruining projects and there is nothing you can do about.

Really it comes down to this, artist and programmers don't need companies or corporations. Here in silicon valley, the tech companies treat you insanely well. Why? Because in 6months you could have a startup and actually become their competitor. The industry treats us like shit because we let them. It's the simple truth. If more programmers/artist would learn the business side, we could just leave and start our own companies.

A man who has all the experience you have, it makes absolutely no sense why you are pandering to these businesses? Start your own. You don't need them. Sure you can't compete with Call of Duty, but you can more than compete as a download title or steam game.

Until we make business men respect us as the actual talent, this is just going to continue as usual. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhmYENdFZc8 this will always be true. We still aren't considered talent.

Bruno Xavier
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"All they want are new grads with a Unity 3D side-project or two under their belt. They’re cheap, they’ll work heinous hours without question because they don't yet have a family, and best of all -- they'll shut the hell up and do as they’re told."

That! And around 5 years later, they quit the industry...
But hey, by then new grads are knocking the door already :)
And the world goes on, spinning wildly.

Curtiss Murphy
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This! A hundred times this!

Through Nov & Dec I interviewed with at least 6 of the biggest names in the industry. Some in person, some via phone. All had coding interviews, and some with questions like, "Even though we're hiring you for Unity, we'll start with some low-level C++ questions. ... If you made this variable static at the class level, like so, at what point does memory get allocated? What if we moved it here?" Boggles the mind.

You have 20 years. I have 20 years. The industry doesn't know what to do with an engineer who manages with grace, understands game design, supports agile techniques, still enjoys writing code, and likes to finish products on-time and in-budget, without killing the staff.

On the bright side, it has been my experience that the rest of the software industry doesn't behave this way. Maybe consider leaving the industry; starting your own company; or both.

Kenneth Hurley
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Curtiss,

Reading all this, It did dawn on me that the acceptance of the game industry to hire "programmer/hackers" is exactly why the software industry outside the game industry doesn't respect game engineers.

I actually think that there are some exceptional "Software Engineers" in the gaming field and are probably much more productive and efficient than other Software Engineers. But since the game industry tends to hire programmer/hackers, it has tarnished the reputation of game industry developers.

My definition of "Software Engineers" vs. "Programmer/hacker" of course is defined by good software practices, including reusable code, design patterns, cross-platform code vs. just putting out code to have something work but be in a fragile state.

Code Complete and Debugging the development process should be mandatory reading for anyone wanting to be a great "Software Engineer"

Anthony Farmer
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Great points! Since we're mentioning books I'd like to pimp one of my favorites even though it's not software engineering oriented. It's called "The Practice of Programming."

Sean Gailey
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I can't speak for the game studios you've dealt with, but in my own hiring experience, I tend to try and find specialists that most closely fit a job description. When I read your quote that they say they want to hire a "real" programmer, I read that they want someone specialized.

For example, if I need a Java lead developer, and I have two candidates where candidate A is a guy that has only coded in Java his whole career, and another guy that has spent half his career coding in Java and the other half managing, I'm leaning towards candidate A.

It sounds like you'd be just as happy doing that lower level programming work, but I think a lot of veterans would find themselves bored doing work that was too easy for them, or not challenging. Employers know that, and employers (hopefully) strive to have a happy team.

It sounds like you are a leader that can run the show, manage teams, make the big decisions, create a game soup to nuts. There just isn't as many spots at the top of the food chain, paying a salary that you'd need to make, and that makes is so hard to find a job.

Good luck in your search!

Anthony Farmer
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Focusing on depth in a particular skill means hiring that skill set, not the person. If the industry wants more code monkeys and fewer thinkers, that's what it'll get.

Another commenter above said they would avoid more-experienced people for intermediate roles because of the fear they would leave the company sooner (out of boredom or whatever). But the seed for higher turnover lies in treating people like cattle. If there is no commitment to individual employees, there's no reason for them to be committed in return.

Sean Gailey
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My job application for a Java developer would not be:

Ad: Java Developer
Requirements: Know Java, nothing else.

There would be more bullet points, of course, that relate to all the other skills required. The specialists I have hired are wonderful, free thinking, creative, incredible people. It sounds like the specialists you've met are not that. Why is it such a negative thing to specialize? I'm sure they would disagree with you.

Rey Samonte
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As much as I value expertise in a certain area of development, I also value the ability to learn new tools, languages, pipelines, methods, etc. In many ways, someone with a broad list of experience in other areas and has proven history of working at a high level shows me that they can adapt to any development scenario. As we all know, not all teams work the same way or do things the same way. So to find someone who is versatile carries some weight.

Also, I've found that when I've went from job to job doing the same thing over and over, in time, I lacked motivation and felt disconnected from the rest of the project. I've discovered the learning process really sparks my motivation and desires to work on games. Without that, you get guys who are great at what they do, but don't really bring a whole lot to the bigger picture.

David Lejeune
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This is so damn true and so damn disheartening at the same time. I worked in the industry for years (QA, but my last long term position had a pretty strong technical bent), and I haven't had any luck getting a decent job again (or even getting an interview) after being laid off in the lead up to the THQ collapse. And after a particularly bad contract gig that I ended up quitting due to how terrible their conditions were I've stepped away from the industry entirely.

I've always had the philosophy that a broad skillset is a good thing to have, both because it demonstrates flexibility and a desire to grow, and because my goal has always been to get into production or design, and I figure a good producer or designer should understand enough about the nitty gritty of the actual game creation process to be able to know what's realistic and what isn't, whether it's the featureset or the schedule or the budget.

But apparently that's not what HR and hiring managers see. They see a guy who doesn't know if he wants to be a programmer or a modeller/animator or a QA Lead/Supervisor, so best to relegate his resume to the bin.

And that sucks.

Jacek Wesolowski
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For what it's worth, I only hire generalists for my team. There is no test; you just need to make the right kind of impression during the interview. The team itself is, in theory, a specialised cell within a bigger body, namely they call us "designers", but our actual responsibilities are broad, and we often end up coding, modeling, writing, testing, making schedules, or doing market research.

Kevin Alexander
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What I find most interesting about a lot of these plights is, the people I respect the most in the industry, tend to be the ones who can wear multiple hats, and are capable of seeing projects on the whole.

People who can't show a capacity to do anything at all outside of their specific focus tend to be the weakest members of a team.

I can't imagine anyone being un-hirable because of a wide array of experience.

Mac Senour
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This is true for Producers as well. I recently pulled my application from a company that has a Producer Quiz, first question: "How many game systems do you own?" Because owning a bunch of systems makes me a better producer...

I think the real problem is that we have no way to really judge if someone can do the job, unless we hear it from someone we know. I've been in the industry 30 years, a Producer for 20 and I was recently told I didn't have the basic experience to be a Producer. It just made me giggle and think I had dodged a bullet by not working at that company. Of course, rent is looming...

James Margaris
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It's very possible that the original author and all the people posting here saying "this is me!" would be amazing employees, and personally I think people with a lot of breadth are very valuable. But that said, there are a lot of red flags in what you wrote.

I am not some sort of "HR drone", I am a pretty decent programmer / programming manager who often has a large say in hiring decisions. I would (phone) interview someone like yourself, but my experience is that people presented like yourself often make for poor interviews or hires.

What are the red flags?

1. In my experience the people who think programming tests are a waste of time, beneath them, etc, often don't know how to program to any degree of competence. Almost without fail if you can cajole someone like that into taking a programming test they will bomb it. And I'm not talking about 4-8 hour tests that ask obscure nonsense, I'm talking a 40 minute test that is graded very generously. (I agree that timed online test are typically a waste of time)

"Moreover, a programming test is rarely the final arbiter of hiring decisions anyway so why not at least meet me first?"

Because meeting you takes my time, while you taking the test takes your time. That's the answer. It's not a nice answer, but it's the answer. You're the one who needs a job.

There's also this: if the person thinks that the test is a waste of time or beneath them, are they going to think the same thing about their tasks once hired?

2. In my experience the vast majority of people who have "done it all" either don't know how to program (perhaps they've forgotten?) or worse, have no interest. Even if they can program once they get the job they simply refuse to sit down at a keyboard and pump out code, even if that's what the job requires. It's great when people with breadth help out in other ways and show interest in the company as a whole, but not when that translates into only spending 2 hours a day doing their job.

3. Offering yourself for free is maybe not so much a red flag is it is terrible self-marketing. In doing so you are tacitly stating that the work you provide is of almost no value, and that you've been constantly deemed a bad fit by other companies.

4. "they'll shut the hell up and do as they’re told." Putting it this way is really unfortunate. No company wants to hire a guy who 2 hours into his first day on the job starts bitching about how we're doing everything wrong or fights against everything, from what type of source control we're using to what sort of keyboard / monitor setup they have, to aspects of the game design.

I fully expect a guy who just got hired to shut the hell up and do as they're told. (That may sound blunt!) I don't care if they have 1 month of experience or 50 years. If they do a good job for a short while they can organically gain respect from their peers, build some capital and gain influence. What I don't need is a guy who starts ranting about how Visual Studio sucks and the entire company should switch to emacs before even sitting down at his desk.

If you want to come in and set policy or do things your way the job you should be applying for is not low-level programmer, it's high-level where doing that is part of your job description.

When you say that employers want people who will "shut the hell up and do as they’re told", the vibe you are giving off is that hiring you will be a huge headache.

Again, let me pause here and say that you in particular may be a great employee. The problem is that most people presented in this manner aren't good employees.

5. The litany of things you can / have done can become a negative at some point. When I interview people I try to ask them specific questions about their past experience and the things they claim to have good knowledge of. I find that the more things people list they less they seem to know about them. I would, at least (and I haven't looked at your actual resume so maybe you do this) separate out the recent and more relevant stuff and put other things in "additional skillz."

Because otherwise you get into a situation like this: you say you have done work with shaders in the past, I ask you about how you would write a simple toon shader, and not only can you not come up with much but you don't seem to know what tex2D or a dot product is. And now your entire resume is suspect.

6. "I can do either job." Again, this may be true for you, but for many people who say this it isn't.

If you are applying for a programming job it's fine to say that you have other skills, but once you start talking about how you could do totally different jobs that's a huge red flag - most employers will assume you can do neither job well. And that assumption is usually correct.

Just don't say that! Because when you say that, you are voluntarily grouping yourself with people who are almost universally bad hires.

---

For the people in this thread saying "this is me!" (this is also me to some degree!) the challenge is to present yourself as an attractive hire. There's nothing wrong with being a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing - it's not dishonest to fail to mention that you could do equally well at another job.

The "guy who has done it all" hire is typically bad. (or gal!) That's my experience and the experience of many other people. So - don't look like that guy.

If you don't like the programming test suck it up and do your best anyway. If you can do any of three available jobs don't tell me that. If you have a breadth of skills present them in a way that seems relevant to the job at hand, and make it clear that that stuff is a bonus. If you have a "strong personality" don't play that up in interviews.

You believe you are a good hire, so don't present yourself as a hire that has a low percentage of working out.

Lex Luthor
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This is an excellent answer.For the record I have about 6 years in the industry
Most of the time I think that tests are silly (easy), but I do them anyway if I was the one approaching the company.

If it's the other way around and a company approaches me I might refuse to take them and just point them to my github page if they are interested in code samples / quality / skill. Or I ask for more details before taking the test, salary range, etc. and then decide if it's worth my time.


Let me give you an example from another side of the picture:
Someone that has a lot of experience (15+ years, the first half in programming the later ones in management) got hired at my company with the title of "senior epic awesome programmer".
You have no idea how frustrating it is for me to work with him in the same team.
I know I'm being payed 60% of what he is and that I'm doing quality work that's more valuable, faster and more stable. And it's not bitterness these are just facts. I like the guy, but he's a slow, burned out programmer. Guess who gets to do tasks that he did not have "time" or whatever other excuse (they needed more analysis, design, etc. ) to do it himself? You guessed it: ME.
On the other hand, I worked with a guy with 20+ years experience in programming only and I've never seen a better engineer.

Anthony Farmer
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I'd like to respond to each of your assertions individually, but that would likely get bloated and people would lose interest. Perhaps we have a good topic for a GDC panel?

But in general, I'd say you've misconstrued a number of things and also set up several straw men (arguing points I never made). Your statements and perspectives also validate my theses, pretty much point by point.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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that would be a GDC talk that could well fill a room :)

David Crain
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And when the young-ish panelists on the dais see the room is full of grey beards (like myself) looking for answers, things might get awkward... :-)

Daniel Gutierrez
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I would actually love to see a response. Maybe you two could do some type of discussion back & forth into another blog entry. I don't work in the game industry, but am a programmer in startups which suffer pretty much the same issues. I think this is a good discussion to have that's applicable to most industries featuring small companies/focused workgroups.

I have been on both sides (founded a company and had to personally interview and hire 10+ technical people, but before that found myself after 2008 without a job and interviewing for a long time). While you bring up valid points that I also remember being very upset over, the other side of me who interviewed and chose employees agrees with James.

I had to go through hundreds of applications per spot & then spend days on the phone then in-person interviews (being a small company, we had no HR, so this was on top of my already long coding hours). And while I'm proud of some of the hires we made well outside of what most people would do (like choosing someone for an advanced position w/o a college degree but 10+ years of experience who ended working out wonderfully)... pretty much everything James lists would have gotten you cut out either in the resume part (~50 core competencies?) or phone interview part (showing disdain for technical questions).

Either way, I think you both are coming from very valid standpoints, and it would be valuable. There are a lot of comments here that are "me too'ing", but I think it's important to move the conversation forward and finding a middle ground could be beneficial to employers (who can learn to loosen their hiring practices some) and applicants (who deserve to no have their time wasted, but need to respect the company's time as well). I am starting something new soon, I would love to go into it with the right mentality/methodology for hiring so at least one small corner of the industry can be done better (gotta start somewhere!)

Philip Wilson
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Man...you summarized something that I've had to learn first hand for the past couple of years & I don't have nearly as much experience as you.

Something else that I've learned from experiences other industry colleagues have run into is the "requirement" that potential Production candidates have to be "a hardcore & passionate gamer" for some reason. Sure it's good for Production to pick up the controller & at least know the game a little bit, their job is not to play it...their job is to make sure team communication is flowing, people are being heard, problems are solved and deadlines & milestones are met. Not being a hardcore gamer should by no means disqualify someone especially if they have a proven track record for being at a studio through thick & thin and have worked their way up the ladder. I've also come across experienced engineers and artists that aren't really gamers at all (or have lost interest in gaming) but still like the work they do, are great at it & love the project they collaborate on.

Another thing needs to change is the knowledge (or lack there of sometimes) that 3rd party recruiters, in-house recruiters & HR have about the industry they work in and the positions they are helping to fill. In a way, they are usually the first person someone may come in contact with and they *need* to have polished customer service skills. If a potential candidate is polite, cordial, prompt with responses & seems knowledgeable about what position they are applying for...then they give some kind of response if things don't work out after even 1 interview. I understand that it can be hard especially with large volumes of applicants but that's a kind of a half-assed excuse. I can probably count with *maybe* two hands the number of recruiting/HR people that have been genuinely helpful, knowledgeable & someone I would consider leaving on my Linkedin connections list when I feel like doing an audit on my connections.

I've applied for positions that, based on the job description, I know I am qualified for & can easily do however since it seems like most recruiters/HR individuals I've come across have next to ZERO knowledge about the industry I have to constantly fight a uphill battle. My largest problem is that most of my experience came from working on the middleware side of the industry right out of college. It allowed me to learn a different side of how business is handled with Devs/Pubs, how to communicate with engineers & upper level Production and I learned some invaluable time management skills along the way. Now if I try to explain that to someone who has no idea what that is, I usually get a glossed over response & they instead look at the positions I had to take just in order to make ends meet which also included months with no work...which results in me being turned down because those positions are near the bottom of the ladder. It hurts even more when the individuals I work with are just as passionate as me but are the ones getting the opportunities because they are young (or single), usually don't have of a social life or family, have no problem killing themselves with long hours & will kiss MAJOR ass (or throw people under the bus) just to get ahead.

Mikhail Mukin
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Hi Anthony,
We (www.zindagigames.com) have multiple positions open (engineering, senior design and art) for PS4 (new IP) title for Sony (we are Sony 2nd party developer).

We do focus on quality of life, people never crunch here and we have every second Friday off. After being in the industry for almost 20 years and seeing many companies (from EA to small startups), I can confirm that this company is different. We are specifically looking for experienced people who can produce good results w/o crunch & stress. The company was in busyness for a while and produced games that sold millions of copies. We are moving into more complicated AAA games area and expanding our team. Sony seem to allow us a lot of creative freedom.

As to testing... There is no good answer. I just looked at our C++ test for a person who has 15+ years of experience on resume (and even worked on one of my favorite games in the past). But his test was not good. I can not tell you details but imagine somebody writing O(N) complexity algorithms for something frequently used in many engines and that should be O(1) complexity. In other company, we once hired (w/o any tests) a veteran who could barely install visual studio and compile some 3rd party libs... had to let him go in a few weeks...

Agree though that there are better and worse ways to test, and asking for some very narrow questions or obscure C++ features is usually not a great way.

Again, we are looking for good developers - we have posts here on gamasutra or look at job section on our web site. We are in Camarillo (a bit north from LA) - nice weather all year and not terribly far from the ocean. We also have a big gym in the office - and this is my next stop :)

Best regards,
Mikhail
Zindagi Games

Mark Peasley
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Wow - nice article and very accurate. I've been in the games industry for over 25 years on the art side of things and have found almost identical issues. I have applied for dozens of jobs without even a passing interest in my resume despite having ridiculous amounts of experience and having shipped over 30 titles. It's tough to stay in this industry with the deck stacked so heavily against older developers. Contract work seems to be the norm now with Full-time gigs drying up. There also seems to be a huge push to use overseas vendors who can throw extremely cheap labor at the development cycle. Many companies look at quantity over quality which is a shame.

Anthony Farmer
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That's why people like us need to hook up and start our own thing. Between the two of us I'm sure we can come up with a few good ideas. :-)

Randy Angle
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Great post Tony - thanks for spreading the news so we can all discuss an important topic like this. I hope it has a lasting impact on the folks who are reading it.

Just so other readers know - Tony and I have been friends since 1997 and with all of our experience our "war stories" can border on the legendary. Still, we both feel like the most important things are making great games, trying to have some fun while doing it, and working with people we can respect. We keep trying.

Kenneth Hurley
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Anthony,

I can identify with your article. It was almost like I had written it myself. I hate to say it, but there was a time when we could have formed a "union". I'm not a big proponent of unions, but now I'm starting to see the benefit of it. Seniority means something in a union. I originally didn't agree with forming a union back in the day, because i made the mistake of thinking that there are laws to protect agism.

I too am a generalist and have held many positions like you have. I ran my own company for a while, but then ran into the 2008 downturn and a huge purchase order was not paid and wreaked havoc on the business. With 2 young kids I had to scramble to support my family.

I've always kept up with the latest technology and am a big proponent of cross-platform development. This has made it hard like you said, because companies want specialists. They don't think about the efficiencies that an architect and someone with years of experience bring to the table. It's a typical bad business decision when companies don't think about the long-tail approach from a business perspective and think short term with engineering resources also. What hiring managers don't get is that you have to hire many specialists compared to 1 generalist.

I've always wanted to do F2P games too or start a business doing that. The issue again is trying to put food on the table and keep the lights on. Never mind, the cost of living in California!

BTW, I would hire you in a nano-second, if I had an opening.

Mikhail Mukin
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Some positions require exact knowledge and specialization. Some positions require breadth of knowledge. If company can hire junior (and lower paid) guy can do exact job required - it should do it. Hiring overpaid/overqualified people hurts everybody else on the team - as it reduces our bonuses (well - at least in theory :)

I (combined) earn less now than 5 years ago - but I also do not work 12 hours a day any more.

On any serious team, there is a place for some "veterans" who know how things can or should be done, who can watch over new guys, establish architecture, coding quidelines and so on.

I hope there will never be unions in our industry. Unions are for people who are afraid to "stay current" and openly compete with everybody else, who want to grab unfair advantage over other guys "just because they already worked for 15 years". It also simply will not work - the work will be shifted to other places/countries.

I would never hire a person based on resume and some "general forum talk". However, with some "old timers" I would not go into C++ trick questions either. I remember on one interview we started talking about data build pipelines with the guys who interviewed me - we ended up talking for maybe an hour about edge cases, little details, performance numbers, workflow, how I did it in the past, how they did it, realized we did a lot of similar things, and wanted to do same things (just did not have time for some things) and so on. This was a good discussion and showed them my level, how I think when new details/their specific cases emerged, and showed me their state too.

Let's just say there is more then one person with 20 years of experience and a lot of titles shipped that I would not really like to work with again. Many of them are nice guys though. Just not great engineers (any more). Eh - one day I might be in this category myself. It is harder and harder to keep my timings during work outs... the body is aging - brain must be aging too. But I guess this will be the time to go teach in some university or take an easier job. Based on horrible C++ tests we get, they do not teach much nowdays and could use a drill sergeant ;)

Kenneth Hurley
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Really "overpaid/overqualified people"?

When I can code something that I can reuse hundreds of times across 10 different platforms, instead of one-off as specialist are prone to doing, I would be overpaid?

That's one of Anthony's points.

I also don't just hire off of someones resume either. But I adapt my interviews to the person being interviewed. I find their strengths and dive deep on that. Again to Anthony's point, lousy interviewers. I was also recently asked what three ways can you watch properties in IOS. Being intellectually honest I came up with delegate, some value watching mechanism and an NSXX function that I can't remember off the top of my head. He said, oh. "Are you looking it up on stack overflow" in which I replied, "No". I was honest and said that I hadn't touched IOS code for a year. The funny thing is that this was for a Mobile Manager position (not an individual contributor position). I admit I can't remember every single function call name, or exactly what the "Key/Value" watching mechanism was called, but it would have taken me 5 second to pull it up and remember the functionality and the mechanisms. And yes, I have used stack overflow and other resources to find solutions to problems.

I was recently asked to take a test for a contract position. I refused, because from the description, I said it would take a week to do it right.

They wanted me to reproduce a specific particle they had written without using existing libraries and then tell them how long it took. Using OpenGL (again not using existing libraries). and in C++ on mobile. Really? What a waste of my time. I have enough experience and I am a super lazy programmer (which means I get s#$T done) and done right (reusable code, clean, commented using Software Architecture principles, not hacking).

Yes, I could have hacked something together in less than a day, but I did an analysis it for what they were asking and I would implement a full particle system. with correctly setting up OpenGL in a cross platform way and then making sure the system in C++ and that there was a separate rendering thread and optimized and I would interface to objective C and JNI for Android (again without using an existing library).

I took 2 weeks to write something very similar already, but no I can't use that.

https://bitbucket.org/khurley/effectsmanager

I've worked on so many 3D Engines and contracted out on so many projects, but it is the same movie, over and over again.

Slam out code, then spend months in QA trying to hammer out bugs, etc, slip the date. Wonder why you are over budget, rinse, repeat.

Take an easier job? Drill Sargent? That's hilarious. It has nothing to do with language, it has to do with Universities not teaching Software Architecture and teaching programming or hacking. I don't mind working with new programmers and have had great success.

I do mentor and teach a lot of new grads and I have to undo a lot of the school mentality of just slamming code out.

My main goal in life is to Software architect my way out of a job, but not have it be replaced by hacking non-reuseable code. GIGO.

Dedan Anderson
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Could have wrote this one myself... 15+ years from 16-bit to mobile, as both designer/programmer, but was told by a major social publisher, who will remain nameless for now, that i didn't have enough experience... problem is there is just too much money flowing through certain sectors now that they can bumble about for 5 years until they ultimately implode... while those that can actually help them out are left by the wayside. i believe some of the motivation to hire less experienced candidates is to protect the lead's position, they are probably under the misguided notion that hiring people smarter than you will doom the lead to a demotion. In my experience you hire smart, smarter than yourself if you can, thus increasing productivity which should be the bottom line, which should reflect favorably on yourself. Oh well, back to indeed for me. Great article.

Thomas Happ
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Great article. Almost makes me wonder, where would you wind up if you pretended to be the Kid with a Unity Project that they were looking for? You'd be like an Emperor God by comparison.

Anthony Farmer
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An important PSA from the people at Pixar:

"Seek out people who are willing to level with you, and when you find them, hold them close."

http://m.fastcompany.com/3027135/inside-the-pixar-braintrust/

Samuel Mac
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I'm not an industry veteran, but from what I've observed, companies like to take easier route: cost down by hiring contractors, and outsourcing assets to other countries with cheaper labors. Then because there is no commitment and loyalty to companies, people come and go which results in messy pipelines, program codes that are very difficult, or impossible, to maintain. The situation is like patching up wounds upon wounds, and see how long the whole system would hold...


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