Advice for Game Dev Grads of 2017
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Congratulations, class of 2017! This month is a big moment for the next wave of graduates as they enter the workforce and double-down their search for work. I am one of these fresh grads, but I have been humbled and blessed to have found full-time work starting in June. As many of us know, professional game development is highly competitive and heavily saturated at the bottom 30% of jobs, which makes it really difficult for individuals to get their foot in the door. I've talked to a lot of anxious, unsure new grads in the last few days and I'd just like to share some words of encouragement and advice to help folks get off to the right foot. I’ll be speaking from my experience as an artist, but a lot of it applies to all concentrations.
For young jobseekers, the next 6 months are a major transitioning period that will have a huge impact on your career...positive or otherwise. Rest and recuperate, but know that the work is not over. If you said that you're now going to work on your portfolio, know that you need to do that in order to find a job. This is an essential time to build some healthy habits and push them to the next level...or to let all of the work you've done to fall to the wayside. A lot of folks graduate and then never touch development again, so don't let yourself fall into that pattern. A few specific suggestions for those that really need to polish their bodies of work:
Make something every day.
If that's 6 hours or 30 minutes, just get into the habit of being productive consistently. This is a really good opportunity to explore not only *what* you like to create, but also *how* you like to create. If you try working on a big perfect project over several months at a time and end up getting bored, try smaller experiments. If you create more consistently when you’re collaborating, find a group of folks to make something with. In order to get better, you must provide space for failure. That’s how you’ll learn the fastest.
Hold yourself accountable.
You absolutely MUST be honest with yourself about your skill level. Be aware of when you're not putting enough work in. Creating a Twitter account or something similar on which you post your progress is a good way to do this. So is finding a buddy that has goals like yours; check in with each other regularly and always have something to show!
Have concrete, measurable goals.
Vague plans like “I’m going to get better” or “my portfolio needs to be more polished” aren’t specific enough. My biggest recommendation to folks that want their portfolio to reach a professional level is to find a company and a position to aim for, and then use that job’s requirements as a to-do list. As intimidating as it may seem, now is the time to compare your work to that of professionals. One of the hardest lessons to learn while entering the workforce is the realization that you will be given no handicap.
If you're not getting any interviews, applying to 50 jobs won't help you.
A lot of students graduate from college with average portfolios, apply to every job that they can find, and then don’t understand why they’re not getting a response from studios. Not hearing back doesn’t mean that you’re not networking enough...it means that your work probably isn't ready or presented well. Figure out which problem it is, then address it directly and make your weaknesses your strengths.
Time is a limited resource. It’s essential to understand that the quality of your work will land you a job- not having 1000 connections on LinkedIn. Let me be frank: if your work is weak, every hour that you spend “networking” is basically wasted when that was valuable time you could have spent towards a new portfolio piece. Networking is *situationally* productive. Working on your skills is *always* productive. No minute spent improving your work is a wasted one.
I mentioned early in this article that I’ll be starting a full-time job immediately after graduation...but I will never, ever claim that I did it alone. Getting your foot in the door isn’t an individual effort- it’s collaborative. Reach out to the people that you respect with specific questions (here’s a thread about that) and build friendships rather than seeking phony relationships in the name of “networking.” If you're an artist, make an improvement thread on Polycount and try to post to it at least once or twice a week. Ask for feedback. Internalize it wisely. Be explicitly appreciative of those that take the time to help you.
Stay vigilant and don't give up hope if you don't find work immediately. Empower yourself and remember how many resources you've invested into your career already. Follow your curiosities and be kind. This is the end of an era! A big one...but it's the beginning of good things too. A lot of change is ahead. We are all in different places and headed in different directions, and, while that might feel intimidating, I think it's pretty beautiful. Good luck, everyone!
Feel free to comment with any suggestions or points that you'd like me to elaborate on!