[Industry newcomer Rodney Smith weights the importance of education versus real-world experience in several key areas, helping up-and-coming developers balance their career priorities.]
Imagine this: you just finished your grad school classes. You find the strongest students from your graduating class at school. Then you go out and start making a video game. How would you expect it to work? Obviously you would not know everything. But how much would you really know? How far would your Master's education take you?
Well, that is precisely what is going on with my team and I. We are working on a social impact game called The Solar Games. Here, we are going to look at Education vs. Experience. I will see how education and experience stack up and make final judgment on how to approach getting into the industry based on two recruiting standards - Education and Experience. For each of the two categories, I will discuss what I learned over the course of my education, and then discuss what I have learned through experience. At the end of each section, I will point out which area has been more valuable, along with essential things that I believe new industry producers should know.
This is a major component to any major new startup in business. Leaders have to be able to control team motivation, budget, time, and scope; and they have to be able to work with people in the right way and determine how best to get the most out of them.
Education: Four of my eight classes had some sort of major leadership component. This was highly stressed in my degree program (the degree was Production focused). And so, I knew how to be a leader straight out of school. The hard skills were taught, and the soft skills were trained. Every class integrated some sort of group work that forced students into leadership roles. Of course there were those students who took to Leadership naturally, filling in the role comfortably, and those who didn't.
Experience: I discovered very quickly that applying our hard skills was much more difficult without the controlled environment that was school. Instead of having to apply policies and procedures that were pre-generated, I had to come up with my own. I had to deal with situations that do not come up when everybody is doing their best because their grade depends on it. Handling people was more of a challenge than I thought. Overall though, I felt like I handled things well, and realistically, without school, this would have been very difficult.
Winner: Education. Above all, producers need to be able to work with people. Knowing what to do in serious situations (like handling unruly employees) can be learned from just about any Leadership book at your local bookstore and is quite rare, and it is knowing how to handle your employees the rest of the time that is much more difficult. How do you keep your Team motivated? On track? Get them off tangents? Manage employees who continuously add to the scope? Control your overzealous marketing team? How do you manage virtual Team members? This list is nowhere near comprehensive but gives a glimpse into the life of what it takes to be a producer.
Part of every successful game project is Project Management. All aspects of Project Management are vital for video games. Running out of time and/or budget is devastating to many projects; games that do not properly plan typically fail.
Education: This was highly stressed throughout my grad degree. Controlling time, budget, scope, people, and schedule were components of many classes. One class in particular used the PMP handbook to give a very comprehensive look into the right way of managing a project.
Experience: This, like Leadership, was another situation where applying hard skills in the real world is much more difficult than in the classroom. Also, learning what parts make sense in an educational environment but do not make practical sense in real world situation. While I learned all of the right ways to do something when I can focus all of my time on project management, I quickly learned what had to be done immediately, and what could be put off (or dismissed completely) in order to keep the project running on time and budget. A side-effect of this was coming to an understanding that I was not "giving up" on what I had learned, but really applying project management to itself...meaning I had to apply project management methods to the amount of project management that I did for the project...this kept my project management on time and on budget. (OMG Project Management INCEPTION!)
Winner: Tie. Project Management knowledge is essential. What the PMP handbook teaches applies every day. Experience in knowing what to apply, when to do it, and in what regard is essential to not wasting time. Scope control, budget control, risk management, schedule management, and policies and procedures are vital skills.