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  • Stories From the Intern-to-Hire Frontline

    [02.21.08]
    - Jill Duffy
  •  Many readers of this web site are students who are knowledgeable about games, are learning about the game development industry, but are in need of direct instruction about moving from one to the other. How do you get from having knowledge to having a job?

    A panel was put together recently at the IGDA Education Summit (held as part of the 2008 Game Developers Conference) to address this very issue. The panel comprised four recent graduates who are now full-time employed game developers. They all held at least one internship in game development before being hired. The graduates talked about how much their education and internships prepared them to work in the industry.
     
    The first question posed to the panelists was: Which of the following contributed most to you getting your first job: coursework, portfolio, internship, connections, placement services, other? Every panelist said hands-down, it was the internship.

    Of course, the problem with internships is finding them, and then getting them. Robert Smith, who attended the Art Institute of San Francisco and now works at Shaba Games, said he found his internship through a well-connected professor who just happens to maintain strong connections with intern-seekers.

    Matt Highison, who works at Cryptic Studios, said that while the internship is what directly led to a job offer, it was his art portfolio that got him the internship. Cryptic, he said, focuses very heavily on the portfolio work of the artists they hire. “Every piece counts,” he said.

    When asked about networking, the panelists were quick to point out the importance of networking within their own school, which is sometimes overlooked in favor of professional industry networking. But as Highison and several others mentioned, it was professors -- not game developers -- who helped them get an internship.

    Doing some professional networking while an intern will be beneficial after graduation, but the professor networking is probably more important to landing those initial internships.

    Sally Huang, a Cornell University graduate from the film department and another speaker on the panel, said, “Working with professors definitely affected my career job hunt a lot.” For one, it helped her get an internship at Electronic Arts, where she now works as a technical artist. The internship offer, she said, came to her “almost entirely based on the work I did with the professor.” The HR person she interviewed with actually told her that the selling point of her application was the work she did with that one professor. HR also told her that they sometimes have tight connections with professors and just ask them bluntly to name their standout students.

    “Being one of the top students makes it easier to network,” Highison said, “because you’re confident about the work you show.” Highison is lucky in that his alma mater has a large portfolio show of student work, so not only do the students prepare their best work in anticipation of the public display, but the professors are aware of the importance of the show and can tailor their coursework and critiques to help the students make the most of it.

    When asked about his actual, physical portfolio, Highison said he keeps a large flat portfolio in addition to a web site. A flat portfolio is a more traditional way to show one’s art in person when meeting with potential employers; but, he warned, a portfolio needs to do something more than just contain good pieces. It also has to be well designed and well laid out. For artists in the job market -- especially looking to work on video games, where GUI and menus are as important as cover art and characters -- every element has to show consideration for design.

    Huang underlined Highison’s comment that artists need an electronic version of their portfolio, and more specifically, she recommends using a web page rather than a reel on disc. Hiring personnel at game companies find it easier to send their colleagues a list of hyperlinks rather than a stack of discs when looking at portfolios en masse. She noted that this preference is unique to the game industry; it’s something that game art students in more traditional programs should know.

    In addition to art concerns, the panel was also asked about managerial tasks -- who assigned and managed them, and did the college experience prepare them for real-world industry management?

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