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  • Ask the Experts: Skilled in IT, Pining for Games

    [09.24.07]
    - Jill Duffy
  •  Hello Experts,

    I currently work in the IT field as a web application developer and am planning on moving into the game industry. I am currently located in Philadelphia, but will be relocating to New York soon. I've researched the local game industry there and have my sights set on one particular company. I really dig their aesthetics, and from what I've read of their employees, I think I'd enjoy working with the team.

    My question is how should I go about selling myself to this company even though I don't have professional experience in the game industry? I have been a professional developer for about three and a half years now and programming as a hobby for most of my life. I am also an avid gamer -- computer games, console, board games. I've worked on some game projects of my own, but I don't have anything completed or in a state that I would want to show an interviewer.

    My current plan is to flesh out my "portfolio" web site with some detailed info about myself and my interests (relating to game development and programming). I also thought it may be helpful if I wrote up some detailed specs of some game ideas I have been working on and present them on the site as well.

    I'm interested in any advice you could give to me about shifting industries. I feel totally confident about being able to work successfully in the game industry, I just don't really have the portfolio to show.

    Thanks for your time!
    -- Tired of IT


    Dear Tired of IT,
    Your biggest gap at the moment is, as you stated, that you don't have any game-related projects that are completed or in a state that you would want to show an interviewer. Big problem. My first piece of advice would be to focus on fixing that before building out your web site portfolio.

    Show and Tell
    The game industry is a "show" industry more than it is a "tell" industry. You need to show that you understand games from a technical level, not just tell the company about your IT background and experience.

    It sounds like you already have plenty of skills, but again, game studios need to know that you understand how games work, too. (I'm assuming here that you want to get into game programming or game design, and not tech support.) For example, can you demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of how a game application differs from a standard web application? How is the user interface different? What kind of pacing does a game have and how does a programmer implement it? Can you make a game run smoothly at 60 frames per second?

    You can show what you know if you build a small game, say a web downloadable or Flash game, that a potential interviewer could play. You don't have to make a game that rivals Halo 3, but make something, like a clone of Snake or Tetris or Pong, and tweak it so that it shows your personality in some way.

    This is the number one thing you want to have ready before you approach a company. Sure, it will be helpful, as you suggested, to create design documents of game ideas and whatnot, but the most important thing you need to prove right now is that your skills as an IT guy can indeed cross over into the game industry -- and that takes more than noting several years' experience on your resume.

    Chum it up
    I want to tell the readers out there that Tired of IT actually did name the company he's interested in working for, but I eliminated it because I didn't want anyone I know at that company to blame me for making a public introduction without their knowledge. That ain't right. However, I do know a little bit about this company, namely that they are very involved in the New York City community of game developers. They attend IGDA meetings. They send their people to industry functions across the country. They very often have employees present at conferences. People at this company are not at all hard to find.

    But the company is also a fairly small one, so it's probably not hiring a constant stream of people. If there isn't an opening at the company that suits you now, I would encourage you, Tired, to try and meet someone who works there rather than just send a cold resume asking them to keep it on file in case something turns up. You're much better off getting some face time with senior programmers, designers, or producers. If they can remember your face and your enthusiasm for their company, they will probably remember you when a position does open up, especially if you're able to wow them with your ability to transform your wealth of knowledge about web applications into inventive problem-solving techniques in game development.

    I really can never say this enough, but go out and talk to people. Game developers actually like talking about their jobs. They like it when you're interested in their work. They want you to share your theory about how games can learn a thing or two from online social networking sites. When a game company hires someone -- especially a small game company -- they are hiring you, a human being who will be in the office with everyone else eight to 12 hours a day building and fixing and creating together. No one wants to work with a louse. It's extremely helpful to meet people face-to-face if you think you want to work with them in the game industry. And it's even more helpful if they like you.

    Good luck getting out of IT and into the game industry! If you have a success story, do write and let us know!

    Jill Duffy

    Jill Duffy is editor of GameCareerGuide.com and writes this "Ask the Experts" column bi-weekly.

    Please be advised GameCareerGuide.com does not endorse nor advise students about specific educational programs or institutions. For information about schools offering game development curriculum, please visit our Schools page.

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