For my first content update since the blog came back online, I figured I’d share a personal story that has helped shape my future.
DigiPen has what they call Company Days, where guests who work in the video game industry visit our school and give a lecture on any topic they feel is relevant. Sometime around late October or early November of 2011, Chris Taylor came and gave a talk. I was a bit surprised as I walked into the room. Was that who I thought it was? I never thought anyone who’s name had some public meaning would actually be visiting our school. This was also, coincidentally, roughly around the same time I watched the first Matt Chat interview with Chris Taylor, so him and his company were fresh in my mind.
Anyone who has heard Chris talk will know that he’s more of a motivational speaker. Or at least he likes to give motivational speeches. A lot of guest speakers that come to DigiPen give talks about some technology aspect of their job or interests, so Chris’ talk was a bit of fresh air. Normally I’m a pretty introverted person, but something came over me that day. First thing Chris noticed when everyone settled in the room, is that no one, and I mean NO ONE, was sitting in the front row. It was totally empty. He commented on that and asked “What, no one wants to sit in the front row?” I sat there for a moment and was like, “Ah, screw it.” Grabbed a pencil and notepad and hopped a railing and grabbed a front row seat directly in front of him. Of the 150+ students in the room, I was one of two people to even bother to get up. While that wasn’t much, it was enough to stick in his mind. He even thanked me afterwards.
During his talk, I took notes and tried to formulate as many questions I could think of, given what he said and what I knew about him and his company. Now, I wasn’t the only person to approach him afterwards, but everyone else just did the obligatory “Thanks for talking at our school!” and “That was the most entertaining talk anyone has ever given here!” While the latter most definitely was true, everyone was pretty much saying that and only that to him. After the crowd had dispersed, I walked up to him, said “Hi”, and started asking questions. Well, I only asked him one question. I had overheard him talking to one of the coordinators that he had to get home because his family was expecting him for dinner. My one question was, “Hey, I know you have to go, but I had some questions I wanted to ask you and I was wondering if there was a way I could get in contact with you later so I could ask them.” Chris gave it a moment of thought and gave me his e-mail.
My mind was pretty much blown the rest of the day. This is just about the biggest thing that had ever happened to me in my life. So, after exchanging a few e-mails, he decided we should have lunch together. However, there was a decision I had to make. My parents were ecstatic, but they only had one thing on their mind. “Job, job, job.” Granted, I can’t blame them, hell, even I was worried about getting a job after school. I didn’t really want to look pretentious, so I didn’t pressure him about getting a job. In fact, we never brought it up. At lunch we pretty much just talked and had fun. I didn’t even really ask any of my questions that I had prepared!
Now, for people that know me, I am a sweatpants guy. Yup. Forget all that style and crap, give me comfort! I was in sweatpants when he gave his talk at my school and I was in sweatpants when we went to lunch. The horror! I think my mom was crying inside for a while. She wanted me to dress up “in my Sunday best”. But I figured that would be a little misleading, cause that’s not me. I’m a sweatpants toting, t-shirt wearing kind of guy any other day of the week. Not to mention I also got this vibe from Chris that he was kind of the same way (he wears jeans and a t-shirt though, a bit more presentable) and that he didn’t care much for dress.
Anyhow, lunch was fun and went great. He invited me to the company a week or so later and I got to meet a lot of the employees there and we talked more, had fun, and he showed me Project Mercury. Yes, that’s me in the video and yes, I realize now that I speak way too softly. After a second visit to the company and a bit of talking later, I landed an internship. After 3 months as an intern on Project Mercury, I was a hired employee at Gas Powered Games (now owned by Wargaming.net), where I have been happily employed for over a year now.
So, what are the lessons to take away from all this?
1) Talk to that person! People love to talk about themselves, and nothing is going to happen if you don’t say anything. Even if the only thing that comes out of it is a contact, that is a valuable contact and they may know people! (Hint, they do know people)
2) Be honest. While I can’t say how much being honest has “helped” me per se, it’s better than being a suck up and I think people will like you better for it.
3) While not stated in the story, do side projects in your spare time (aka show your passion)! Nothing shows passion more than spending your free time practicing your profession. Chris did ask me to send him code samples and I had been working on a game engine in my spare time. While Chad Queen (VP of Engineering at GPG) did briefly go over my code, the fact that I had the passion to do programming outside of school said a lot to them. You can grind your way through school and get your degree, but that doesn’t necessarily develop your skills enough. I know my skills definitely would have been inadequate if I didn’t program in my spare time. Every person I’ve ever talked to agrees that side projects done in your free time are nothing but a benefit to you. You learn a lot doing on your own projects and it conveys your love for your craft (whatever that may be).
I feel like this is advice that is given a lot, but I figured I’d add my testimonial to the list. Hope you all enjoyed my story and feel free to share your own!