Dev Blog: On the Hunt in Seattle

We made it! After a few weeks of packing up our lives and driving across 2,400 miles of this massive country, my girlfriend and I arrived in Seattle. Now that we’ve started to settle in, I've begun my job hunt in earnest. I had no idea what it'd be like jumping back into the shoes of a job-searcher, but that old, familiar combination of tentative excitement and a deep malaise came roaring back as though it never left.

Things are way different for me than they were in 2010. For one thing, my resume's stronger, and I also have a much stronger sense of where I want to go and what I want to do in the next few years. On the other hand, I've lost some of the freedom that came with the aimlessness of a college graduate with an ambiguous liberal arts degree and no clear sense of what to do with it.

Targeting a specific industry – game development — has been both a blessing and a curse. I figured I'd share some initial takeaways for anyone who's also considering a similar path.

Industry experience goes a long way.

Game development is one of those weird sciences that isn't taught to curious undergrads in the same way filmmaking or graphic design might be. Most of what goes into making games doesn't come from a college curriculum at an established institution; instead, you'll need to have a number of projects under your belt before many companies would consider hiring you.

For example, even QA positions sometimes require applicants to have shipped at least one major game to retail. There's no question whether delivering a game to market is invaluable experience, particularly for a specialized industry like this one, but it makes it a lot harder to position my experience at a major tech company in a relevant way.

Lots of studios don't update their job listings.

This is probably true for lots of companies in any industry, but I've found that one major studio may neglect its listings while a quiet indie group may keep theirs fastidiously up-to-date. Persistence pays off, which leads me to my next point:

Organization is everything.

The first thing I did when I arrived: compile a list of game companies in the Seattle area. Fortunately, Game Dev Map does an excellent job of helping put things in perspective. After that, I began familiarizing myself with each company (if I wasn't already familiar) and checking to see if:

  • They make things I could support

  • They're a good culture fit

  • They're hiring

I then categorized them by places to apply to immediately, places to check back on, and places that might not be the best fit for now. From that list, I created a series of links to each company's job page so I can rapidly open them on a daily basis to check for new positions.

Getting the lay of the land is absolutely crucial, no question. But there's still the issue of actual, hands-on experience. And that's where this last point comes in:

Make things daily — and ship often.

Everyone has plenty of good ideas, but very few people have finished results. Companies are always looking for solid evidence that the prospective employee they're considering taking a chance on can actually deliver the sort of high-quality work that the employer needs.

When I was interviewing at Facebook, one topic that repeatedly came up was the book we published, Silicon Sasquatch: The First Year or So. I wasn't sure whether to throw this blog onto my professional resume in the first place, to be honest — after all, we'd never made any money off of it and I wasn't sure blogging would be seen as a strong suit or a foolish dalliance by whoever ran through my resume. But after answering questions behind the process of managing the book project, achieving deliverables within deadlines and fulfilling orders, I realized that this real-world experience meant a whole hell of a lot more than talking about the paid marketing or legal work I'd done throughout the same period of time in my life.

I always tell my friends who want to make something — poems, movies, furniture, food, whatever — to do it now, not later. Even if nobody else gets it. Even if they think they should just give up and put in more hours at work instead. Because great work that speaks for itself is worth a hell of a lot more than time spent in a position at a company, even if it doesn’t immediately put food on the table. And even if you don't get the job you're applying to, you've still made something you're proud of — and you'll always own that.

What this means for me is I need to be making more stuff that's related to games: mods, for example, or playable levels, or even full games. Whatever it may be, I need to be putting in some serious hours to build my resume and get some relevant experience using the tools, methods and thought processes required for the jobs I want.

Most importantly, I need to accept that it's okay to take a few hours out of each day to learn a new toolset (what up, Skyrim Creation Kit) or to work on building out that level in Source SDK that I'd always been interested in. Even if it just feels like I'm playing around on some level, making something real and tangible that others can discover and give feedback on is far more valuable than spending a few more hours refreshing job listing pages or worrying about whether I'll ever find a job again.

I hope this is useful to anyone else who's taking their first steps into game development. Current developers or job-hunters, what else do you recommend? Share your advice for others in the comments.