What I Learned My First Two Years in the Game Industry
By Katherine Byers
As I approach my two year anniversary at FarBridge, people often ask me for advice on how to “make it” in game development, how to land a job, what it’s like in the industry. I don’t have perfect answers to those questions, but I do have a few things I can share about what I’ve learned in my first years as a game engineer.
I’ve worked on three different projects in that time, each one teaching me something new about how to work as an engineer and as a member of a team. Most of what I have to share isn’t directly technical, I’m not going to comment on the best programming language to work in or what the best way to structure a database is. But I can tell you what comes up most in conversation and what has allowed me to grow these past two years.
Tip 1: Networking is key.
“Networking” is a word thrown around a lot as the solution to everything, but the reality is that if you don’t make friends or connections within your industry, you’re not going to get very far. I got my job because I managed to make a personal connection with our Director of Technologies — and it was as easy as striking up a conversation at a career fair. As an engineer my technical skills have to speak for themselves, but I have to speak for myself as well. Most jobs will require some form of coding test to make sure you are capable, but if you’re a miserable person to interact with it doesn’t matter how beautiful your code is.
So while you’re busy sharpening your programming skills, take some time to keep your social skills up to task.
Tip 2: Everyone has imposter syndrome at some point.
No, seriously. Most people in the industry have struggled with imposter syndrome at one point or another — questioning if I belong here or if I’ve made the right decision or even if somehow I managed to trick everyone in the hiring process to get the job. The reality is, if you honestly went through the entire process to get the job — you belong there. You have the skills to be there. You didn’t somehow trick people into giving you a position. Believe in yourself and believe in the team that hired you to join them.
Because along the way…
Tip 3: You will fail. A lot.
And that’s okay.
Failure is part of learning, and despite all the learning you did in college or otherwise you will always be learning. Especially in your first year of work in the industry. There were things I never needed to learn how to do until I was in the field where those tools and libraries are considered standard. It just wasn’t practical to learn things like multiplayer libraries when I wasn’t creating projects that required them (or had the budget to keep them running). You’re going to push to the wrong branch, you’re going to accidentally break the entire app. That’s okay.
You never know what you don’t know until you know it.
Tip 4: Find people who will let you fail.
You’ll fail in brand new ways for a while when you first enter the field. I’ve been here two years and I still occasionally break other parts of the project while trying to fix bugs. I’ve pushed nonoptimal code because I simply didn’t know there was a less redundant way of doing things.
I’ve been able to succeed because the people around me are aware that I’m still learning new things and help guide me in better directions. I can fail without having to worry about if I’m going to lose my job or even being yelled at because the people around me allow me to fail gracefully, and give me advice and mentoring to keep me learning and improving.
Tip 5: Keep learning.
No matter how much you know, or how much you’ve learned so far, there will always be something new. A new library, a new way of approaching game design, a new engine, and so on. Keep your learning abilities sharp. Learn a new approach. Learn a new way of optimizing, or structuring code, or just ways of working.
Take time each week (or month) to learn something new. Be it coding related or something else entirely — take some time to help move yourself forward so you can fail in new and interesting ways.
I know I’m new to the game industry, and I may not be the best engineer the world has ever seen, but I love being here. I love learning, failing, and trying again. Everyone’s experience is going to be different, but hopefully I can offer even a little bit of insight and encouragement as to what your first couple of years might look like.
Best of luck out there.
Katherine Byers is a Software Engineer and recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s in Art and Entertainment Technologies. They have a passion for learning and creating, which manifests itself as a love for programming and all its challenges. They have worked on a variety of projects ranging from escape rooms to mobile game writing.