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My first year in the Game Industry

We’re a week into 2015, and people are still yelling Happy Nuu YEAAAAH [Happy New Year]. It’s my first tropical new year, and I love it. Whether it’s discovering islands per boat, reading a novel on the beach, cruising through the palm tree covered hills as if it were a 90’s race game (brought back good gaming memories) or having a Full Moon Party in the party centre of the world. It’s a wonderful final experience of what has been an exciting year as a junior in this dynamic industry.

Index

  1. TLDR
  2. Joining the Game Industry
  3. A challenged hacker
  4. Life long learning
  5. Events in parallel
  6. Open Source Development
  7. Moving to the UK
  8. Bidirectional satisfaction
  9. Only a fool tries to predict the future

TLDR

The unexpected events that made my life both hectic and exciting, that started ever since joining college, have continued to happen and brought me eventually to the UK, where I currently live and work. This year gave me confidence that I found myself in life, more or less, and it’s cool to see where things are and will go. Growth has happened, and will keep happening. It’s still a long road, but at least there is light.

Joining the Game Industry

Christmas 2013, returning to Belgium after living in Finland (Erasmus Program) for 5 months. Getting used to the Belgian life again wasn’t too hard. After all, it’s my home country. Back then I was still registered as a student at HOWEST. Each year this college and its Digital Arts and Entertainments department attract amazing people. It’s where I started to grow my foundational game development skills and I’m happy to have been part of their story. I was however, mentally, finished with being a DAE student.

I love to learn, and it’s what got me into hacking and game development in the first place (with the addition of my background). I did end up with different perspectives than what I expected, but more about this later. The fact is that I couldn’t cope any longer with the slow pace and the impassioned average mentality of college life. Perhaps if I was born in the US and had been blessed enough to live an academic life at MIT or Stanford, I might have a different point of view, combined with the other differences.

Because great people believed in me, I was able to work the month before going to Finland, at a Belgian Game company, Fishing Cactus. An exciting month which introduced me to the lovely atmosphere of (indie) game development. This confirmation was what I needed. The experience was also one of the key reasons why I would drop out of collage months later. This realisation became clear in Finland, and after having lived together with some cool people, who I can now proudly call friends, it was time to return home. It was time to return to Fishing Cactus.

It turned out that the month wasn’t only a confirmation for me, but also for them. As we both wanted each other the choice was easily made. In January 2013 I started working for them as a full time junior. And frankly, I’m very happy to have started my career with them. A lot of the people there I respect deeply. They allowed me to grow. And more importantly, they believed enough in me, to give me main responsibilities on several projects. Being able to find my own way, while still having the ability to tap knowledge from smart people, resulted in a well suited environment that served my needs for this beginning period.

A challenged hacker

Three or four months into the job some important things became clear. As I was more fresh then a graduate when I started, I knew (and still know) I had a long, long way to go. That’s alright, and even exciting. Back in college, I used to think programming is what really drives me. And it’s true, it’s satisfying when you have the desired result after crunching code in one of those marathons we all face from time to time.

When starting university I used to think of myself as a computer scientist. I didn’t want to call myself a programmer as it seemed like an incomplete description. There was going on so much more then just the implementation of some specification. Computer science however is way to ambiguous and the idea of calling myself a computer scientist didn’t seem like a good idea either. Another title I used to give myself since around that same period was hacker.

The problem with calling yourself hacker is that people always think about either a criminal hacking their bank accounts or a teenager fooling around with DDOS attacks on their precious servers. It’s this natural bias of people that kept me until recently of proudly calling myself a hacker, because after all that’s what I am.

I love making things. For me, a hacker is a kind of maker, such as an architect or a painter, devoted on making amazing products using the processes that connect software and hardware (sadly the difference between these 2 is way bigger then it should be these days. What happened to the 60’s?). It’s on game jams and later hackathons, that I found that making good products (whether it’s a game or any other kind of software/hardware) is the thing that drives me. I guess in a sense I always knew that, as it was something I was doing ever since I could remember. So I wasn’t wrong in thinking that programming was what I wanted to do, as it is part of the bigger picture.

Life long learning

In order to develop good products we need both knowledge and good tools. If you’re missing tools you might need to make some for yourself. That doesn’t always mean that you need to make a green hammer just because you don’t like the colour yellow. Knowledge is at this stage of my life more missing than tools, which is why I find it important to keep studying in my free time, often in topics that aren’t even directly related to my day-to-day activities. That doesn’t matter as it will certainly solve itself usefull one day. And if nothing else, at least it satisfied my hunger for knowledge for a while.

I find it fantastic that software engineering (yeah I agree, this term is also way to broad, but it fits the context), inspires life long learning. And I’m happy I’ve discovered that a lot of other people are driven by life long learning, just as me. I believe this natural hunger for knowledge is one of the reasons our industry innovates so quickly. And if nothing else, it’s certainly a good enough reason to get me out of bed.

Events in parallel

In my attempts to become more active in the open source community, starting in the winter of 2013, there was one project that received more contributions from me than any other. CodeCombat had gone open source around this period and as one of the early and active contributors I wasn’t gone unnoticed. It didn’t take long to join their team and help them in reaching their goals wherever I could. It’s also the project that introduced me to WEB 2.0 in a pragmatic way. And it certainly made me realise how complex and difficult this different view of software development was.

Online consultancy was another of my activities in this period. A period where I was very active online, in a very practical way. Consulting other people’s projects was surprisingly fun. Getting dropped in a project and immediately help in providing solutions wasn’t always easy though. I became inactive as a consultant and contributor to CodeCombat just before I would make the move over the channel

Open Source Development

Open source has been advocated by many people, including friends and even a girlfriend. That and the fact that the philosophy/ideas behind it actually makes sense, made it really compelling and brought me to the point where I find it essential to advocate for it myself and try to contribute my equal part to a transparent world with an eye on evolution. Right now I’m quite satisfied with being able to do this mostly in my free time. However, I do like to see myself in the future, being able to involve open source as close as full time as possible. After all, open source products are often so great, because it are the hackers that collaborated together on this. They didn’t just implement the specification, they designed it as well, with freedom as one of their most important values.

Game Development is what got me hooked to software development. Ever since my mother introduced me to PACMAN, saving coins for arcade halls and having my first computer and online experiences, games have been an important part of my life. You can imagine how thrilled I was to discover education routes, which could help me join the great forces that made my childhood so awesome.

Moving to the UK

One of the unmentioned reasons why I left Fishing Cactus, was that game programming on its own, wasn’t very satisfying anymore. Even though I could help on more underlying technology on some occasions, it certainly wasn’t enough. And thus started my search, which lead to opportunities and thrilling processes. After all of this and more, I decided to join Exient and made the move to the UK, near the end of July.

Even though I only had a few days of “vacation time” in between my old job at Fishing Cactus and the start of my new job at Exient, I managed to move without too much troubles. Somehow I find a Bungee jump 50 meters down, more scary (not that this stops me) then moving to a new country, especially when the living conditions are so similar to my own. And hey, I could even understand their native language this time.

Until recently Exient was only porting and developing games for publishers. This explains why I hadn’t heard of them before getting introduced to them by a recruiter (not that I know that many game companies). Having seen their games on the website, and the fact they developed with in-house-technology with an eye on performance driven code, convinced me enough to take their test and start the hiring process. The long personal interview with Jason Fielder, the CTO, had the biggest influence on my decision to join the company, and 6 months later, I am very happy that I joined this company and took a leap of fate by leaving away the stability that I had achieved so early on.

I joined the Leamington Spa department, one of 3 studios of Exient. The great thing was that they are a relatively new studio, which meant 2 things. For starters, it meant that almost everyone there was only recently hired which made the integration process so much easier (even though many knew each other from previous jobs). A second, and perhaps more important, advantage is that it allows me to grow together with the company. This also implies that as both an individual and team member, I can help together with the rest, to make this department into a success story and help the company as a whole. It also helps to learn from the mistakes that we make so that they ought not to be repeated in the near future.

Bidirectional satisfaction

One of the great aspects of the company, is that everyones opinion matters. Titles aren’t important (even though they exist) and the team as a whole is skilled. Knowing that people above you are actually closer besides you, is extremely helpful in feeling “home” in a company IMHO. It especially helps when they try to help employees in their pursuits, try to fit their tasks with their preferences and help them grow, while bringing important values to the company on different levels. It’s the difference between willing to invest in employees, or the slacky-hiring-easy-firing-option. It’s one of the reasons which makes me happy that I joined them and I certainly look forward to be part of their story for a much longer time.

Learning is important for me. Exient gives me the opportunity to challenge myself on a satisfying pace. In my free time I try to follow 1 to 2 online courses, usually at Coursera. These courses help me develop new skills, get introduces to unfamiliar subjects or sharpen skills. at the end of this year I studied and successfully finished 2 courses, one of which made me discover that I actually have a great interest in language design and related subjects. It’s a good example of how a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) can give results in unexpected ways.

Only a fool tries to predict the future

In 2015 I’ll continue my interest in language design on my own, which nicely relates to some open source contributions. In the meanwhile I’ll dip my toes with several MOOC’s in security branches of computer science, such as encryption (and the long history it has). MOOC’s can also be a cool hobby to learn about other things such as sustainable development, public speaking or learning basic modern Chinese.

This year has been quite a ride and brought me to situations and places that I would have never been able to predict in 2013. The many hackatons and Game Jams I attended made my life perhaps a little too hectic. Therefore I’ll force myself to go to less events in 2015 and focus my energy instead on having a life and grow as a hacker and a person.

Balance, growth and exploration are my keywords for 2015.

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