26 January, 2006
I’m always curious about the networking aspect. I see it mentioned in every article on breaking into the industry, but it seems a fairly nebulous recommendation. What are good ways of networking, and with who, and how much is ‘enough’? Does wriggling your way into the blog circuit constitute networking, or are we talking almost solely about exchanging business-cards at the GDC?
I figured other people might have similar questions, so I’ll make a blog post out of it.
Networking suggestions are nebulous largely because networking itself is fairly nebulous. :) There’s no “silver bullet” that will allow you to network like a pro, unfortunately. Since many game developers are introverted, it can be hard for to go out there and meet new people and make a great impression. In fact, it can be quite intimidating. (That book linked in the previous sentence is an excellent resource for introverts or people who work with introverts in understanding what being introverted really is.)
Now, I will have to admit that I did very little networking before I got into the industry. I used a recruiter to land my first job, and it just happened to be a really great job working on a notable product; many online developers know what Meridian 59 is, so my association with the game gave me instant credibility. Of course, I’ve had to network more with people in the industry, especially as I’m looking for more consulting work. So, let me give you a few tips, and even give you some information about what works on me. ;)
Let’s start with the basics: Why do you want to network? Well, you want to have someone to whom you can ask questions and get information. You want to be someone that is remembered when an opportunity comes up. So, your goal is to make friends and be memorable, in a good way.
First and foremost: most people in the industry are friendly and helpful. Don’t be too afraid of us, but treat us with courtesy and respect just as you should treat everyone else. Consider that you already have a first step in forming a friendship: both you and the developer have a deep passion for games. (And, if you don’t have that passion, consider choosing another career.) Also keep in mind that many game developers are incredibly busy, so don’t be too upset if we don’t email you back immediately. Be persistent but not obnoxious. (Hint to the introverts: You’re most likely not as obnoxious as you might first think. We tend to worry too much about this.) Generally rule of thumb: if you haven’t heard from someone in a week, drop them another line. If you still don’t hear from them, they’re probably really, REALLY busy.
Keep in mind that building contacts takes time. It starts by introducing yourself, or getting introduced by someone else. Repeated conversations helps build a rapport, and in time might allow you to contact the person to ask questions. It might take a few years to build up a steady relationship with someone, especially if your only exposure is at major industry conferences. Don’t presume that giving someone your business card is a sign that you can email them with your questions. Be persistent, and you might find yourself making some friends inside the industry.
You should also note that different people have different thresholds. While it might be great to count Will Wright or Raph Koster as one of your friends in the industry, they’re both very busy people. They also have dozens if not hundreds of people trying to ask them questions, and it can be a bit overwhelming. On the other hand, people like me are a bit less notable. Sure, I’m less famous that Will or Raph, but I’m also more available to answer questions at a conference or in email. A good idea at a conference is to go to a talk that interests you, especially if you don’t recognize the name. If the talk went well and the person seems bright, go introduce yourself to the speaker. Keep an eye out for him or her at other talks and conferences as well. You might find yourself making an important contact, especially if everyone else went to Will Wright’s talk. :)
A great tip: learn something about a person. Most conferences have bios printed in the program, so read that during the talk if you want to go up and say “hi” to the speaker. You might find out they worked on a game you really liked, or you might be able to ask them more intelligent questions. Here’s a tip for me: If you say something intelligent about Meridian 59, I’m much more likely to try to remember you. So, for example, if you hear me at a conference and jot down my email address, go try a month or two of Meridian 59 before writing me. Opening your letter with something like, “I saw you speak at FooCon a few months ago. You were talking about foozles, and after playing Meridian 59 I realize that you really did put an effort into the foozles!” You’re talking about something I’m obviously interested in, and that’s a great way to make a connection. Or, if you make comments on my blog, tell me your handle on here when we meet. Showing that you read my writing and think enough about it to reply is another good connection. And, waiting a few months after a convention means that you will probably miss the bulk of mail that most developers get right after a conference; you might even be lucky enough to hit a lull between conferences.
It should go without saying, but be courteous to other people. Put yourself in their shoes: they had to prepare a talk, and they’ve been at the conference probably since the day before it started. Introverts are going to be worn out from all the interaction with others, and extroverts are going to be drinking and partying every night. Forgive us if we don’t seem chipper on that last day of the conference. Also pardon us if we don’t remember you immediately (or at all) from a previous handshake. Also keep in mind that we have schedules to keep ourselves. We might be meeting someone to discuss business, or of to a business lunch for our career; please don’t hold a developer up if he or she has to leave. Get contact information quickly, or copy it down from the presentation.
The winning combination, in essence, is: learn something about us, make a connection, and be memorable. Here’s another tip that works well on me: buy me something. I’m not terribly materialistic, but if you offer to buy me a pop, a beer, or even a meal I’m going to be much happier while talking to you. At one conference someone offered to buy me a meal after chatting for a while. That person got an hour and a half of my time for about $25; a great deal on his part any way you look at it.
Once you do get to the point where you can ask us questions and get information, be intelligent. Don’t ask me a question that is already answered on my blog, for example. That shows you don’t pay attention and don’t value the time I spend talking to you. Do some research, show that you’ve put some effort into this. Especially when it comes to breaking into the industry, it’s not going to be easy. Also, let us know if you finally do get a job in the industry. We want to be happy for you when you do. :) Plus, that whole contact thing goes two ways: maybe sometime in the future you might be in a position to help us if you’re as clever as you think you are! :)
There’s my suggestions. Hopefully it’s a bit more concrete than “go out and network”. Unfortunately, as I said above, there’s no single silver bullet. But, I’ve given you some suggestions that should make approaching me at a conference a bit easier, at the very least. :)
If anyone has any other stories or specific questions, feel free to post.