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Interview Advice, Please

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Devnull

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I have an entry brewing about engine vs. game dev work and an in-depth analysis of a couple of open-source engines that I'm still formulating...that will come soon! But for now...

I have an interview coming up on Monday with a gaming company. It all started in a really strange way - they emailed me after GDC saying they had a copy of my resume from their party. Since I only gave out one resume at GDC (not to them) and wasn't really looking for a job yet (I want to finish my class first), I was very confused about the email. But I replied and it turns out they really did have a copy and were interested in interviewing me. OK, well, I'm easy. I still wonder where they managed to get my resume though =) Life is full of good accidents, though, so I'm not complaining.

Several phone interviews later and now they're flying me to their location for an all-day interview. No problem, all is good. I'm no stranger to interviews - I've been in a fair number of them and have conducted an awful lot of them in the past few years.

Then they send me the itinerary and, suddenly, my confidence is lowered a few notches. There's a total of 8 interviews, which basically means that by the last one, my brain is going to be jellied goo. That's normal, though. What's making me nervous is the people on this list are all senior devs, project directors, dev managers, etc. and virtually every one of them have a long string of game credits, mostly AAA titles. I'm feeling very, very outclassed.

They're also considering me for a pretty senior position (if I'm reading the job title correctly) and I'm really, really nervous abut that. I'm an experienced programmer, yes, but the only game development experience I have is hobby programming on my own (ok, it's not a small amount, but still...) and a total of 6 months (admittedly, a very intense 6 months) of a game programming class. I think that I have a lot of the technical skills, but I was somewhat hoping for a somewhat lower-level job to cut my teeth on in the industry first.

And yet, I'm nervous that if I express doubts about being ready for the position, they'll not be interested in me at all! I almost feel like I'm set up to fail before I begin. Damned if I express doubt and damned if I don't.

In addition, I have something of a history of doing badly at interviews. I always seem to get at least one interviewer who asks me some relatively trivial question that I do know, but just cannot for the life of me think of the answer. It's like my brain just freezes up completely. Past questions like that have included bonehead things like writing a method to delete a node from a binary tree (an exercise any CS college grad can do and one that I can too..assuming my brain doesn't freeze up), or writing a manager to control a two-elevator system. Or reversing a linked list. Stupid little problems that I should be able to do in my sleep (and many times do, in fact...I've lost count of the number of times I've been working on complex code and went to bed thinking about it, then woke up with a fully-formed solution in my head (including the mental image of the letters on the screen for the algorithm!)) I just tend to freeze up and stop being able to think during an interview. In fact, it already happened once during a phone interview for this job - the person asked me what a dot product was and for the LIFE of me, I could not remember. It was like my brain just started running an endless hamster wheel and couldn't get to anything resembling thought. My God, of course I know what a dot product is and many of the uses for it, but I'll be damned if I could actually articulate or remember it when he asked. Bleh.

The good news is that if, by some miracle, they actually like me enough to hire me, I would be working on some exciting stuff. My first job in the game industry would be something that I could really dig in and be passionate about. Despite my experience in the normal computer industry, I'm still expecting that my first job will probably be in some task that no one else wants to do. That seems to be a rite of passage, and one that I'm fully prepared to go though.

The bad news is that it would mean moving to a place I've consciously avoided for a long while due to cost of living and it would also mean a prettly long separation from my family. Because of my wife's work, there's no way she could leave her job for probably a year or so. Thus, I would end up moving on my own, getting a cheap room to stay in, and visiting home when I could. This would be a huge financial stress as well as an emotional one. In all honesty, those considerations would be the only thing that would make me not just jump at the opportunity. I'm hungry for a game industry job, but I just don't know if I'm that hungry. Damnit, why can't all game companies just move to Seattle? It would sure make my life easier. *grin*

Part of it also, I think, is that I'm just not used to interviewing for jobs that I actually care much about any more. I enjoy my work, don't get me wrong, but honestly, I've wanted to program games forever. I got ... sidetracked along the way and took the path of least resistance - making good money in the software industry at jobs that I was at least somewhat interested in, but not terribly passionate about. My current job is partially an exception to that (which is part of the reason I've been here for 5 years now, >3 times longer than any other job I've stayed at) as I did enjoy the work and the ties to the game industry. But...it's been 5 years and I'm definitely getting itchy feet. Problem is, there's nothing really out there besides game programming that I would like better than my current job.

And we all know how easy it is to get into the game industry, right?

Anyway, the point of this entry (besides blathering about my life, which is usually the point of a journal entry) is that I would like advice.

  1. How do I get past the awe of interviewing with such big names?
  2. Job opportunities like this don't happen often (to me, anyway). This particular one would involve a fair bit of hardship that a job here would not. But it's also a good job whose only real drawback is the location and I haven't had any solid offers from local companies. Assuming that I do well enough in the interview to get a job offer (a big if, honestly), would it really be a stupid thing to hold out for a position locally?
  3. How do I avoid brain-freeze during an interview? Is this a problem that anyone else has solved?


Any advice appreciated =)
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While I think it's a great opportunity, I'm a family guy and my advice to you would be to stay where you are. Nothing short of death could take me away from my wife and kids long term. No job is worth it.

Just my 2 cents.

Edit:

Maybe if they like you enough they'll be willing to set you up remotely for some of the 'freshman' grunt work you'll be doing. My company hired a guy whose wife is a teacher and let him work remotely until May and then he's moving to the location. Just an idea.

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How do I get past the awe of interviewing with such big names?
Be aware that a man's life can be summarized as a series of key events.

And this is one of them.
Quote:
Job opportunities like this don't happen often (to me, anyway). This particular one would involve a fair bit of hardship that a job here would not. But it's also a good job whose only real drawback is the location and I haven't had any solid offers from local companies. Assuming that I do well enough in the interview to get a job offer (a big if, honestly), would it really be a stupid thing to hold out for a position locally?
Depends on the housing market. If you think you could sell the house in the old market and move to new without much trouble, then don't worry.

If you don't have a house, then you're just having emotional attachments to your current hometown. Get over 'em. Living in a new town is exciting.
Quote:
How do I avoid brain-freeze during an interview? Is this a problem that anyone else has solved?
Be honest with the interviewer. Interviewers in general have interviewed thousands of kids just like you and can smell nervousness from a hundred feet away. If you try to cover up being nervous, it'll be obvious to the interviewer. If you find yourself feeling nervous, just tell the truth to the interviewer. Such a revelation will likely defuse the situation, and you'll suddenly find yourself not as nervous.

Just be yourself. If you can't pull off being yourself, then you certainly can't pull off someone else.

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Depends on the housing market. If you think you could sell the house in the old market and move to new without much trouble, then don't worry.

If you don't have a house, then you're just having emotional attachments to your current hometown. Get over 'em. Living in a new town is exciting.


Yes, I do have a house. Selling it would not be hard. I like where I'm living but I'm willing to move. None of that is a problem. The problem is that because of my wife's job and the fact that I want to make sure I can keep the job for a while (I would hate to pack up and move then lose the job in a few months), I would be moving by myself for up to a year.

Not only is that a financial burden (living expenses in 2 places + extra travel expenses), but it's a huge emotional hardship as well. I'll MISS my wife and son.

Quote:
Be honest with the interviewer. Interviewers in general have interviewed thousands of kids just like you and can smell nervousness from a hundred feet away.

When I interview people, I can spot nervousness really easily and I actually take that into account when evaluating a candidate. I do agree that honesty is the best course - but nonetheless, it's hard to overlook it when a candidate can't do obvious/simple things even when nervous. *shrug* I'm going to cease worrying about it, I think. If it happens, it happens, and that's life. In all honesty, it would be their loss - I've given them plenty of code samples to know how I do when I'm in my element.

And, by the way, thanks =) It's been quite a while since anyone has called me a "kid" (I'm 35) =)

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I'm 38, kid. You are, however, born before the summer of 1977 (when Star Wars was theatrically released), hence you are not a fetus and deserve respect.

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LOL! I was 7 when Star Wars came out and I was inordinately proud of the fact that I was able to see it 23 times in the theater. I had bragging rights for years at school =)

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You're intelligent, you're experienced, and who cares who these people are because they WANT to meet YOU. Be confident in yourself and go show them why you should have that job.

Kevin

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