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I got my first paid job as a game programmer (part-time). How to continue from here?

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My professional background has been in web development since I graduated with a multimedia art degree 8 years ago. I typically do LAMP stack work and JavaScript working on anything from SaaS applications to doing front-end work for e-Commerce websites. In my free time, though, I was working on non-web projects, including small games, as a hobby, using C# and C++. I've dabbled in that stuff as far as 10 years ago. I got very into graphics programming in particular. From a recent long job search, I was curious and started browsing remote job classifieds. I applied to a job listing from an indie company. My projects got their attention and I got a part-time contract job (it's also a remote job so no meetings in person).

Compared to most of my previous job hunt- many failed phone screens and interviews for web dev roles- this job came almost effortlessly as my projects were very effective in speaking for my potential on what I can do. It's quite the pivot from my previous jobs and I'm curious to take it further. How should I take advantage of this as a stepping stone if I want to push further ahead into game programming? And how possible is it to work a second part-time programming job that can complement my current one? I'm a month into my current contract and expected to last at least two more months. When it ends, I will also be open to working on-site, for either AAA studios or indie.

Edited by JustChris

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18 minutes ago, JustChris said:

How should I take advantage of this as a stepping stone if I want to push further ahead into game programming?

Do very good work. Become known to the other team members as a solid contributor and collaborator.

18 minutes ago, JustChris said:

And how possible is it to work a second part-time programming job that can complement my current one?

Certainly possible to do. Difficult to balance successfully. 

 

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1 hour ago, Tom Sloper said:

Do very good work. Become known to the other team members as a solid contributor and collaborator.

Will do. I've been doing some good contributions so far. I came late into the game dev process so it's more of "polish" and optimization work at the moment but may work on adding to general game features at some point. The lead programmer also has some good credentials outside of game dev so I'm hoping he could recommend or refer me to other jobs.

Also as far as balance with another job, yeah, that's a good point especially if you're trying to manage time with another remote job. Part-time programmer jobs are already far and few, and guess it's not gonna be easy to find a complement, unless I take a small freelance gig, perhaps.

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congrats - my advice would be to not take it for granted. Treat this job as if you were at an AAA studio and do the best work you can. In music they say "even if it is a small show play the best show you can you never know who is in the audience - could be a producer who really likes you" - I am sure the same idea applies here.

what kind of projects did you do?

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Miss your deadlines, do terrible work, and avoid making contacts.

If this immediately struck you as bad advice, congratulations: You already know the bulk of what you need to move on from here.  Treat it seriously, produce good work, use the time to fill any gaps in your knowledge you can, and most importantly try to make contacts.
Contacts are the most useful thing in the universe, in any field.  You may not meet anyone outside of the team since you will just be staying home, but if you impress them enough they may be willing to give you a recommendation or referral later, or hire you back for the next project.

Don’t be in a rush to join a AAA studio just because, “It’s the rad new thing dude.”  Inexperienced programmers are easy to fire and there are already 20 people waiting to be promoted ahead of you.  Why does it have to be either AAA or indie anyway?  What happened to just joining a small studio where you get the benefits of both?


L. Spiro

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Thanks for the additional advice, everyone. My contract officially ended this week so now it's on to do the job hunt full-time. I have filled a specific role for the game development work that most other people didn't cover, and there were no real complaints about my work ethic or productivity. Everyone was working remotely but we had a good idea of what we were supposed to do.

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what kind of projects did you do?

I worked on the company's first and only game, and came in relatively late in the process, (game was roughly 4 years in development) so mostly a lot of "polish" and code refactoring. Making things run just more smoothly while otherwise avoiding to break any existing features. A specific example is making mesh regeneration of the landscape much more efficient because it was one of the most CPU bound tasks. Occasionally I would make improvements to the UI logic, based on user feedback and testing.

More recently I have mentioned opportunities to my former boss to work with him in the future in other things, or to use him as a job reference, but he's been more quiet and reserved about that. I'm not sure if he even saw my invitation to connect on LinkedIn and just ignored it. Going to follow-up with him though, after getting the official written notice for my contract termination.

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Inexperienced programmers are easy to fire and there are already 20 people waiting to be promoted ahead of you.  Why does it have to be either AAA or indie anyway?  What happened to just joining a small studio where you get the benefits of both?

I am not familiar with the distinction between indie and "small studio"... from my POV, all small studios that don't have financial backing by a publisher are indie. I'm also pretty selective when it comes to AAA, there's only a handful of larger companies I'd be interested in applying to, so I'm not carpet-spamming my resume to a bunch of places.

However, I do know how it is first-hand what it's like working in relatively unstable jobs without a lot of experience, in places with high turnover (and the financial hardships that come with it). Whether it was in a early-stage startup, mom & pop business or website agency. In fact, I never worked for a company that many would consider stable or "enterprisey".

I live in Chicago and its gaming industry is smaller compared to major hubs. So I'm just looking at directories to see what I have missed. But if I can't find a local place hiring relative newcomers, I am also open to relocation.

Edited by JustChris

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6 hours ago, JustChris said:

from my POV, all small studios that don't have financial backing by a publisher are indie

There are plenty of small studios which are financially backed by a publisher, but work on smaller titles, or titles for less traditional platforms.

The phrase 'AAA' typically only encompasses extremely high-budget console and PC titles (i.e. something like Mass Effect 3, not something like Plants vs Zombies on mobile, despite both being funded by EA).

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