This was originally a presentation for students at Columbia College Chicago, but I wanted to share the information with the public. It includes general and specific advice for GDC-goers, especially for students and first time attendees. Whether you’re an experienced vet or a nervous new grad, read on for lessons that I learned last year to make your experience as smooth, fulfilling, and safe as possible.
What is the Game Developer’s Conference?
GDC is the primary development-focused networking event of the year. It’s been held for over 30 years, and attendees include hobbyists, students, professionals, veterans, software devs, recruiters, and so forth. This year, it’ll be February 27th to March 4th at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. For more basic info, check out their website here.
Make sure to bring…
- Some excellent walking shoes! You’re literally going to be walking several miles throughout the week, so put some extra money into some New Balance kicks so that you’re not aching by Wednesday. Bring lots of good socks, too.
- Cash for transportation. You’ll probably be using a weird combination of taxis, Lyft, the BART, and trolleys to get between events, so get comfortable with their public transportation. Also, bring cash for food! There will be food trucks at parties and excellent street food up at the Wharf.
- Your updated resume, website, business cards, and LinkedIn profile if you’re going to meet recruiters. I recommend spending a little extra for nicer business cards and ordering through MOO. Bring a tablet or laptop to easily show off your website and resume.
- A comfortable backpack. Avoid back pain as much as you can. Carry your phone/laptop charger and a rain jacket in case the weather takes a turn for the worse.
- Cough drops and painkillers. You'll be doing a lot of talking and walking, so bring some first aid basics to stay comfortable.
- A large water bottle. Getting dehydrated would be miserable, so refill it at the water fountains thorughout the conference hall.
- External phone batteries. Your phone *will* die at the worst possible time unless you bring some extra juice.
- Some damn deodorant. Don’t the guy that someone has to smell for an hour while listening to a talk or panel. Shower every day if you can.
- Get to San Francisco a day or two early if you haven’t seen the city before! Set aside time to see Fisherman’s Wharf, Muir Woods, the Bridge, Chinatown, and so forth. Ride an old trolley. Get some crab chowder. Eat the heck out of a Sushiritto.
- Get the GDC app and start saying hello to folks! You can download it for free and use it to reach out to and interact with fellow devs.
- Plan meetings with recruiters IN ADVANCE. Reach out to them on LinkedIn and ask if they’re attending. They’ll be booked as the conference approaches, so do this soon.
- Get comfortable with small talk. We’re all huge nerds and at least a little bit awkward. We’ll talk about this more in a moment.
- If you’re a student or recent grad, reach out to professionals in advance and offer to buy them coffee. Try to meet up with them, and when you do, ask a lot of questions! Folks love to help younger devs find success with some advice.
- Save up a little extra. You’ll probably be spending more on food and beer throughout the week than expected.
- Follow up with the people you meet every day. Be proactive, and don’t expect them to do the same. Each evening, no matter how tired I am, I reach out to the folks that I've met that day so I don't fall behind.
- Journal your experiences and the people you meet! Write in a notebook at the end of every day so that you can remember who to reach out to and your favorite parts of the week. Write down the bad stuff too so that you don't dwell on it. Put it on paper so that you can move on.
- If your hotel has complimentary coffee, jump on that. Caffeine will keep you on your feet, especially when you're out late at parties.
Don’t do this:
- Don’t procrastinate. Prep yourself for the conference ahead of time, not at last minute.
- Don’t stay too far in your comfort zone. Meet new people, don’t just be with your friends all week! You’re paying big bucks to go. Make the most of it.
- Don’t expect to have a job by the end of the week for a few reasons. First of all, a lot of people attend expecting this and end up disappointed. It just doesn’t happen that much. Also, focus more on building long-lasting relationships than pitching your skills in every conversation. This is way better for your professional life and way more fun!
- Don’t ever be the drunkest person at a party. Have a few drinks, but avoid hangovers at all costs. They’re a waste of expensive time.
- Don’t shove your business cards in people’s faces. This only has negative consequences, you just look like a jerk.
- Do not EVER talk shit about any game or any person. This is a really small world, and making conversation by insulting stuff is one of the most harmful things you can do to your reputation. Be positive!
- Don’t sleep in late or go to bed early. Be well rested, but it’s perfectly okay to hook up an IV with coffee drip into your arm. Spend as much time interacting with folks as possible.
- Don't stress over the talks that you can't go to. There are literally hundreds of amazing panels and talks, so you won't be able to see every single one that you want to. Just prioritize the best ones and don't dwell on the rest!
- Don’t go into the Tenderloin area alone. It’s a particularly unsafe part of the city with crime and drug problems that are very visible to anyone walking through it. (There's also the poop map...let's not talk about that.) Look it up on Google Maps so you know where it is, and always be aware of your location within the city.
If small talk freaks you the heck out:
- Remember that we’re all nerds and a little bit nervous. Take a deep breath if you ever feel really anxious, then go find some space in a park or some food to recharge when you need to.
- We all have stuff in common, so use that for chatting topics. We’re all into game development, in San Francisco, experiencing the same weather, and going to the same parties.
- Instead of offering to give your business card if you want to follow up with someone, ask for theirs first!
- Come up with a little template for yourself to start conversation! Ask for their name, what projects they’re working on, what role they are, and if they’ve been to GDC before. Stuff like that will organically lead to a conversation.
- Ask a lot of questions. People like talking about their own interests and experiences, so that’s an easy way to avoid nervous rambling.
- Don’t pitch yourself too hard. You’re going to have a lot more fun if you just approach conversations with the intent to make friends rather than find jobs.
- Be aware of your body language! It might not sound like much, but you’ll be really approachable if you uncross your arms, stand with good posture, relax, and smile.
- Always be kind, polite, curious, and generous. Connect people with each other and help folks try to reach their goals whenever you can.
Save some cash next year:
- Apply to scholarships! GDC actually keeps a list of them on their website.
- Apply to be a Conference Associate. They get free lunches, a free All Access pass, and pay for working the conference for about 25 hours throughout the week.
- Book hotels through GDC’s website. They have partnerships with hotels in San Francisco, and it’s all neatly organized on their site.
Feel free to comment with any suggestions or points that you'd like me to elaborate on!