“[The Company] had confused qualifications with competency. Perhaps America has done something similar?” – Mike Rowe
The above quote comes from the popular TV host in response to a question a follower of his posted on Facebook recently. You can read the context of it all for yourself HERE, but it is a general perspective on hiring practices that I think deserves pondering in the gaming industry.
Last week, I wrote a piece entitled “Death of the Game Designer” in which I shared personal insight and opinions about the struggles of making a career in gaming. The response I received was overwhelming and encouraging. I heard from people stateside, in South America, the UK, and even across the pond in Japan. A common cry I heard back from all who messaged me was “these conversations NEED to continue.” There were many topics I only lightly touched upon in that piece and one of them had to do with exactly what Mike Rowe is talking about: the merits of being qualified vs. being competent.
Proof in the Paper?
Does a college degree or some kind of certification mean you’re ready for the job? Did you attend Full Sail, DigiPen, The Guildhall at SMU, or The Art Institute? Should that qualify you? You paid big bucks after all….it SHOULD, shouldn’t it!?!
As the industry grows and increasing numbers of educational institutions add gaming programs to their curriculum, I’d venture to guess that more and more prospective employers will be seeking these kinds of credentials from 1st time hires. I’ll quote reader Rey Samonte here in regards to common, current HR hiring practices….a sentiment I share:
“…in the end, it seems as if [HR] only wants to hire someone who can check off all of the bullet points in the job description.”
I’ve never attended any of these schools and thus cannot speak to their level of quality, but I’ve met and worked with many who have. The results are a mixed bag: some were really good at their jobs, some not so much. The difference seemingly had less to do with what school they chose or how much debt they racked up and MORE to do with personal competence.
The Business of School
Some 15 years ago, I took an unforgettable visit to Full Sail University. I was intrigued. This was a school that catered to what I wanted to do. Sure the sticker price was high, but games?!? I mean…..GAMES!!!! An hour into the visit I was nearly sold on the place…….until the very end. Prospective students were led into an auditorium. Lights were dropped, fog rolled in, and laser beams began to flash. A woman wearing a head set appeared onstage and started to sell to us THE DREAM the way in a way that would have made Billy Mays proud. I was young and dumb....but at that very moment realized:
SCHOOLS ARE A BUSINESS……and you’re part of the business plan.
Now? I’m AMAZED some people are still shocked to learn this. NO, NO….it’s TRUE (sarcasm)! Preparing you for the world is NOT their primary goal. Cranking you through their systems ASAP and collecting your cash is.
Now don’t get all upset! YOU CAN STILL PROFIT FROM THIS! Just type “APOL” in a stock ticker and press the “Trade” button…..the likes of The University of Phoenix can be yours to own!
I'm not trying to suggest you CAN'T learn valuable skills at these places. Surely you can (if - and this is always the rub - YOU are willing to put in the effort). I'm mainly suggesting their advertised motives are completely disingenuous.
Alternative Methods of Learning
It’s completely reasonable for an employer to expect you to know certain skills to perform a job. After all, they pay you.....they SHOULD expect quality output in return. That’s entirely fair.
However, I think society in general, and the gaming industry in PARTICULAR, needs to accept and recognize that knowledge relevant to a job CAN be gained outside the parameters of traditional schooling. There was a time in our not-so-recent history where going off to school was THE way to gain an education. Times have changed. There’s this thing now called the “Internet”…..it’s basically a repository of all the knowledge mankind has obtained since the dawn of time….you CAN learn from it. You can CONTINUE to learn from it.
Personally, I've learned a TON about game development by simply going onto YouTube and doing a search for “Unreal Engine Tutorials.” (Zak Parrish does an EXCELLENT job teaching Unreal). Anyone can do the same. You can learn how to use Unity, Photoshop, code in C++, whatever you like…..all by just searching for it and committing the time to learn it. I think this is one of the absolute BEST ways to learn (if self disciplined enough) because you can learn WHAT you want at a pace that works for you. These lessons are valuable. They are added knowledge in a developer's toolbox.
I’ll grant you that such an approach to learning MAY not be the best for the doctors and dentists of the world…..but for game development? Why can’t this be considered equal to (if not BETTER than) a 6 figure “certificate of compentency”? Such an approach shows discipline and a willingness to learn. Employers who do not recognize the importance of those qualities are doing themselves a disservice.
Why Personal Competencies Matter
Simply put, personal competencies show the potential and capacity for growth. Would you buy an apple tree that never grew or beared fruit? Well the tag on the plant CERTIFIES that it's an apple tree, right? It must be worth it. Screw what the label says....that tree is worth squat unless it can grow. These days, anyone can gain “qualifications” simply by paying enough. Not everyone is competent.
In game development, we’ve all known highly paid employees who have been badly outperformaned by guys making half as much. One was certainly more “qualified” than the other, but a simple certificate cannot, to borrow a phrase from sports, measure a man’s heart. There are those with qualifications and credentials running a mile long who have grown too comfortable with where they are at. I’d rather work with the guy willing to get dirty -- the guy willing to grab a shovel, jump down into the trenches, and start digging.
There's always a need for people who "get shit done" at gaming companies. Somehow, I doubt that putting "gets shit done" on a resume ever took anyone very far. Too bad.
The industry is comprised of some of the smartest people in the general populace. They can surely LEARN whatever skill is needed to do the job (often quickly). Is there patience in this "gun for hire" environment to foster that? Work ethic, drive, being dependable and responsible……these are qualities that are undervalued today.
Mike Rowe was never qualified for his first on-air job selling late night products on QVC, but he is living proof that a person who combines competency and work ethic can go on to achieve great things.
May this copycat industry strive to be original once again.