A Student's Guide to Talking to People at GDC

A short list of tips for talking to other GDC-goers as a student.

You’ve got your pass, a place to stay, travel arrangements, and you’re psyched for your first Game Developers Conference! It’s going to be an amazing experience, and you’d like to be as prepared as possible. Here’s a list of tips for talking to other GDC-goers, the greatest resource GDC has to offer.

1. Practice starting face-to-face conversations before you get to GDC.

Begin with people you know well, and then move on to casual friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Talk to people in class, on the bus, in line at a store, or anywhere else. Talk about the weather, sports, classwork, or something you think they might be interested in. Talk to anyone and everyone. It will probably be weird, and it will probably be difficult, but talking to people in person is the only way to make it better. Once you get to GDC, you’ll thank yourself for the practice you put in beforehand.

2. Nobody cares if you’re awkward or uncomfortable.

This isn’t to say that people at GDC aren’t empathetic, but consider this: each person you speak with will talk to hundreds of other people over the course of the conference. This means that your chances of being remembered for your awkwardness are slim; people simply don’t have the brain space to hold onto any but the most outstanding of interactions. Chances are pretty good that your awkwardness didn’t even register with them, because of the sheer number of conversations they’ve had over the past few days. Even if you do make one negative impression, you’ll have endless opportunities during the upcoming days to make up for it. Try your best to move on and forget about it.

3. Not every conversation needs to be about getting a job.

Especially as you near the end of your schooling, the pressure to find a job can be overwhelming. However, leading off a conversation with any variant of “Does your company have jobs or internships open?” usually comes off as desperate and sparks disinterest in the person asked. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t always be on the lookout for a great opportunity, but avoid acting like it, particularly when you’ve just met someone. Instead, try to learn something from every person you talk to, because everyone knows something that you don’t. This leads into the next tip.

4. Talking means listening, too.

Don’t get so caught up in talking to people that you forget to listen to what they have to say. They likely have more experience than you and can teach you things about the industry that you might not learn anywhere else. Even if they’re just as inexperienced as you, they probably know something interesting and useful that you don’t; ask questions to try to find out what it is and see if you can get them to tell you about it.

5. Talking to industry veterans can be extremely valuable and rewarding.

They’ve been working in games for a while, so they know a lot about the process and many of its components. Asking questions of veterans is a great way to learn a ton about the industry. Added bonus: veterans of industry generally like talking about games, so you’ll likely make them comfortable and happy by asking them questions about anything relating to their field.

6. But talking to other students is a great idea too.

They may not have as much experience in the industry, but they’re knowledgeable about a whole range of other topics, from which booths to check out to where to go for lunch. Plus, students are future developers, designers, artists, producers, and hiring managers. Making connections with them now gives you a great opportunity to have friends in the industry, people who know you and might recommend you when companies are looking for new talent.

The moral: talk a lot, listen even more, get lots of practice, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Not every conversation needs to lead to a job offer—in fact, most of them won’t—but if you ask a lot of questions, you can learn some interesting and amazing things about our field and the people that work in it. And who knows? Maybe you’ll make a connection with someone at your dream company. Good luck and have fun!

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