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Job Shadowing in Game Development

A mismatch in expectations between job shadows and the company hosting them can mean a bad experience for everyone. We've tried to share some general advice for future job shadow requests to ease the process.

Megan Hughes, Blogger

November 10, 2015

4 Min Read
Originally posted to the RetroEpic blog. Written by Eduard Beaukes - edited and reposted by Megan Hughes with permission.

It’s been quite a busy year here at the RetroEpic headquarters. We’ve managed to re-release A Day in the Woods to both iTunes and Android, found a devious laugh for our Ginjah cat and won a few hearts and minds in Afghanistan in the process.

In between all of this, we’ve managed to squeeze in a few days here and there to support the enthusiastic young’ins who wanted to find out what it was like to actually work at a game development company. All in all, in 2015, we took on about 8 job shadows out of 10 requests. Some were good. Some were bad. And, for the most part, the whole process seemed a bit awkward and uncomfortable.

This seemed to stem specifically from mismatched expectations. While we – at RetroEpic – are very passionate about building the industry for young game developers and sharing skills and knowledge, we still are a functional company with commitments to clients and deadlines to meet. We’re happy to spend time discussing our work with someone who is interested in what we do, but we cannot devote hours to actually walking job shadows through whole days of our work. At the same time, while we make games and may play games as part of our research, we’re certainly not going to stop our work to play Left 4 Dead 2 with a job shadow at lunch time*.

With all this in mind, I thought I would put together some advice to future job shadowers:

  • Shadows are meant to be quiet. Try and keep a list of your questions and ask them all at once at the end of a period of work so that you are not regularly interrupting the flow of the person you are shadowing.

  • Organise your own job shadow experience. Email the company or phone the company to request the shadowing position yourself. This should be part of your experience of learning to apply to work for a game development company.

  • Be respectful at all times. The people employed at the company you have arrived at have all earned their way there. They are skilled, smart and generally awesome people who are giving up some of their time to help you. This is a great privilege.

  • Do some research. Look for companies that do the types of things you are interested in doing. In terms of game development, find a company that makes the kind of games you’re interested in making, not just ANY game development company.

  • Just because you like playing games does not mean you want to make games. Figure out if you actually want to make games before applying to shadow at a game development studio. The easiest way to find out it to try and make a game (boardgame or digital). Most game developers will also tell you that they have less time to play games because they spend all their time making them.

  • Have and know what your own goals are for the period in which you are shadowing. If it’s for a school assignment, some of this might be given to you, but you can also go beyond that. You can ask people – when they have a free moment to chat – how they got the job they have, what they studied, what they have found useful doing, how they networked or met with each other, for example.

  • Make a good impression. Remember, finding a great job is half about what you know and half about who you know. If you can provide value to the company – in any way – while you shadow, you’ll be remembered positively when it comes to applying for jobs. You can also keep in touch (even a nice thank you follow up email does wonders) and find out if there are other jobs in future they might recommend you for.

We’ll definitely be taking on more job shadows in 2016, but we will be looking more closely at the applications for next year. If you are interested in shadowing at RetroEpic, do get in touch. And remember that requests that are accompanied with cup cakes do take higher priority.

*True story: One job shadow asked that we stop working in the middle of the day to play games because he would be leaving at 3pm. Another actually requested to join our Friday afternoon – after work – L4D2 session. Megan politely explained that he wouldn’t be gaining any “job” experience joining us in our off-work play time and then advised his mother to fetch him. Lesson to be learnt: Do not mess with Megan’s L4D2 team plans.

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