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Ask the Experts: How Will I Know?

A high school junior who hopes to work in the game industry is worried about not having learned to program yet. Ask the Experts columnist Jill Duffy, of sister
In the latest Ask the Experts column on GameCareerGuide, columnist and site editor Jill Duffy replies to a letter in which a high school junior worries that he should have started learning game development sooner. At 16 years old and with no knowledge of programming, surely his situation is dire (right?). Duffy’s answer, which Gamasutra has republished below, is not so much about his not-so-desperate circumstances as it is about getting the reader to understand that there’s more he does not yet know than just C++. For more introductory information about careers in the video game development industry, see GameCareerGuide’s Getting Started section. Dear Experts, I am a 16 year-old junior looking to the future. In the minimal amount of research I've done about working as a game developer, I've read about how people "started young" and coded things for fun when they were younger. But I have never messed with code and don't even know how it works. I see the perks to having a job in the video game industry (paid to do what you love, relaxed atmosphere, etc.), but I don't want to waste time contemplating and pursuing such a career if it wouldn't be a viable option in the future. I can imagine you can tell me it is possible no matter what if you work hard and have passion for it and all that, but all my interest thus far stems from playing and thinking about video games. I have no invested experience in what a career would entail. Any information, suggestions -- frankly anything at all would be appreciated. The Uninformed Teen Dear Uninformed Teen, How could you see the perk in being "paid to do what you love" if you don't yet know what it is you will be doing? If you have a love of playing video games and thinking about video games, that does not necessarily mean you will love a job building entertainment software. Let's say a person loves driving her car, showing off it off, keeping it clean and in good shape. That doesn't mean she wants to become an auto mechanic or an assembly worker in Detroit. I love traveling, but that doesn't mean I want to become a flight attendant. The first thing you have to understand is that your love of playing video games, talking about them, even analyzing them intellectually, does not necessarily translate into a love of building them. How would you know if you love building video games? More on that in a moment. Second, programming is not the only job in the game industry. There are some non-development jobs that require no programming knowledge or experience whatsoever: marketing, public relations, human resources, business development, and sales, for example. There are even some development jobs that require some, but often very little, programming knowledge, like being a producer or a quality assurance tester (some kinds of producers and some kinds of testers require more programming knowledge than others). Third, you really can learn programming in college if you have no prior experience. What it requires from students your age is decent grades in math and science. That's it. Even if you don't have good grades now, you can probably retake some of those basic calculus classes in your first year at university. Let's return to this question: "How will I know I will enjoy making games if I've never made them before?" [If you missed it, the title to this article, "How Will I Know? (Don't Trust Your Feelings)" is a reference to a Whitney Houston song. And now it will be stuck in your head all day.] In all practicality, you won't really and truly know if you enjoy making games until you make them. But there is a way to get a better sense of it. One of the first things you should be doing, Uninformed Teen, is reading up on the different roles within the game industry. On this site, in the GameCareerGuide’s Getting Started section, we have elementary information about what it means to be a game designer, programmer, artist or animator, and producer. Many people in the game industry who hold similar job titles have similar personality characteristics, which is why in each of those articles, we've answered this question: "What types of people or personality traits make good game designers/programmers/ artists/producers?" As you read those sections, see if any of those personality profiles feel like they ring true for you. Also, each of the articles has a list of further reading at the end, so when one of these job titles or personality profiles strikes you, be sure to read a little more deeply about the job. Additionally, be sure to read the part that answers, "What does a game designer/programmer/artist/producer need to know?" You'll notice not everyone needs to be a programming experts. For producers, for example: "It also helps ... to know a little bit about programming, or at least not be afraid to learn it." Finally, there is a list of Frequently Asked Questions of high school students alongside plenty of answers, so be sure to read that, too. As long as you know what you are looking for from the game industry, which job title you want and what kinds of things you'd like to do, you can easily prepare yourself for that career by studying the right courses in college, including learning programming from the bottom up. If you haven't settled on a college yet, see our Digital Counselor or the school directory for a lengthy list of schools (scroll down past all the "featured" schools to sort by location) that know a thing or two about preparing students for jobs in the game industry. And you can always ask more questions on the forum as well. We have a strong community here of people who have been in your situation not that long ago who are willing to give their advice, too. Best of luck to you this semester! Jill Duffy is editor-in-chief of GameCareerGuide and senior contributing editor of Game Developer magazine. If you have a question you'd like to her to answer ("I'm asking you what you know about these things!") in this biweekly column, send it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for clarity and space.

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