Hi everyone! I'm graduating in May 2014 from The Guildhall at SMU, and as such this year's GDC was my job fair, carefully scouting the Career Center, talking to as many people as possible and applying to a ton of jobs (so far, I've applied to 20+ companies, and I'm just getting started). It was a fantastic experience, yet I noticed that there were some students who were not quite ready, either by a lacklustre portfolio or because they had a good portfolio but couldn't access it at the Career Center.
That, for lack of a better word, SUCKS. You want to be prepared for March 2-6, 2015, with content you are really proud of and with a kickass portfolio. You need to be prepared for GDC 2015. It may seem like a daunting task, but here's the good news: you can start preparing TODAY. Below are some tips that, in my opinion, may help you prepare for the largest gathering of developers in the world.
This post is especially aimed at game development students, though I think it may also help people who do not have an online portfolio or want to break into the industry and are not part of any game program.
Scar said it best. FACT.
1. Decide Your Specialty and Stick to It: Unless you want to be a jack-of-all-trades at an indie developer (and that's a valid career path, mind you), chances are you'll need to choose a specialty, since that's what companies, especially the ones at the Career Center, are looking for: specialists.
This means making some tough decisions: like animation and environment art? I'm sorry, you'll have to pick one. Sure, you can still do the other, but your choice has to be at the forefront of your portfolio. Same thing goes to designers and programmers: if you like AI and tools programming, only display one in your portfolio (and the other in a page like "Other Projects").
I had to do the same choice, as well: I like both narrative design and scripting. But since I come from a more technical background and really enjoy scripting, I focused my portfolio on the scripting, which is why all I talk about on my site (http://www.joseabalos.com/) are the scripting challenges I faced while doing several projects.
This is the first and most important step, since this choice will guide the rest of the actions you'll do in the following year.
Like this, but for real
2. Build Awesome Content: This is the most time consuming part of the process, and what you should focus during this year. My best advice would be to take every school project as a portfolio building opportunity. The effects of this perspective are twofold: first, it focuses the project's efforts towards your especialty, and second, it gives you a motivation for pushing your boundaries and set your standards for not an A-grade in the class, but rather industry quality. And don't panic!
All the time
However, there is still one distinct issue: distinguishing yourself from your peers. You can have an incredibly polished level, but if it doesn't have any distinguishing qualities, it'll just be another Crysis level, or just another Skyrim level... You need to add the "secret sauce".