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  • The GDC Survival Guide

    [02.05.08]
    - James Portnow

  •  What to do When You're There
    No lectures. I'm going to get flamed to high heaven for saying this, but my number one piece of advice for people who are not yet employed in the industry is this: Don't go to the talks.

    The talks are fantastic. They're of the highest caliber. They're well thought out, clear, thorough -- but they involve you meeting no one.

    When you're in the industry, the talks are an incredible resource that I encourage you to drink up, but right now they won't do you any good.

    The good news is that the low-cost passes don't give you access to the session anyway.

    Career Pavilion. During the day spend most of your time at the Career Pavilion. It should take you at least a day and a half to exhaust all the exhibitors there.

    Most of the people you'll meet at the Career Pavilion are being paid to stand in a booth and collect resumes. Over the course of GDC, they collect thousands of resumes. After GDC, they have to read those resumes and see if they have even one that they want to follow up on. How do you make your resume that one?

    First, make sure you know what sets you apart. If you don't know why a company should hire you, then the company certainly won't know either. When trying to figure out what sets you apart, be honest with yourself (this is the hardest part) and ask yourself, "Are you really that good of a coder?" "Are you honestly better than the thousands of other designers that they'll get resumes from that day?"

    Almost universally, yours won't be the best resume in every aspect of your discipline. This is okay. No one else's will be either, but figure out what you can offer that others can't.

    How to Act
    Be polite! Most people have worked incredibly hard to get into the industry. They appreciate your struggle and are interested in helping you, so, in turn, please give them the respect they deserve.

    Remember, anyone giving you the time of day is making a sacrifice. They could be talking with ex-colleagues or chatting with friends they haven't seen in years. For that matter, they could be meeting people who would help them advance their own career. But instead, they're talking to you. Why? Because we all honestly want to help, and we all want to see new talent enter the industry. Please, make it easy for people to help you.

    Let people go. If it looks like the person you're talking to is trying to exit the conversation, don't make one more point. Politely let them go. Make it as easy as possible for people to bow out of conversations. Get their contact info early in the conversation or let the exchanging of cards be an easy exit for them. Everyone is busy at GDC.

    Talk less than they do. Speak less than the people you are talking to. It's almost always a good plan. To be honest, they have more to say and you should want to hear it. You should already know the few sentences you need to work into a basic conversation:

    "Hi! My name is James."
    "I'm a student studying this subject at this university."
    "I'm awesome because..."

    Anything past that is gravy.

    They don't want your advice. I mentioned it above, but it's rarely a good plan to tell people how to do things. Most people know what's wrong with their games and are already frustrated that powers outside their control don't let them fix them.

    On the other hand, if someone asks you point blank what you think of a game, go nuts. It's probably an informal interview, so use some amount of insight and exercise a bit of control. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.

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