In 2008 I attended GDC as a student looking for a job; in 2009 I attended as an industry professional looking to network and learn. As a professional I was approached by a lot of students asking questions (partly because I was speaking at the Game Career Seminar) about networking and just being prepared for the conference. So I decided to compile a list of things that students should know when attending GDC. This list works for both those seeking jobs and those just attending to network.
1. Business Cards and Resumes
No matter if you are attending to just network or attending hoping to find a job these are the two must crucial things you must have ready. Business cards are crucial because they are one of your main tools for networking, so be sure to have plenty of cards to hand out and make sure they fit your personality.
Make sure your resume is up to date and proof read, and make sure you have plenty of printed copies to hand out. But remember to not go around handing out your resume to anyone and everyone, only hand out your resume if someone asks for it or you are in the career pavilion; otherwise just give them a business card with your website on it (you have a website, right?)
2. Wear comfortable but nice clothing
One thing that I made a mistake with my first year is the way I dressed; I wore nice, but not comfortable, clothing. Jeans and T-shirt, as long as the jeans are not trashy and the shirt is not offensive or dirty, are fine if you are attending sessions or just walking around, but if you are walking around the career pavilion handing out resumes I would wear a polo and nicer jeans or khakis. But most importantly make sure you clothes are clean and you are not just wearing the same shirt every day.
Shoes are extremely important because you will be on your feet for most of the day. Once again wear something comfortable, tennis shoes are fine, but not trashy (dirty ratty tennis shoes). Also look into buying insoles for your shoes to help support your back.
3. Mind your health
In the week leading up to GDC make sure that you get plenty of sleep to prepare yourself for the week. At the conference keep yourself healthy it can be a long week, make sure you are getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water (not soda or energy drinks) and eating at least two meals a day. You do not want to be burned out by Saturday morning. I also recommend carrying granola bars for a quick pick me up between meals.
4. Prepare an introduction
This is something that can help you when meeting people or when handing out your resumes in the all important career pavilion. Know what you are going to say. Here is one I used when handing out my resume my first year.
"Hi, I'm Grant Shonkwiler. I'm an Audio Programmer with an interest in engine and gameplay programming. I will be graduating from Full Sail University in June and am currently working on a game called Smashout."
Now this is a very formal version, and not all necessarily true (I fancied myself an Audio programmer till I met one), I would usually tailor it to fit the company and the vibe I was getting from them, if you are getting a good vibe add some humor; it will make you stand out.
5. Network/Meet people
Networking is one of the main reasons people attend this great event we call GDC. The good thing is that means industry professionals and students alike are trying to meet new people, so almost everyone is willing to talk.
There are lots of opportunities to meet people at the conference and at night so take advantage of them. Some of the best times I found are: before and after sessions, waiting in lines, meals, at booths, parties, and even on flights to and from the conference. And remember always ask for a business card and follow up after the conference.
6. Eat Lunch
Lunch is not only extremely important for your health during the conference but is probably one of the best times to meet new people. Now here are two of the best times to network, the two "L's" I call them, Lines and Lunch, because everyone is willing to talk to pass the time.
While waiting in line strike up a conversation with the person next to you ask them how their day is going. Complain about the line -- anything to get the conversation going. After you have your lunch just pick any table where it looks like you can strike up or join a conversation and ask if you can sit there, it is that simple.
7. Don't attend heavy sessions
Now one huge mistake I made my first year is attending extremely heavy technical sessions, now I am a technical person and really enjoyed some of these sessions and did learn but most of them were over my head. Keep in mind these are veteran professionals speaking to their peers. If there is a technical session you really want to see think about watching it online after the conference so you can study and take notes while watching.
8. Go to the parties
Now as a student some parties will not be open to you, unless you can sneak in or get an invite (try asking the people you meet where they are going). There are several though that are open to everyone such as the IGDA party. The IGDA party is open to all IGDA members. These are great places to meet new people.
Some tips for the parties, do not get drunk this is your time to meet people who are more relaxed don't spoil your first impression. Don't be shy. Everyone is there to have a good time and relax just strike up a conversation with someone and get the night rolling. Act like you belong even if you know you are under the "pay grade" of everyone else in the room, this doesn't mean be fake and lie about yourself, just carry yourself like you belong and be yourself.
9. Spend time in the career pavilion
If you are looking for a job I would recommend spending at least half a day here and maybe a whole day. While it may not seem like the biggest part of the conference if you do it correctly it can take a long time to get through. If you know that there is going to be a company you want to apply to at the conference make sure you research that company and know what they are currently working on.
Be prepared before you start handing out resumes know your craft and know your resume, know what you have on there and be prepared to back it up. Preparation also goes back to having your introduction prepared. One comforting fact that you can have while approaching booths is "They are hiring and they want to like you." that is why they have a booth in the first place, to hire new people.
While I was writing this I asked Rob Coble, my Career Advisor from Full Sail, what advice he would give students trying to find jobs at GDC. One of the key things he said was, "Be yourself and find something to make you standout."
Remember it isn't always about what you know but if the people like you. Rob said something that really stuck out to me and I agree is very true; "If you build the relationships the jobs will take care of themselves." I can tell you from interviewing people myself this is huge, if I do not really like you and feel like you are someone I could not work with during crunch times; it is going to be very hard for you to work your way out of that and land the job.
10. Make a schedule
This is another mistake I made my first year I did not really plan out my days. You want to make a schedule that is full but at the same time is open ended and able to be adjusted in case something important pops up, like talking to the head of your favorite studio, or the sessions change times. You are able to plan out your days ahead of time now using the GDC website; I would avoid any of the heavy technical sessions, as explained above, and any big name sessions because these will fill up quickly.
Here is a quick example of what my schedule would look like if I were attending as a student this year.
- Attend sessions in the morning.
- Walk around the expo floor.
- Attend sessions.
- Thursday evening attend the Game Developers Choice Awards.
- Attend parties.
- Attend sessions in the morning
- Career pavilion
- Attend parties.
- Game Career Seminar (Shameless plug)
- Career pavilion
Hopefully you can put some of these things to use and make your GDC that much more successful. Have a great GDC and see you there.
Also make sure to read Darius Kazemi's Networking blog