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  • Choosing a School

    - Jeff Ward

  •  Rule 6: Keep your eventual goals in mind.

    If all you ever want to be is a programmer, then feel free to go to a school that is specifically centered on programming and only programming. If you want to do other things, make sure you get an education in those things. If you want to run your own company, you'd better make sure you take a few business classes. If you want to be a game designer, think about taking classes in creative writing, religion, media, or anything else you might find interesting.

    Also, be sure to listen to the developers that inspire you or that you would one day like to work for. Many developers have spoken on this issue in the past, and their opinions are sure to offer insight into which school you should choose. Remember, though, that the decision is ultimately yours. Any advice from others should be coupled with your own experience and options in order to find the best school to match your learning style and career goals.

    Finally, onto my favorite rules.

    Rule 7: No matter where you go, learn all you can.

    This does not mean pay attention in class (let's face it, some classes are much more boring than others), it means be alert to what's going on in the industry and educate yourself on all of it. When it comes time to network and look for a job, your potential employers will be impressed that you went the extra mile to be educated on things outside the classroom setting.

    With all of this said, however, remember that college is also a time to have fun, so while doing all this hard work, remember to expand yourself socially and learn new things, whether you take classes or not. You never know when knowing how to swing dance, juggle, play jazz guitar, talk gourmet wine, or just talk up a crowd will get you the all important contact into the industry, or just a new friend. This brings me to the last, yet most important rule.

    Rule 8: No matter where you go, have lots of fun.

    You really are only going to be in college once (maybe twice), and there's really nothing else like it. It would be a real shame (for you, and the industry) for you to miss out on all of your potential, just because you were spending too much time doing all of your work.

    Lastly, I have just a few final thoughts that I think are important. They are most easily summed up in Rule Zero, which is the overarching theme of this whole article.

    Fun is subjective.

    Rule Zero: Being happy at your school is paramount. If you are happy, everything else can fall into place through hard work and planning.

    And, remember, you're more likely to want and be able to put in that hard work and planning if you're happy. As I said in the summary of Rule 1, you shouldn't let anyone else make this decision for you, because they will likely choose the school that's right for them, not you. That said, don't be afraid to ask people's opinions on various schools, just realize that people's learning styles are different, and some people may not like a school you'd be very happy at.

    Now, hopefully, armed with this knowledge you will be able to select the school that will be best for you: one that will challenge you intellectually and socially. So what are you waiting for? Get out there, get to school, and change the industry. We're waiting for you.


    Jeff Ward is a 2004 alumni of James Madison University's schools of Computer Science and Media Arts and Design. He is currently employed as an Associate Programmer at Bethesda Game Studios, and is credited for his work on The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion.


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