Jake Ross: “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”

star citizen

Jake Ross: “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”

Star Citizen:  crowdsourced in 2012 as a spiritual successor to Wing Commander, over 2 million backers, and over 220 million raised in crowdfunding.  5 studios worldwide with over 500 employees.

Last night, industry professional Jake Ross came to give back to the community and speak at TAGD.  As the senior producer at Cloud Imperium Games, Ross has six years of experience at varying levels of producer and has worked as a manager in almost every part of game development.

In particular, Ross is the “first line of defense” for hiring, and was able to give some particularly insightful tips for resume and website design (which will be soon applied to my own resume and website).

His responsibilities at Cloud Imperium include:

1) Facilitating communication between multiple studios around the world.
2) Drive game features and cross-departmental projects from start to completion utilizing Agile, Scrum, and Kanban methodologies
3) Acting as Scrum Master for multiple scrums in engineering, design, and animation disciplines
4) Acting as Live Release Manager for North America-based studios, ensuring the process of publishing builds to our live servers goes smoothly and chasing down issues should they arise
5) Working daily with other Producers, Product Owners, and team members to track and update tasks
6) Providing reports and status updates for feature development and releases
7) Helping set up long-term schedules and drive deliverables, setting up reviews as needed
8) Establishing new content pipelines to ensure smooth transitions and communication between departments.

After this brief introduction, Ross began the main talk:  “How do you get into the industry?”

star citizen piloting

1)  Your First Impression

Your resume is going to be the first thing anyone sees and it’s super important to nail that impression.  It’s your opportunity for someone to see what you can bring to the table.

Cater to ‘skimmers’ first, ‘studiers’ last.

Hiring managers are going to be looking for buzzwords, things that pop out, and anything interesting.  Your goal as an applicant is to catch eyes:  if you manage that, then those eyes will study to learn more.

Cater your resume to whom you are applying.

This is easier said than done, due to the fact that some specific qualities of open positions may not be directly listed on the application.  This is where research and networking can come in handy:  for example, if you know that the company uses a particular engine (even if they don’t list it), make sure that your resume reflects the experience you have there.

Put the most important things at the top of your resume.

While many people have an objective section, it’s not strictly required.  One idea might be to list extremely important skills or big numbers like “Over 30 projects shipped” or “7 years of experience in ______ role”.

That said, you should maintain chronological order for your work experience to keep things from getting confusing.  Hiring managers want to know what your most recent experience is so they know what you can hit the ground running with.

Don’t put something on your resume unless you’re comfortable using it immediately.

This is something that trips people up.  For example, you probably shouldn’t list C++ if you’ve only ever made a couple things with it for one class and don’t really know how to use it extensively.

Misc tips
  • Don’t keep internships / short term positions on your resume once you get into the industry.  People won’t care because it’s not very relevant to your career later on.
  • Use bullet points rather than walls of text.  Cater to skimmers.
  • Skill ranks are bad because everybody’s skills are different, and one person’s “expert” might be another person’s “novice”.
  • Digital resumes can be two pages, though three is pushing it, and four is probably a bad idea.  This is subject to the amount of experience you have.
  • Recruit others to review your resume and tell them to skim intentionally and see what stands out.
  • Color can be a good way to draw eyes to specific areas.

2)  Stand out!

One of the best ways to do this is to make a (great) website.  Your website should be tailored to your role — if you’re primarily looking for engineering positions, then make sure to include technical experience prominently.

The most important information on your website should be on the front page.

It’s important that hiring managers don’t have to click through arrows or dropdowns or other tabs to get to relevant experience.  You should immediately show off your big name heavy hitters.  Your website should also be mobile friendly.

Website examples:

Role:  Designer
Notes:  Short and to the point with ways to learn more.  Recent projects clearly displayed, along with Dorsey’s role on those projects.  The links take you to pages with more information.

Role:  Designer
Notes:  Home page also contains the most important work.  Buzz words with specific contributions appear when you hover over a project.  You can click to learn more despite the fact that Xu is under NDA for many things.  For personal projects, he explains mechanics in detail and provides explicit artifacts to demonstrate competency.

(Xu’s website might not function correctly in certain versions of Firefox.  If you experience difficulty, Google Chrome seems to work.)

Role:  Engineer
Notes:  Short and simple with relevant buzzwords.  If the hiring manager sees something they like, they can click for more.  Douglas goes into great detail about his contributions to the various aspects of the project.

Don’t just put links to projects on your website without saying what you’ve done in detail.

It’s also good form to put some kind of proof that you can do what you say you can — code examples.  (I have also heard that linking to github is a must for engineers).

Other ways to stand out:
  • Do projects outside of class or work
  • Diversify your skillset
  • Ship a project to Steam or another app store.
  • Network with industry professionals

3)  Knowledge is power

Learn as much as you can about the industry.

  • What are the trends?
  • Where is the industry headed?
  • Which companies are thriving?  Which are stagnant?
  • How does one make a game?

Take advantage of the resources at your disposal to learn as much as you can about the industry.  This is a small way to get a competitive edge.  Things like SXSW, PAX South, or Chillennium are ways to keep your ear to the ground and learn tips that will make you more familiar with the industry.

You get out what you put in.

4)  Be willing to adapt

Entry level jobs are hard to come by — there’s not many out there, and too many people are trying to fill them.  This doesn’t mean that getting into the game development industry is impossible, but it means you might have to take a flexible approach.

  • Don’t get pigeonholed into being a developer with only one skill.  The more diverse your skills, the more likely it is that you can find a way in.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, get a job adjacent to the one you want and go from there.  For example, you might not be able to jump directly into a designer role, so starting out as a code monkey might be the way to go.
  • It’s a lot easier to hire someone local than out of state.  This means you might need to move before you even get the job.
  • As a last resort, you might consider working in a completely different field and building up your portfolio in your spare time.  One way to do this is to go into a graduate program.

5)  Support each other

Once you get the job, keep an eye out for those still trying to break in.  Give back to the community.  Share your experience.  Give people a taste of what got you where you are.

star citizen soldiers

The advice in this article comes entirely from Jake Ross, who I would like to give a big thanks for coming out and speaking to the TAGD crew.  It’s extremely encouraging to have industry professionals talk about their experiences.

Until next time!



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