Today I Learned: Connections Can Come From Anywhere

So GDC 2014 starts this Monday and as much as I want to go, I only went last year to shoot for an awesome internship. The people, the booths, the information were all great but its hard to justify the cost to get down there right now especially now that I do have an awesome internship at Ubisoft.

But something hilarious happened today in relation to GDC and, to some it might not be a big deal, but to me its just… WOW the coincidence. And its just so inspiring and now if I truly had the money, I’d jump right back on the plane to GDC again.

While at GDC I met a lot of awesome people. I had lunch with Jason Wishnov, the founder of Irridium Studios and creator of Sequence & There Came An Echo. I spent hours talking to League of Legends developers and designers from Riot Games. I got a shot at an interview with Insomniac Games. And, I talked with Naughty Dog’s lead programmer Christian Gyrling which was the single most awesome thing ever. It was like being next to one of the ‘chosen’ ones, the true and tried champions of game programming. Completely awestruck, but something really cool happened I learned from a result of that conversation.

So rewind to Comic Con 2012 in New York. I went to a Dark Horse Comics signing because I heard a Naughty Dog was going to be there. I had been starving for internships and a chance to jump into the industry. When I got there, I asked the man naively “So what do you do for Naughty Dog?” The relatively tall man with 3 o’clock shadow responds,”I am a creative director.” Woah, I thought. Perfect opportunity to ask. Naughty Dog didn’t do internships, but I wanted to push anyway. So I asked him about the possibility of getting into the industry and how someone like me could maybe find their way into Naughty Dog. He told me that funny enough, he started as kind-of an intern. He said if you can prove yourself to be an exception, companies will take you on.

With that little nugget of advice, I scampered away thinking wow – that was incredible. Again, awestruck. But little did I know, that was THE Neil Druckmann which I discovered when I went home. For some reason I didn’t recognize the same and even with his signature and meeting him face to face it didn’t click in the moment. I hope I didn’t come off as misinformed when I asked him what he did and then proceeded to tell him how much I loved Naughty Dog. Because who wouldn’t know this guy if you were really passionate about the company? I just didn’t catch it for some reason. But I digress!

After that I was compelled to go to GDC. I had to get in people’s faces, not literally. But after applying to every company and intern position in the entire damn country only to hear mum and even get a No from anyone, forever lost Pending applications sitting in limbo, I was willing to go out on whim. I needed to get connections. New York’s gaming development is really really dry and it seems no one ‘wants’ to bring in from New York (Riot’s own David ‘Phreak’ Turley confirmed this to me later at GDC). So I paid the ridiculous priced plane tickets and hotel reservations to go to San Francisco about a year ago from today.

This picture came up on Twitter about the second or third day in. When I saw that picture, I dropped everything I was doing. I recall being the 2nd to next person to talk to a Sony recruiter, funny enough, when I ejected myself out of the expo hall. I literally was running without knowing where the hell to go. The Naughty Dog HR lady that I had been kind of “stalking” on Twitter and sending emails to was at GDC with a lead programmer and they were talking to students. BINGO

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I flew. I asked like 10 people if they recognized the area. One person did and told me it was outside, around the corner of the building, and in the expo halls of the next building. I booked it down the street and came upon them on the second floor. I don’t even know how I pulled that one off, GDC is crowded as can be.

I kind of hovered and then eventually built up enough courage to ask to sit. I felt awkward just jumping in, I didn’t want to be rude. But when the recruiter made eye contact, I could tell she recognized me and I immediately felt like I had really pushed too far. Its always a concern of mine, I never want to be over bearing, but that contact spelt out that I probably had. Regardless, I sat down with the 2 other students from Digipen and began to talk

to Christian Gyrling about C++, optimizations, PS3 hardware, potential (at the time) PS4 hardware, and various topics. Sadly, it did not last long as I had gotten there a little late. But it was such an enlightening conversation. He had asked the Digipen students some questions that I had recognized myself, but when he explained the answers, it was contrary to what I had thought previously. He talked about code branching, and how while if-statements are fast in execution, the PS3 had an inherent issue with predicting branching so branching use had to be minimized for performance. Stuff like that.

He offered his only business card up and I immediately said no because I had gotten there 3rd. I already wasn’t in good graces with the HR lady it seemed either, whom I still follow on Twitter but certainly don’t pester. After they had left I exchanged business cards with the other two Digipen students and on various occasions since returning, poured over the collection of cards and stumble upon one of them alot.

I didn’t hear back from many at GDC and was really bummed out for awhile. But that day came when I finally got my shot at Ubisoft. Today at work, a conversation about Naughty Dog’s newest tech talk, and the reddit thread OP was kind enough to link to several resources related to Naughty Dog. One of them was a recent reddit post from a graduating student from Digipen who got an offer at Naughty Dog. I nearly fell out of my chair.

I found it extraordinary. Allen mentioned how he bumped into Christian again at one of the hotels common for GDC and they talked it up. Just recently, he had gotten an offer from Microsoft so he took it upon himself to give Naughty Dog a shot despite not yet graduating after keeping in touch with the HR lady and the lead programmer. They flew him out, he got the job! I have to say I’m super jealous, but the point is more importantly I’m just blown away by how seemingly tiny ‘bumping into people’ pretty much change your life.  Allen certainly knew what he was talking about when we were at GDC and I’m sure the interview process was grueling, they’re known to be tough. I’m sure he could’ve had a chance even without meeting the Naughty Dog people at GDC after bumping into them. But, its just crazy how things work out like that.

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It’s also really awesome to see devs, like Christian, taking their time out to share experience. The industry is very secretive and it scares devs into not wanting to talk about their trade alot in my experience. Hell, I know because I already have gotten into a bit of a pickle myself. But, it truly makes a difference when devs do and it can be so inspiring. When an artist who is passionate about their trade, have proven themselves on numerous works of art, and are part of something followed by so many people, come out to talk and enlighten…. its empowering. That’s why I wanted to share this experience.

I’ll never forget that sit down and was actually thinking about it last week. So I’m blown away this came up and I somehow stumbled across it.  I’m still amazed by it even after writing so much and I can only imagine what lies in the future if stuff like this occurs on a whim when you fight for it.

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