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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Office Police: Harrowing Tales of Project Management

I'm working on a crime drama loosely based on my life as a project manager. Here's a sneak preview of Episode 1 "The Whiteboard Marker Bandit"

Rayvan Bronx: Thank goodness you made it, Office Police. You have to catch the s.o.b who keeps stealing my precious whiteboard markers.

Office Police: Ma'am, the Office Judge granted us a search warrant. There are thousands of whiteboard markers in your home. And, like, six sticking out of your pockets right now.

Rayvan: (sobbing) Alright, alright... it was me! You caught me, damnit! I'm addicted to whiteboard markers. I don't even realize they're in my pockets anymore (long, snot-filled sniff) Please help me. Help...Me... Office Police... Please. 

**End Scene**

Monday, February 27, 2017

Work Experience in Games (Part 1) - The Challenge(s)

Work experience isn't a common thing in the U.S.

I don't know anyone who's had to do it voluntarily, much less mandatorily. Here in Germany, however, it's very common for school kids do a two- to three-week "internship" (of sorts) at a company. Generally, they are around 14-16 years old.

I've hosted five such "interns" in my team(s); the last two were with us back-to-back at the end of January and beginning of February. It can be exhausting and, in the last couple of years, I've struggled to figure out what to do with them (with varying results). Like a good citizen of the internet, my very first step was to let me Google that for me. Unfortunately, the internet wasn't as enlightening as I would have hoped and there wasn't really anything related to the games industry to help me out. So, if you're an enterprising person given the task of organizing a work experience for a youth (*coughcough* Project Manager) in the game industry and don't know where to start -- especially if you are in a game production team -- keep reading. This might help.

As you know, there are real interns, i.e. slightly older young people with slightly better critical thinking skills than your average 14-year-old (hopefully). They're in your team anywhere from three months to one year and are generally motivated by the possibility of being hired full-time or getting college credit/professional experience. They arrive with (preferably) a basic skillset upon which you can build. In other words, they're not complete blank slates upon their arrival and, given a month and some healthy mentoring, they can/should begin to contribute to your team's productivity in some way.

Work experience "interns", on the other hand, are much more challenging Jon Snows. In all but the rarest of cases, they know nothing except having played some video games or leaving inappropriate comments on let's play videos on youtube.

A breakdown:

1.) They are teenagers and (generally) have not really formed ideas of what they want to do. 

Of five interns only one had the vaguest of ideas of what he wanted to do during his "internship". He wanted to program. He had some basic programming knowledge. None of which we could effectively utilize in the team. 

The other four? When asked, the responses were, "I don't know" or "A little of everything." Some kids know they want to work in games and most kids (like most people) don't really have any idea how games are made. So... they don't even know what their options are. 

Maybe you get their baby CV. Maybe you can at least have email contact before and ask them to play your game in advance. Mostly you see them on day one and have to figure out all of this then.

2.) Especially relevant if you are in a live browser game: You need to keep your game running. 

Depending on your content cadence, your team is going to be busy producing the things that your team needs to produce and ship in order to keep your game in business. 

My last team has a fast-paced weekly release schedule, in which most team members multitask several content items to keep production on schedule. My current team is in the middle of some internal transition. Employees are short on time and have tight deadlines to keep. If the intern is just going to shadow one person the whole time or a whole department the whole time, then you have assume lower productivity for that department the whole time. 

Strive to spread out the responsibility.

3.) They aren't the most independent thinkers/doers

Having spent time teaching 14-16-year-olds in my brief stint as a German teacher, I can say that humans at this age are raging balls of hormones with short attention spans who are accustomed to having to ask for permission to do just about anything and require a full set of instructions for damn near any task. Independent, self-organization is at a minimum. They've likely not mastered the art of taking notes, so any instructions are best given in chunks

  • Instruction chunk
  • They do the thing
  • You check/give feedback
  • They re-do the thing
That said, try to foster some independence and time-management as much as possible. Let them know when they should start and end everyday, give them a span of time for lunch that they can determine themselves (e.g. one hour between 12:00 - 2:00pm). And an ongoing research task for them to work on when nothing specific is planned. 

Essentially any task you give them (likely the most non-essential tasks you have) you can calculate the amount of time it would take someone in the team to complete and quadruple it. Also take into account that several iterations will be needed. They will also heavily sigh when asked to re-do it. Because they're definition of done is usually the baresr of minimums (e.g. if you tell a kid to write a critical essay, they will usually ask for a word count and give you that... no more, no less). It's not the most exciting work, but you can always say, "This is what real [programmers, game designers, QA, etc] have to do as part of the job." 

It's funny 'cause it's true.

4.) They should still learn/do something... even if it's not directly a part of the live game.

Whether it's learning how to systematically do a task and document it or (as I get into in the next post) be a mini-game development team of one, the work experience intern should walk away having actually learned about the game development process. 

It was weird for me, at first, because work experience has such a short time box and can be really disruptive to a development team.

Coming up is a plan that maximizes the independent learning of the intern, minimizes the impact of production, and gives a kid a two-week crash course in making games.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

54 Days

Here's how 2017 is going so far:

  • I've registered the domain There is nothing there, but I have it until 2019 and intend to migrate...because 1.) I could put the URL on a business card, but I'm heading into my 40s.. and 2.) I've been learning Ruby and I need some kind of blank canvas upon which to do things.
  • I've done zero additional Spanish learning at this time, but I have made a convenient bet... which I am thinking I should make into an inconvenient bet. Basically, I have agreed to have a conversation with a specific Spanish person on June 1st, 2017. This person determines the topic and whether or or not my Spanish is sufficient. If I don't pass....I buy her dinner. If I do pass... Duncan buys her dinner. Either way, she gets dinner. The conversation of a more drastic stake came up (e.g. I clean her apartment). After a month of avoiding anything Spanish... I feel like this is a sufficient threat....
  • I've had to take care of two teenagers on work experience interns within a month. It has been exhausting, but I think I have a good plan for (specifically) games teams who have to take in such an intern. I will share this information here soon. I looked all over the internet and found nothing particularly helpful. I hope to put up a program that others can follow that is minimally intrusive to their workflow and gives maximum value to "the kid" embedded in a team. I think it's easy enough to implement. 
  • I'm tired all the time
  • I found a great chiropractor.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

100 Days

The general consensus is that 2016 was a terrible year. Within my own social circle, I know that some of my friends certainly had a tough time of things. Plus, all the celebrities died. On a personal level, however, 2016 was not bad at all. I've had much... much worse years. For example, most of the years between 2005 and 2012 just felt like a whole bunch of this:

Comparatively, the last three years or so have been a fucking blast and 2017 has gotten off to a fine start. I think this year's reoccurring theme will be "acquiring pieces of paper that confirm that I know things". 

Finally, after about 2.5 months of studying and some encouragement from my mentor, I got up yesterday morning and finally took/passed the PSM I exam. As someone who essentially side stepped ninja-stylez into a project manager position (with dabblings in Scrum), I occasionally feel a bit inadequate with my lack of certifications. I know this isn't an indicator of ability, but my CV is kind of a wild ride and I'd like some anchors that show demonstrated and sustained interest and expertise in an area. Having been away from a school environment for so long, my confidence in my independent learning & study skills is a bit shaky. However, this was just the motivation that I needed to continue. Plus, I got this super fly certificate and "badge" so it's basically even realer than Pokémon GO. #keepinitreal

Next up: 
  • More Spanish... for real... for really really real. I need to be able to communicate or else these trips are going to become a lot less fun and more stress. The goal is B1 by the end of the year. 
  • More project management stuff - I'll be starting a course at the university in March. It's more traditional project management, but I figure that can't hurt either — seeing as how I only have like a 5 day training workshop to my name thus far.
  • Coding - I don't know exactly what coding language I want to learn as yet or how I want to learn it. I just know I want to learn at least one. 
  • PSM II - I'd like to have the PSM II test in my sights by the end of the year. I think this is contingent on my progress in applying my existing scrum skills professionally (easier) as well as connecting and networking with scrum masters and agile coaches outside of work (tougher). 
Anyway, at the moment, I want to just focus on the next 100 days and see how that shapes up. I'll try to document how it's going right here.  

Friday, December 30, 2016

10 Things I Love About Spain

Two more days of 2016 left and four more days of this trip. Being the lucky bitch that I am, I just went ahead and caught this delightful cold. It's actually a tactic to help me not eat everything in sight. If you can't taste it, what's the point of eating it, amirite?

Anyway, I put up my list of 10 things I hate and, as promised, here's the list of 10 things that I love...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

10 Things I Hate About Spain

Before I got together with Duncan, I thought to myself, "Damn, if I'm ever in another relationship, it sure would be nice to travel regularly again with someone." Actually, I had a long list of "nice-to-haves" with regards to my imaginary new boyfriend. As luck would have it -- and I mean really have it, because I was oddly specific in some points -- he checked off all those boxes perfectly...

except the whole Spanish thing. I never said anything about a Spanish Spaniard from Spain

...but here we are.

It's my third trip to Málaga, Spain in the past two years and, of course, I find myself now completely qualified to share my subjective opinion about a city (that will probably bleed over into my subjective opinion of the entire country). I'll start with the "negatives", which are admittedly a lot more difficult, because my trips have been overwhelmingly awesome.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The One Who Got Away (Part 4)

So, it took about 2.5 weeks exactly to get the results of my citizenship test. This is definitely a "your mileage may vary" thing. A British colleague of mine who is also pursuing German citizenship had to wait around 4 weeks.

I'm pleasantly surprised, because I know there were at least 4 questions that I was really uncertain about . I'm also not surprised, because this was also within the range of the practice tests that I took. 

Fazit (as the Germans say): Go through the BAMF interactive question catalog completely at least once. Get a free app with all of the questions (here's the Android app that I used). Preferably one that structures the practice tests like the real test (i.e. 30 questions about Germany, 3 questions about your German state) and then just do it 'til your regularly getting like 20 or so correct all the time.