Social Icons


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.  

No comments: