Is being an administrator for a games designer a bad idea if I want to become a games designer myself?
February 17, 2011 5:59 AM   Subscribe

If my ambition is to become a creative techy person, am I likely to be negatively typecast if I work for a tech-company in a non-tech, non-creative job? (Special snowflake details inside)

I've been an administrator for the past twelve years since leaving school at 18 with good A Levels but no degree. (I have since earned a social sciences degree with the Open University by studying part-time at the same time as full-time employment) I'm a good administrator - my current employers have told me that they think highly of me, and colleagues have told me to to my face that they think I'm "damn good at what I do". But - I'm not happy with being an administrator forever. I don't feel like I'm achieving anything lasting, and I'm certainly not doing everything that I'm capable of doing. My employers are currently restructuring, and even though my own role is probably safe from the axe at this immediate juncture, it's time for me to move on. I'd much rather jump before I'm pushed, when there's other companies out there who would likely appreciate me better.

One of my passions is computer games. (Computer games in general, but specifically Thief: The Metal Age and Neverwinter Nights.) For the past eighteen months, I've been building a multi-module campaign for NWN. The prologue entered beta-testing a week ago and is intended for full release in early March, and chapter 1 is likely to be ready for testing in about six months time. During the process, I've taught myself NWScript (I hear it's a close kin to C++) from a complete novice to a point where I'm wondering if I'm actually pretty good at this. I'm having a wonderful time with this project, and it's made me wonder if I should consider doing this for a living.

However, the obvious immediate stumbling block is that I'm entirely self-taught, I have no industry experience in games development, and since little of what I've created so far is complete and published to the internet, I've got no portfolio I can show to anyone that proves what I'm capable of. My plan to get around this is to find myself another admin job for now, and continue to work on the games projects in my free time until I have enough published to show the world just how awesome I really am. At which point I can then switch careers and apply for game development jobs on the strength of my homemade portfolio. Such a thing would likely be extremely competitive given the number of equally talented people out here who already have industry experience, but I know people in both the Thief2 and NWN modding communities who have had exactly that happen to them. It's tough, but it's possible.

And then I found that one of the leading games development companies in the UK is currently looking for an receptionist/administrator. The job profile in the advert is one I could do almost in my sleep, and the salary would just about match my current one. At first, this sounded just perfect - I could do a job I know that I'm good at, in a creative environment that would bring me into close contact with people who are already doing the job that I want to do in the future. It sounded like the perfect environment in which to continue learning everything I need to learn until the point where I can break into the industry for real.

Assuming for the purposes of argument that I get the admin role in question (I know I'd be great in the job, but there's also a lot of other people around who are also great, and there's no automatic guarantee that I can be suitably convincing that I'm more awesome than the next five awesome people who want to sign up) is this a good idea? Is it a good idea to get my foot in the door with a company that's doing the kind of creative work that I want to do, even if my own role in the company would be non-techy and less glamorous (even if just as vital)? Or am I running the risk that I might get myself typecast as 'just' an administrator in their eyes, thus excluding myself from any future consideration of being worthy as a game developer? Would it be better to keep well away from the entire industry until such time as I'm ready to wow them with my game development skills so they've got no preconceptions of me and what I'm capable of?

By becoming an administrator for a game developer am I running the risk of becoming a waitress in Hollywood?
posted by talitha_kumi to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have not worked in the game industry, but the ad, marketing and brand world. There, I've seen admins move into design, the video editing room and remain admins. They were woefully underpaid because they'd moved from a woefully underpaid role, but they got industry contacts, had people to show their work to and were sitting there when an opportunity presented itself.

IMHO, people who will see you as "just" an admin will see you as that whether you're an admin there or at another firm and if you're at another firm, you'll still know no one in the game industry. I'd try for the role, making sure the admin job was a good, fun one. Because, worst case, you work somewhere that's just as good, but with access to free games. And that's good too.
posted by Gucky at 6:16 AM on February 17, 2011

Go for the job. Be the best fucking receptionist you can be, and never treat your job description as beneath you. Take an active interest in your coworkers' projects, learn as much as you can, volunteer to help out with everything and deliver on your word. Even if you're not ready for the big projects, you'll prove yourself reliable, knowledgeable, and interested to people who can give you career advice and recommendations for future work. Foot in the door!
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:21 AM on February 17, 2011

Yeah go for the job, be the best you can be, and start building your network. Also keep on coding and perhaps as a receptionist you may have more time to work on that stuff even while at work (or maybe not). Finally, once you are in the company you may try seeing if they can pay for some sort of certificate related to the work that you do that way you can solidify your credentials.
posted by The1andonly at 6:39 AM on February 17, 2011

I think it depends very much on the culture of the place you go to. Software development can be a very tough, combative and elitist kind of environment; being a receptionist, and especially being female, could potentially make things pretty difficult.

On the other hand, not all places are like that by any means. When they are, it's certainly not impossible to break in, although it may require a certain amount of brash loudness and ball busting behaviour. Being quiet and deferential does not get you far in that kind of environment.

Finally, industry knowledge goes a long way. I'd go for it - the worst that can happen is that the job gives you some vital clues as to how to break into some other company somewhere else.
posted by emilyw at 6:50 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Who you are matters most. I worked in very corporate jobs for years and was always considered the creative one. I still consider myself to be pretty corporate, although now most of my time is spent on artistic endeavors. But if you'd told me at 20 that this what I'd be doing at 40, I would have thought you were insane.

You is who you is - a job only defines you if you let it.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:13 AM on February 17, 2011

In my experiences, admins usually stay admins. Like others have said it depends on how the work culture is, but most will typecast you into "admin type" and it will be hard not for them to think of you as that unless you REALLY go out of your way to not be... and I wouldn't encourage that.

You're certainly on the right path of continuing to work on projects in your free time to work up enough experience. What I'd recommend most is to also network as much as you can -- meetups, mixers, talks, etc. There might be a game developers meetup or something in your area.

If I were you I'd apply for the new admin job and see where it takes you. You will certainly see how a games shop operates and see if it's for you. You might not get your foot in the door with that particular shop, but you can certainly make friends or see what you can do to advance in maybe a different shop if the opportunities aren't available to you there.
posted by xtine at 10:43 AM on February 17, 2011

Do it. The game industry is a ton easier to move around in once you are in it and people know you. Network like crazy. Keep making games. You'll be fine.
posted by jopreacher at 11:50 AM on February 17, 2011

Do it! I've seen people move from non-tech positions to tech. As you're doing an excellent job of being an admin, make friends with the people doing the sort of stuff you want to do. Whether or not you manage the move in that company, you'll learn enough to do the job, possibly somewhere else.

A friend of mine (alas, now dead) desperately wanted to be a physicist, but in the 20s that was not acceptable for a woman. So she chose to become a secretary at a physics department, and ended up at the Institute for Advanced Study and becoming a friend of Einstein's.
posted by phliar at 4:38 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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