Human Swiss Army Knife?
January 20, 2006 10:46 PM   Subscribe

Keep being the jack-of-all-trades guy? Or master something specific?

I'm a video game designer. My career background up until now has been serving as "the jack-of-all-trades guy." A little of this, a little of that. I'm comfortable with several different technologies, yet a master of none. I have experience with a producer's adminstrative/management tasks, and I have managed large and small teams. I'm a pretty damn good writer and a world-class editor, if I do say so myself, but there seems to be only limited real-world value for that in video games. I have casted and directed voice-over with some fairly big-name actors. I've run focus groups and have performed usability testing. Hell, I even have plenty of experience in marketing and public relations, to the point where I could go that route if I wanted (I don't ... but I could).

So ... suggestions for next self-improvement steps?

Should I continue being the company's Swiss Army knife? Or should I buckle down and master something specific? If the latter, what's your suggestion?
posted by frogan to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Forgive me for quoting a fictional character. Nevertheless, I feel it's relevant:

Specialization is for insects.
posted by aramaic at 11:01 PM on January 20, 2006

Usually people who end up expert in something are in love with the thing they become expert in. It could be argued that there's little choice in the matter.

You sound like a smart guy who is able to quickly get his bearings quickly in all sorts of areas/disciplines, but who hasn't been bitten by a "bug" that has given him the compulsion to become an expert (read: fanatic) in any one thing.

I would also argue that it's hard to be happy and succesful at developing the quasi-monomania required to be an all out expert within a professional field without really loving doing that thing.

So maybe you're already doing what you do best: bouncing around enough to maintain your interest level in your job before you get bored.
posted by popechunk at 11:07 PM on January 20, 2006

I think it depends on what you are talking about. Are you interested in learning a specific set of content production skills? Like, say, motion capture cleanup, modeling, texturing, or shader programming? It sounds like you want to stay in the game industry. Are you more interested in the future. working with people or software?

One thing that people in your position do is go give talks to other people about how you got in your position (I'm in "serious games" as an artist, myself, and people always want me to say how I got here)

In any case... I've been leaning toward specialization, myself. Because I work on small projects, I'm required to be a generalist but I find it's often draining to be doing ten things and it keeps me from doing one thing. I can do them all competently but I know there are much better artists out there... and I'd sleep better at night knowing I had only one thing to focus on tomorrow.
posted by fake at 3:47 AM on January 21, 2006

How to Do What You Love. Personally in the last few years I've always tried keeping two part-time jobs that aren't in the same field, to avoid the rut and the routine of having just one full time job.
posted by Sharcho at 7:11 AM on January 21, 2006

What do you like to do? Why did you decide to go into video game design in the first place? Can you focus on that?

Being a jack-of-all-trades is great if you're happy where you're working. Game teams are often unbalanced and being able to pick up the slack is a good skill to have. In the long run, though, it's easier to sell yourself if you have something you're really good at. You won't find many job listings for "someone who can do everything." That might end up being what you do, but companies almost always have a specific need in mind.

If you like all your tasks equally, I'd say production is the most valuable of the ones you listed. Not all games need a writer or voice acting, but everybody needs a good producer.
posted by Sibrax at 8:33 AM on January 21, 2006

I have friends in the computer arts industry.

Seems to be two career paths: specialize in one area and become reknown for just that. Otherwise, know enough about a wide variety of topics so you can be an effective manager.

Anecdotally, if someone is really good at one thing, they'll specialize in that and work that ladder. It's typically if an individual isn't talented enough that they start branching out and learning as much about as many different things as they can and try to enter management (of course there are people who are very talented managers and know that they want to go that route even if they are very talented in one field).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 3:01 PM on January 21, 2006

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