Should I drop out of college and learn to make games on my own?

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In this episode of Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, I answer a question from John, his son is wondering if he should drop out of college and learn to make video games on his own?

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to push your boundaries in ways you never dreamed
  • The best way to convince employers that you know how to “GSD”
  • How to build deep, lasting connections with game industry insiders

If you have a question you'd like to get answered on the podcast, leave a comment below or ask me anything here.

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Hello everybody and welcome to the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast, Episode Number 8. I’m Jason W. Bay from gameindustrycareerguide.com and this is the podcast where I answer your questions about getting a job and growing your career making video games.

Today’s question is from Jim and Jim is asking this on behalf of his son who’s about to make a very important life decision. Jim asks me, “My son is a freshman at a university with one of the top ten video game programming curriculums in the US. He says that he wants to drop out and self-teach himself to be a video game programmer. I totally disagree with dropping out of college. What do you think?”

Okay. First of all, this question really resonated with me personally because I, myself, dropped out of college during my third year at University. That was back in 1995 so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on that decision. Second of all, obviously most parents are going to tell their kids to stay in school. They say that because they believe that going to college will help them get a better job and make more money and have a better life. Every parent wants that for their kids, right? But, those reasons, they sometimes don’t feel very tangible. I think that there are some more concrete reasons that we could list that are actually more convincing. So here are my thoughts on the top five benefits of staying in school. And by the way, these are also applicable for people who are trying to decide whether or not they should go to college in the first place because the benefits are the same either way. So I think this advice applies to a whole lot of the young people that are listening right now.

Okay. Reason number 1. College makes you do things that you don’t want to do. I guess that might sound like a reason in favor of dropping out because why spend your time and money developing skills that you’re not interested in and learning things that you don’t care about. Well, the reason is because those experiences are preparing you for the real world of game development. The real world doesn’t care whether you like to do math. If your job requires you to work with 3D matrix transformations, then you’d better understand it whether you like it or not. Getting outside of your comfort zone it’s a good thing and school often forces you to do it. It makes you stretch. It makes you grow. It’s like a Navy SEAL boot camp. It may not be fun but it prepares you for success. Okay. That’s reason number one.

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Reason number 2 is game development is teamwork and you don’t learn teamwork by yourself. Okay, look. You could certainly learn how to do game art or game programming or whatever on your own. There are a ton of different books and videos that will teach you those skills. But what you can’t learn on your own is how to work with a team. How to step up and be a leader. How to encourage a struggling co-worker. Or how to crack down on a crummy teammate that’s not pulling his own weight. When you apply for jobs in the game industry, the hiring managers are going to want proof that you have the skills necessary to succeed as part of a team. So, doing big team projects in school is great for the resume because it shows that you can do those big projects with a team and that you can be successful.

Okay. Reason number 3. Reason number three is that college helps you build industry connections that you desperately need. I get questions all the time. People ask me, “How can I break into the game industry? How can I get my foot in the door?” Well, one major way to get into the industry is to have connections in the industry, to already know people who are in the industry that can help you get in. The problem is when you’re new to the job market, you don’t have a professional network yet. You don’t know anybody. But when you attend a degree program you will leave school having the beginnings of a professional network and that will play a critical role in getting you a job.

Why is that? That’s because colleges and universities, they help you build those connections. They’ll introduce you to recruiters and to hiring managers that maybe they come to the school for things like company days, portfolio review days, and other events like that. You’ll also get introductions from people like your instructors, your career counselor, and other advisers at the school. But the most powerful connections of all will be your classmates because as they begin to get hired into jobs, they will become your insider contacts into those companies. Oftentimes, those people will be your allies for the rest of your career in the game industry.

Okay. Reason number 4 is that college coursework builds your portfolio and your resume. As a hiring manager, one of the most important things that I looked for in entry level applicants was a past record of what I called GSD which is Getting Stuff Done. And the best way for me to know whether an applicant can GSD was to look at their portfolio. Have they created some little game demos that I can play? Do they have a variety of art pieces to show that they can work in different styles? Are they just big talkers or have they actually shown that they can actually design something? Whether it’s art or a design document, a shader demo, or maybe even a fully playable video game, you’ve got to have a fleshed out portfolio if you want to stand out from the 200 other newbies that are competing for the same jobs. Luckily college is full of assignments and many of those assignments become a piece that you can add directly to your portfolio, so it gives your portfolio a huge boost and a head start over everybody else that did not go to school and start building that portfolio.

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All right, that’s four great reasons not to drop out of school, or if you’re thinking about not going to school, I hope that that’s four very convincing reasons why getting a college degree will definitely help you in your future career as a video game developer.

Okay, I know I said I have five great reasons, but we’re out of time for this episode. You should definitely check out reason number five because it’s probably the one you’ll find the most surprising and maybe the most useful. And you can find that in my article titled Five Legit Reasons Not to Drop Out of College. It’s on the Game Industry Career Guide website. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.

Thanks to John for the question and thank you for listening. If you like this podcast, please help others find it and you can do that by leaving a review on iTunes. It just takes a minute and I really, really, really appreciate it. Thank you so much. For more information and inspiration on getting and growing your job making games visit gameindustrycareerguide.com. Thanks again and I will see you next time, right here on the Game Industry Career Guide Podcast.

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