A mentor can be a great way to broaden your perspective on the industry and answer any gaps of information you may have.
In response to my last blog on The More You Dig Deeper Into The Industry…, I received a number of emails from students with various questions – everything spanning from “how do I learn more about working in the games industry?” to “how do I start a conversation with a developer?” to “does my website look professional enough and show off my skills?”
As is the point of this blog, I drew from my own experience about what I did when I had such questions early on. Who do I go to? Who has the time to listen? Who would care? It’s amazing how the smallest insecurities can get the better of us when asking the most simplest of questions. (Side note: keep asking questions for the rest of your career, they will be your greatest learning tool).
During a lecture I attended once, a developer recommended mentorship, something I had not considered at the time nor did I think was even a big thing in the games industry. It’s dog eat dog right? Negative. There are in fact a wealth of possible mentors that students can reach out to for questions and even long-term assistance, and in turn many professionals and teachers who, whilst acknowledging they might be quite busy, are willing to use their spare time here and there to help the next generation of creative minds.
So where can I find a mentor, you say? Well let’s start with the obvious and easiest. Consult your teachers! If you are looking to go above and beyond in work at school, to go further than just passing the grade or to really use the freedom of school as an opportunity to experiment and try new ideas (which should always be recommended) then see if your tutors have days they might be available outside of class to really sit down and discuss with you these ideas and give you feedback. You are not asking them to go out of their way beyond their job if they do have the time. The information they might have available and the feedback they might give you outside curriculum could surprise you. See if you can schedule an appointment and do not hesitate to pick their brains. Words cannot describe how grateful I was when some teachers in my course made time to speak to me, and even more so when others came into university on their days off with their office doors open so that they could offer feedback on student assignments (props to Chad and Darren in particular).
Next, consider the industry contacts you have outside school. This one might be a little tricky, depending on the relationship you have set up with these people. Regardless, sending a question or two their way in an email can be your best bet for some insider’s advice. Don’t go sending a whole paragraph in one email with expectations on getting the prime key to a job. Consider the questions that are the most important to you and make them short and sweet. Another thing I must stress: if it takes your contact 4 weeks for them to reply, do not fret! Again, it is important to recognise how busy developers are, especially during crunch time. Be patient. Don’t feel disheartened at all. It may also be wise not to rely on a single contact to answer your questions. Always attend you local IGDA chapter meeting / follow Facebook page to find willing developers who are a source of information.
Finally, there are places you can go to find a mentor that you may not know or haven’t met. I found my mentor (who was fantastic help and went above and beyond my expectations) on the website Game Mentor Online, which is operated by Women In Games International, but is welcome to all genders. On this site, you can sign up to be either a mentor or mentee, so developers looking for apprentices, I will also direct you there. It also asks you to be specific about what role you wish to pursue, as well as your interests, so as to better match you with the right mentor. It may take some time for you to find your mentor. It did for me. Many thanks to Sheri Graner Ray for mentioning this one a few years ago. Meeting my mentor on Game Mentor Online provided some incredible opportunities and an immense amount of advice and answers to my questions, right down to an in-depth coaching of some of the steps to take prior to GDC. Get on it!
It is also worth mentioning that the IGDA Scholarships include receiving a mentor who can guide you through some advice and opportunities. A friend who was an IGDA Scholar wrote the following (paraphrasing):
“I was lucky enough last year to be one of the GDC Scholars, and I [received a mentor]. Through him I was able to make valuable contacts with people in the industry that I would have had a tougher time making by myself. I was able to sit down at a meal, laugh and chat with a bunch of other Producers. ”
A good and serious mentor will establish monthly meetings with you, possibly via Skype or similar. If you are an artist, you may even find a mentor who conducts weekly exercises to keep you practicing. The benefits are that they have more of a foot in the industry than yourself, and can dedicate the time to offer you meaningful advice beyond what you can research on the internet, as well as connecting you to others based off their connections. A great way to establish some ground is to set personal short-term and long-term goals and then work from there. Identify obstacles and discuss ways to overcome these towards an attractive resume and portfolio. A more one-on-one conversation will also give you proper advice about the do’s and don’ts of interviews, networking, etc. There is a fantastic article by Kirsty Lee (Mentoring: A Good-Practice Checklist) with a checklist on what you and your mentor should focus on. The important thing to remember is to do your part as well: continue to research and work on the steps your mentor recommends and absolutely do not expect them to do all the work for you. They will give you the road, and it is your responsibility to walk it.
To close, do not be afraid of asking questions, ever. Ignorance is your key to curiosity and your best drive to enhancing yourself as a competitive hopeful. Do not be ashamed of your questions. If you want this job, you will go the extra mile and you will search for your answers. Consult those around you. Never stop looking for ways to improve, because you will never stop even when you finally get that job.