Referrals in the Game Industry

I needed a job. I sent applications everywhere. It felt like spending so much time and effort on the technical tests, on the grueling take home problems, on crafting customized cover letters and fine tuning my resume-- just to throw applications into the ether and never hear replies. How could people in less fortunate positions than me ever find the time to do all this?

And then something strange started to happen to me more and more, as time went on.

A direct message. A friend referring a me as a friend. A "casual chat over beers."

They had read my blog, or seen a presentation, or knew of my work, or just knew a friend who had.

I'd come in for a chat with the team and I'd get an offer just from that. Sometimes they would ask me to do a technical interview and I'd refuse (why bother if I had other offers, I hate typical tech interviews with a passion), sometimes I'd ask if a tech interview was needed and I'd get a "Oh no, don't worry, not for you!" or a half-hearted technical test that I knew was just there for show. I was in.

These are the same companies I know would reject me based on their typical technical test. Let's be clear here-- it's not because I lacked the technical skills, it's because their technical assessments are so irrelevant to the position, elitist, and idiotic that they filter out otherwise very qualified candidates.

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I love my field-- low level engine coding-- but holy cow, it can get so elitist it drives me mad.

The coding I do every day really is not that hard. And I'd welcome the opinion of someone who hadn't spent their whole lives in C++/engine land-- this field could seriously use some new perspectives. It's why I gladly welcome junior coders to my company.

The elitism in low-level engine coding also creates other problems. I had to cancel a meeting with a client at a big corporation the other day because they just could not wrap their heads around the fact that I knew C++ and games coding-- every time I met with them, I was either completely brushed off or grilled in a way no one else in the room was. Forget that. I'll go with kindhearted people who aren't looking to prove me wrong, but who are looking at what I can do instead.

I don't like thinking about how that company treats women candidates vs men. I wonder why there are barely any female engine coders. I wonder why.

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I've been doing a lot of mentoring lately, and noticed that referrals and networking get people C++/engine/games tech jobs much, much more than having a good resume.

If you are in a hiring position in a games or tech company, please don't set such an irrationally high bar with candidates you don't know (think: Can you pass your own interview without preparation? Are the questions issues the candidates will actually run into day to day? Can you get a candidate from a competitor company to take this interview, or would they pass because it's too harsh?), and think each time you get referred someone or get a friend an interview.

It's so ironic how we call ourselves such a difficult, challenging, innovative field-- and yet we don't reflect on how to do interviews right, on whether our tests are actually good tests, on how our work doesn't actually require such intense standards, on how we were all once junior and grew. These are basic social skills. It just takes a little introspection.

Meritocracy does not exist. 99% of coders do not know what GPU texture transcoding is, and can not know the details of how it works without intense explaining. That's normal. They have to take my word that I know what I'm doing. Because they can't know my field in depth, they have to base their assessments off of other, higher-level judgements. If done well-- a summary I give, looking at other examples or past work, etc. If done poorly-- a recommendation from a friend. It's the same with interviewing-- we can't know everything about what our candidate has done. We need to be smart about assessing ability, and realistic about what's actually needed for a job.

I'm trying my best to help talented people, especially underrepresented groups in tech, break into this industry. But this issue with referrals being preferred above all else is maddening.

Be better than this.

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