25 August 2014

Why Interns Can Be Of Great Value

At some point you have to do an internship during your study to become a game developer. Starting a job like this and doing work as an intern could be the beginning of a great future. At least it helps you understand certain aspects in the game industry and build up experience. As an entrepreneur, when you start a game studio, you could consider taking interns in your company. In this article I would like to share my views why interns are of great value and what you can expect if you are an intern yourself.




The Wrong Perspective
I think the general idea about interns is that they are not fully equipped employees and not experienced enough to do a certain line of work within the company. Some assume interns are just great for their 'image' as company because, I still hear many complaints interns are not always taken seriously. For example they have to serve lunch, or have a day job doing the dishes. Of course these are the most extreme stories, but I'd like to point out these companies do not take their business seriously, at least not their future. Some companies think interns are cheap 'employees' and are being strangled with crunch-time. These companies are highly product driven and do not really care about humanity.

Making games is a very specific job type and belongs to a growing market that does not exist as long as other markets. Usually if you want to do a job like this, it has been evolved from a hobby. There are not many 'game developers' aging 60+ with decades of experience. 

Because the game industry is still a risky business, companies are looking for great quality and experience for the lowest prices possible. If the company is doing great, you can eventually afford more expensive and experienced employees. 



source: http://gentlemint.com/media/images/2012/03/12/7d88747b.jpg.505x650_q85.jpg



Interns versus Employees

There are some differences and similarities found when you compare an intern to a full time employee. I think in some cases the intern is even winning over an employee.


Similarities
I think interns in the game industry doing specific job types like for example an 3D artist, programmer or audio engineer, are pretty advanced compared to what you'd expect. Some of them are even so far ahead, they could fit actual job descriptions. You can easily include them in your development pipeline just like an employee. Interns make mistakes, just like employees make them, and usually work the same hours.

Differences
Interns need more attention. You have to help and coach them through the project. Employees also need direction and need to be controlled, but they usually have done more projects and take more initiative and know how to handle responsibility. Interns also need more skill development, they are not as experienced as employees but could definitely show a lot of potential. Interns tend to listen very well and are very studious. Most employees already established their position and simply execute their job. Interns also have to deliver products such as reports to their universities and need time to finish these assignments, time they can not spend on your product.


source: http://thecityschool.edu.pk/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/0225.jpg


How To Create The Best Intern?
I am sure opinions would differ on this, but I have experienced our way of handling interns is a great method to help them develop to become a better game developer. 

At our company we have a scrum like project environment, but also leave a lot of space for interns to act upon. We do not specifically tell what button to press in Photoshop, Maya or Unity. We leave them with a task and and they have to find out the best solution to the description. We regularly reflect on the work, and just give them a little push in the direction we want them to go on. We usually explain our wishes and ask them how they would solve certain problems.

By doing this we create a high feeling of 'involvement'. We like them to feel the game is 'their' project as well as much as ours. We give them responsibility for an important task and reward them with compliments when we are happy with the result. It generates motivation to do their very best on the next task. We also highly encourage them to talk and discuss with other employees and interns as well as with the producers/leads. We created an environment where employees and interns can work together greatly. They do not have to be scared to make mistakes because we all make them and discuss them with everyone. You'll end up with a real 'team' and usually this means they do not want to leave the company at the end of their internship.

Sometimes interns ask us to use office time to do a tutorial or class to improve their skills. We always ask in return if they have thought this through, and how they see this improve their work. It may happen we decide to fund the class if there are costs involved and give them the time they need to finish this. Try to be flexible, don't forget interns are there to learn and 'experience' a work environment while in the meantime they can definitely contribute to your company's game projects.


How To Be A Great Intern Candidate
Companies have to filter through many candidates for their proposed internships. If you want to make a great chance on being selected to an interview I would suggest as candidate you should consider the following:

Before the interview (The Approach)
- An updated and easy to use online portfolio.
- An updated resume and or LinkedIn profile.
- A decently written motivational letter directed at the company and their interests.
- Do not include any other attachments in your email other than, resume and motivational letter.
- Knowledge about the company's products, and what their trademarks are.


During the interview (Soliciting For A Position)
- Research the company and employees and their achievements to make a charming entrance.
- Clearly describe what you would like to do in an internship
- Clearly describe what you would expect from the company and their mentoring.
- Explain what your goals are and how your future would look like.
- Have your work 'locally' in case internet connections have trouble accessing your work.
- Always ask for a glass of water in case you have to talk a lot (trust me).
- Be honest and do not pretend you can do stuff or be someone you are not.

*Secret Advise
Give the company a reasonable ultimatum (2-3 weeks) to decide whether or not to take you as an intern. Tell them you have other possibilities and would like to 'secure' this spot because you like a place at their company the most! However be subtle with this approach ;) Do not exaggerate! 


Concluding
Interns come in many shapes and sizes. Most of the intern behavior is a result of how you as a company treat, and position them in your process. Not taking them seriously will result in a bad image for your company and would actually turn the intern into a slacker. Investing and taking time for an intern would help them improve greatly, sometimes they even evolve into great full time employees, fully accustomed to your liking. As intern I think its very important to show you are willing to learn and have pro-active behavior. Take initiative!



source: http://thumbnails-visually.netdna-ssl.com/the-best-and-worst-intern-candidates_51c84cf170e26_w1500.jpg

What do you think is the best way to position and help interns in your company?

/Koen


*Update on my 'performative' experiment

I am working on a great idea to use Twitch for performative game development.
At this moment it's called "Project Assemblage" and you can already follow me at:
http://www.twitch.tv/koendeetman

More info on this 'experiment' soon!

Find Me On:
Twitter: @KoenDeetman
Facebook: Koen.Deetman