Effective Networking (Your Fellow N00bz)

by Darius Kazemi on October 29, 2005

in networking

Some folks think that networking is about finding important people and befriending them. They couldn’t be more wrong. Networking is about finding excellent people and befriending them. This makes the task somewhat easier than it’s perceived.

Ms. (or Mr.) Big Stuff

It’s your first day at your very first Game Developers Conference. You are completely star-struck, because you’ve eyed the schedule, and who’s on it but Ms/Mr Big Stuff. Wow, you think, Warren Spector is giving a talk at 3pm! Will Wright the next hour! And Peter Molyneux tomorrow! I have a chance to meet these people!! Whatever will I do?

I can answer you dilemma: don’t bother. I mean, yeah, go to their talks and hear what they have to say. But don’t bother trying to talk to them. They will be surrounded by about 30 feet of admirers. You will have to wait an hour just for the chance to say, “Mr. Wright, I love SimCity,” and then be booted out of the way by the guy behind you who had to wait an hour and five seconds to get his five words in. The big guys aren’t worth talking to–not at this stage in your career, at least. This is because

  • they won’t remember you.
  • they’re going to be extremely tired from all the crap they’re doing just to make it through the day at a conference like GDC.
  • you will blunder, and say something unintelligible like “Buh… buh… blackandwhite. Thxbye.”

If you do get a few minutes of Mr. Big Stuff’s time, shut the hell up and listen.

This doesn’t apply so much at an IGDA chapter meeting, where it’s a much smaller meeting and Mr/Ms Big Stuff will probably already be friends with most of the people there. But that’s an advanced topic, something to be tackled once you’ve mastered the basics and already have a pretty decent network, grasshopper. If by some miracle you do get a few minutes of their time, please do everyone a favor and shut the hell up and listen. Brenda Brathwaite has a nice article explaining why you should shut up.

(And, for the love of all things sacred, don’t throw a game pitch at these people. They don’t want to hear it. If you think you have a great game pitch… good for you. Now read up on the industry and find out why (1) it sucks or (2) you won’t get around to making it until you’ve been in the industry for 20 years.)

If you want to find someone with a lot of experience to give you advice, here’s a hint: there are people who have been in this industry for decades who don’t have throngs of admirers. And they will be totally willing to give some words of advice to a young upstart, especially if you know your history. How will you know who these people are? You won’t. But that’s why your job is to talk to anyone and everyone, and to find out who they are. You might be surprised who the innocuous guy sitting next to you is.

Your Fellow N00bz

So with whom do you network, if not very important people? Aside from the generic answer of “everyone else,” some of the best networking you will ever do in your entire career will be with a wholly unglamorous class of person. I’m talking about people just like you. Students. Newbies. People trying to break in. Don’t believe how this could really help your career? Fine, I’ll explain it.

First, and most obvious, your fellow newbies will be the easiest people to talk to at any event. You’re in the same boat. You’ve experienced the same disillusions. You share the same hopes and dreams. You’re probably the same age. Make friends with your fellow newbies. Form a posse. Hang out whenever you have no one else to hang out with.

If you make 20 newbie friends, 5 of them will be working in the industry within a year or two, even if you aren’t.

So you can make friends with a lot of these people. But what’s the benefit to you? It’s simpler than you think. If you make 20 newbie friends, I guarantee you five of them will be working in the industry within a year or two, even if you aren’t. For instance, I know two guys working as professional game developers who I met when we were all students. For the rest of my life, I will be able have drinks with these people and chuckle about the time that we were all stranded on a bus at GDC. Three years ago, we were a bunch of shmucks. Now, we are professionals who can swap industry war stories with each other.

It’s Not About a Salary, it’s All About Reality

In the end, all networking is about making friends with excellent people. Not necessarily important ones. If you talk to anyone and everyone you meet in the games industry, and you’re filtering for excellence instead of a title or a company, you’re doing the right thing. Actually, excellent people tend to become important people. Which is really great. I mean, everyone wants to be the person who was friends with Mr. Big Stuff before they were big, right?

An example. I befriended a woman at GDC this year. We just happened to be participating in the same workshop, sitting at the same table. I struck up a conversation, and we started talking. Not about games, but actually about our eyeglasses, of all things. After the workshop, we were chatting some more and I asked her what game she’d worked on. She’d been in the industry for almost 20 years, although I’d never heard of her by name. And because I know my history, I knew exactly the games and the company she worked for. Later, I even used one of my weak contacts to her benefit. I think it’s safe to say we became fans of each other. She was clearly in the category of excellent people, but literally within four months of our meeting, she became an important person in her own right, interviewed in Wired Magazine and the Boston Globe and tons of other such publications.

This is because, despite the fact that incompetence often gets promoted, excellence pays off. So I’ll say it again: look for excellence and not fame when networking. You’ll reap the benefits.


Craig Perko October 31, 2005 at 5:07 pm

As much as “excellent people” is the perfect description, I get this image of a blue, smoky room in the far future, with a serious-looking guy strumming his air-guitar and telling Bill & Ted to “be totally excellent to each other.”

Which is probably not the image you were going for. :)

You know, making a game out of this networking thing might be fun and easy, if anyone had the time.

Patrick Dugan October 31, 2005 at 6:04 pm

I used to the think the whole point of the GDC was to go up to the big shots after their talks and throw them your design doc. I’ve slowly wisened up to the reality of professional networking, but this article makes it all very clear.

Stay excellent.

Patrick Dugan October 31, 2005 at 8:50 pm

I neglected to mention that the best way to network year round is via online activity such as blogging and forum posting. I may only be saying this because the GDC wouldn’t give me a student scholarship two years in a row. Still, I’m a big believer that, if success if incumbent on being at the right place at the right time, then the right place is the internet and the right time is now.

Squirrel Eiserloh January 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I couldn’t possibly agree more with this advice – in particular, the distinction of “excellent” over “important” people. For me personally, there are two additional extensions of that reasoning:

1. Do not bother networking with “important” people who are NOT “excellent”. They are (thankfully) somewhat rare, but they exist. Don’t be rude to them, but they’re not worth your extra effort. For me, that’s when you cross over the line from “networking” to “kissing ass”.

2. Remember that this also means networking “downhill” (or downstream, or whatever your metaphor). Those “little people” that are 5 or 10 or 15 years behind you in their industry career can still very much have excellence that’s worth knowing. And you’d be surprised how incestuous the industry is – on a long enough timeline, we are all veterans and everyone and we’ll all end up working for or with each other in some capacity. In fact, we are currently doing some freelance consulting for a company whose point of contact (and therefore my “boss” for the contract) is someone I hired into the industry many years ago.

Darius Kazemi January 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Great advice! And nice to see you ’round these parts, Squirrel :)

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