Corporate Networking: The First Few Months

by Darius Kazemi on January 29, 2008

in corporate,networking

This is the first part of a sub-series of networking articles about a topic that has always fascinated me: networking within a corporation. How do you go from zero to hero at a given company? I’ll be writing this from my experience starting in QA at a mid-size (250-person) development studio. My advice almost certainly needs to be modified for a very small (5 person) company, and I’m curious as to how it scales for large (1000+ person) companies. Feedback is encouraged.

When you’re a new low-level hire at a game company (let’s say you’re in QA) and trying to get yourself known around the office as someone who’s competent, you’ll quickly find yourself in an apparent catch-22. You need to be humble, you should not step on anyone’s toes, and yet if you’re too humble nobody will ever know how awesome you are and you will toil in silence.

How do you rise up as a star at a company without looking like a self-promoting jackal? It happens in stages, and today we begin with stage one.

For the first month to three months, you want to be excellent, be silent, and be observant.

Being Excellent

When you start working somewhere, you just want to spend a while being an excellent worker. If you’re a QA tester, focus on writing great bugs, and and running through testplans and regressions quickly, but carefully. (FYI, a test plan is basically a checklist of things you need to test to see if they’re working. Regressions are bugs that have been reported as fixed, and you’re double-checking to make sure they were actually fixed.)

You get to be a great QA tester largely by focusing on your work. I’ve seen it time and time again. Good testers are the ones whose eyes are bleeding by the end of the day and have gotten into a state of flow while working. The bad testers are the ones who are distracted all the time. Not that a good tester can’t take a break, but it’s a matter of scheduling breaks so your flow is not interrupted.

But anyway, you want to focus on basic, quality work. While this isn’t going to make you famous in the company, it will certainly endear you to your immediate supervisor, which is absolutely critical.

Be Silent

I am a huge fan of rocking the boat, changing process that doesn’t work, righting the wrongs within a company. However, don’t do this your first few months on the job. You will only gain enemies. If you attempt to change things, you’re probably not even changing the right things for the right reasons, because you haven’t taken the time to learn about your environment.

Now you should obviously speak up if you have questions about the way things are done. “How do I XYZ? Who is in charge of the graphics engine?” Those are fine things to ask. But keep quiet on the controversial stuff. For now.

Be Observant

The best part about shutting the fuck up is that it forces you to listen, observe, and learn. Pay very close attention to who is liked and disliked on your team. I learned a lot from noting which testers were considered annoying pests by the development team and reading the bugs filed by those testers to learn how to not piss off the development team. At the same time, a tester can be very annoying to the dev team but they might be a huge asset to QA for the same reason. So make sure to note who is liked and disliked by whom, and theorize as to what reasons.

The best thing about being in QA is that 90% of meaningful corporate communication lives on a bug server with archives that you can search through. Learn about the different personalities this way. It helps if you literally draw a map of who is friends and enemies with whom. I actually did this.

Most importantly, learn about the process at your company. Learn why it’s in place. Learn who is invested in that process, and learn who secretly hates it.


The first few months at a company require restraint and full-on humility. You’ll be an excellent worker and will probably not receive any recognition in return. That’s okay, because you’re learning about the organization, and in doing so you’re learning different avenues in which you can promote your own awesomeness without coming off as a complete asshole.


David January 29, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Work as hard as you would playing games.

Think before you do. Really… THINK. No, seriously…

There are small things that you can do that will make you stand out. Forfeit some of your own personal pleasures (breaks, talking on your cell phone, your weekends), show up on time, and respect those that have been there longer than you… No, scratch that. Respect everybody and treat people like you would want to be treated.

Nobody asked you to work a weekend, but screw it, if you have things that you can get done… do it anyway.

Joe blow is talking on his cell phone all of the time, and Suzie blue is too, do you think they are getting anything done or impressing anybody? No. So stay away from the trends.

Smuckateli shows up late really often… No, here is a question… The majority of your office shows up late pretty often. I mean, MAJORITY… 10… 15 minutes late. What do you do…. This is tough for people… *plays jeopardy theme* If you said go with the flow of traffic and join in, you are wrong. Show up early. Be passionate about what YOU are doing, NOT what they are doing. You may think 10 minutes may not matter, but I am 100% positive that people are watching you and somebody will care. Show up early and ready to help the TEAM. Again, stay away from trends.

And I’ve got to reiterate what was written. BE SILENT. Running your mouth does not get any work done. Face it. It doesn’t. Focus on your job, and your stint of the work day. Gab later. Work. You’re passionate about this job? Prove it.

And my final piece of advice. ALWAYS have something to do. For the love of everything sacred, this is not the industry to say, “Well, I just don’t have anything to do, so I’ll just sit here and fiddle around.” Initiative. If you don’t know the word, look it up and think hard about it.

It truly is the small things that matter. Pay attention, listen, and use common sense, even if it isn’t so common to you. Think before you do something.

Will Jennings January 29, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Nice article, as usual, Darius — I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.

A couple of other pieces that I think are especially important for the first 1-3 months:

- Find out what your real job is. This falls under being observant. Who is using the products of your work? How? What are their needs? Why does your job exist? The answers to these questions determine what it means to be excellent — there’s no way for you to know the details of that before you start work. People with the same job title – and even the same list of responsibilities in the job description – may serve very different purposes at different companies.

- Establish a feedback loop with the person to whom you report. If your boss doesn’t set up a regular one-on-one with you when you start, ask for one. If s/he turns you down or consistently cancels on you, find an excuse to be in their office every other week, at the time of day where they’re the least busy / most likely to be slacking off (be observant again). Alternate between a specific question about how you’re doing (in Darius’s QA example, “What could I be doing to write better bugs?” or “This bug went back and forth between me and the programmer lots of times — is there something I should have done differently?”) and a catch-all variation on “How am I doing so far?”

- Be looking for a mentor that’s not your boss. Really a stable of mentors. Identify examples of the following characters: 1) the person who’s an absolute whiz at the thing you were hired to do 2) the person who knows everybody and makes them smile 3) the person who’s been at the company (or in the business) forever and loves telling stories about its past exploits 4) the person who always brings the baked goods 5) the quiet one that everybody listens to when s/he finally does speak.

- Learn everyone’s name. And use it whenever you say hello to them. Don’t be shy about asking when you’ve forgotten – you’ve got a free pass on that for a while. It’s not just a Dale Carnegie thing — it’s a big help when sorting out the political / organizational landscape from emails and the bug database if you can put a face to the names.

Patrick January 30, 2008 at 2:08 am

How would this advice alter if you’re coming in at a non-entry level position, such as producer or designer?

Branden January 30, 2008 at 4:48 am

From what I understand, it’s next to impossible to jump into the industry and receive a design position. To be hired as a designer from outside of a company, often you need to have shipped a title as a designer, so to become a designer in the first place usually means working your way up the ranks.

Joe Ludwig January 30, 2008 at 1:21 pm

I would add: (you might be holding these for future articles)
Be Helpful. Once you have the lay of the land, you will undoubtedly come across somebody with a problem you can solve. If you can do that without stepping on TOO MANY toes, it will get you gratitude and recognition.

Take on responsibility. Don’t wait for someone to hand you responsibility for X, Y, or Z. If you see something isn’t getting done, start doing it. As long as whatever it is has value for somebody other than yourself you’re going to end up the de facto owner of that task, no matter how new you are.

The 5 person company version of this is pretty simple: As the company grows make sure that you are valuable enough that new people come in under you instead of over you.

If you’re in 5 person company that isn’t growing you’re probably screwed.

Ian Schreiber January 31, 2008 at 3:56 am

@David: Initiative is huge. Worth repeating. Several times. School seems like it’s designed to suck all initiative out of people: here’s your homework assignment, when you’re done you can goof off all you want. The work environment isn’t like that; if you finish your assignment, get another one! Or better yet, find another one on your own without having to ask (as long as you can figure out how to do this without stepping on anyone else’s toes).

@Patrick: If you’ve got a full-time, quasi-permanent job, then there’s a little less pressure; you’re not automatically losing your job in a few months, so impressing people is no longer an absolute condition to retain employment. But I think the advice still applies for purposes of raises, bonuses and promotions; your first few months, do what you can to impress the hell out of your boss with the quality/quantity of your work. Darius didn’t say it outright, but this is at least partly because of the power of first impressions: honestly, if you’re the world’s hardest worker bee for three months and then a complete slacker for a year, your colleagues will STILL think of you as a hard worker.

@Darius: I’d also add, ask for the occasional favor for someone. Yes, this puts you in their debt. This is a good thing, because it turns someone who might be apathetic towards you to someone who has a stake in your well-being. I actually learned this from a college course I took, if you can believe it.

happyboy November 5, 2008 at 3:01 pm

















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