L: During my five years working as an engineer, I often found myself leading projects and initiatives that were part of the overall project I was working on. I enjoyed doing this more than hard-core technical work. Project management was an important role at the company where I was working and I knew building those skills would serve me well throughout my career. So, when the opportunity came up on an exciting new project, I went for it.
J: Before entering the video game industry, you were a project manager in other industries. What motivated you to pursue an opportunity in video games, and how did you go about landing your first position at a video game studio?
L: I have been around video games and gamers almost my whole life. Even back in university, my friends and I joked that my destiny may be working in video games… and that was when the industry was much smaller. Ten years later, a friend was recruited by a major game company when they discovered the game he was working on in his spare time. A few months later, he contacted me to tell my husband that they were hiring programmers. I wrote back and said “What about me?” I was working in consumer electronics at the time and missed working on big, cutting edge projects. I rewrote my resume, included all the software experience I had while working in hardware, and highlighted core project management skills. I got called within hours of my friend submitting it to HR.
J: How much of your previous experience was easily transferable to a position in video game development? Conversely, how much did you have to grow, and adapt to succeed in this new field?
L: Other than specific details about how video games are built, almost all of my previous experience was transferable to video game development. I learned how games were built by sitting with the artists, designers and programmers and seeing how they worked. I also took every opportunity to follow various pieces of the project from beginning to end so I could learn the whole process. One of the main differences with games, though, is the criteria for success. In video games, it is subjective. Is it fun? Is it beautiful? Is it easy to use? In hardware, whether or not something works can be determined objectively by measuring voltage, data transfer, signal quality, etc.
J: How does a project manager impact the creation of a video game?
L: The best teams I’ve worked with value good ideas no matter where they come from. As a Production Manager, I think the biggest creative value I provide is in helping the teams come up with easy ways to implement their ideas.
J: How important is it for you as a project manager in this industry to also be a gamer?
L: No matter what industry you are in, it really helps to care about the product you are making. If you only care about dollars and dates, you won’t connect with the product development team and you will get in the way of innovation. Most of the game development team is usually gamers and they more easily respect fellow gamers. That being said, a project manager that is too emotionally caught up in the game content may lose the objectivity needed to do their job – helping the team get the game shipped. That sometimes involves making tough decisions.
J: Has your perspective on video games changed now that you have experience working in the industry?
L: I certainly have a much greater appreciation of how much work and passion goes into building a game.
J: I’m sure that this interview will inspire some of my readers to investigate a potential career in project management in the world of video games. What should they consider before taking this journey? Also, what steps would you recommend taking?
L: First, it is a high-energy, passionate industry, so you have to be more engaged with the team and the project than just showing up and doing your job. Also, working in video games does not mean you play games all day. You need real, proven skills: programming, design, art, and/or project management, especially in leadership roles. It is difficult for us to hire from outside the industry, since our projects need people to ramp up very quickly with very little support. If your resume and LinkedIn profiles show that, you might get an interview. Getting recommended by someone who knows you definitely helps. Once in a while, there are opportunities where we can accommodate more of a learning curve or we need someone with different experience. So, if working in video game development is something you really want to do, I suggest you keep your eyes open and keep trying. You never know when the right opportunity will come along.
J: What do you do for fun?
L: In the past few years, I have really gotten into photography, so I spend a good part of my free time photographing various parts of the city, in addition to hanging out with my friends.
Thank you so much Liza for your time. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you over the last few weeks. Wishing you all the best in your future endeavours.
If you would like to learn more about her and/or the wonderful world of project management, check out her blog, which you can find at http://blog.socketsandlightbulbs.com.