Tag: first job

What would I teach myself. My first job

What would I teach myself. My first job

Following on from my previous post. This week I should be giving a talk in Helsinki, but I can’t due to lockdown ☹. So I’m going to put some of my thoughts, memories, learning’s down into my blog. Hopefully at some point in the future I’ll be able to do this in person.

Vantaa (North side of Helsinki)

First job

So I’d gained my degree in computer games, spent quite a while refining my demo 3D game for the playstation, navigated the interview (thankfully I’d learned from my disaster with GTA makers Rockstart North) and gained my first programming role since leaving university.

My game was similar to Wipeout (above image), but without many of the fancy graphics or multiple weapons!

I was happy, excited and yet at the same time the warning signs where there. But I didn’t have the experience to see what was actually happening.

1st Warning Sign

I had to cancel my honeymoon! Yes I was in the process of getting married, booked and organised everything and as is the normal process after being married you go away for a few weeks. It was all planned, 3 weeks away, but in order to get the job I had to agree to cancel it and drop it down to 1 week!
Of course being my first role I was all to eager. I pushed all our holiday plans back from Aug to Jan.

Why was this a warning? If a place is hiring a junior/graduate developer and they need them so desperately they can’t take a pre-planned holiday, then there is a MAJOR MAJOR issue going on.
(As much as I thought my skills were the best, they obviously were not, as any senior dev will attest to)

2nd Warning Sign

Again as a junior I did not get this, but having now been in many different organisations, training doesn’t stop when you leave uni. Training, mentoring, continual learning must be the foundation of any established organisation taking on new programmers.

Did my new employers give me any? Nope, no plan, nothing. I got a desk and pointed in the direction of a code repo and a database/spreadsheet of bugs. Thousands of them!

Did anyone help me, do some pairing, give me some tips etc. Again nope! When I look back, it was so clear this place was doomed.

3rd Warning Sign

Where is my team? So the company was based in Scotland, they were making the multiplayer portion for a AAA console game for EA who were based in the States. Christmas deadlines where looming. This was back in the early 2000’s – getting GB’s of data from the States to Scotland and back each day was painfully slow. So the entire team where flown out to LA – except for me and one other – for months.
The office did have 2 other games being made, so I wasn’t entirely on my own. But the other guy on the same project I was on that I can remember was an artist. Due to restrictions on IP, NDA’s etc we had next to no interactions with the other teams. No chance for learning or gaining experience.

Could it have been worse?

Quite frankly as a junior developer it couldn’t have been worse! Other than getting a good wage, some nice benefits (worked evenings to tie up with the guys in the States – so unlimited pizza each night) and not knowing any better, I expected that once the crazy release time was over things would improve. So I coasted along, not doing very much, frankly I hadn’t a clue what I was doing and no one really to ask.

Later I found out they didn’t care, for them I was just a number, head count so they didn’t breach there contract!

What happened next?

January came around, the entire team were still away. The game had been released and the dust had settled. I went away on my delayed honeymoon for a couple of weeks. All was well – I thought. Expected to have the team come back soon, get into a new project, start fresh, learn some code etc. Nope, nope and a big fat get lost.

Arrived at our house after a great holiday, to a letter which spoke of issues and blah blah blah. That was it, game over. No longer required!
Long story short, a few months after I was let go, the company collapsed. Looking back, really not surprised in the slightest.


Would I still have taken the job knowing the future? Yes.
Was there anything I could have done differently? Yes and no.

Experience is top dog, so if you can gain anything then go for it. But do not be afraid to keep looking even if you have just started a job. If you have time, spend that time creating and experimenting on what you enjoy.
I struggled for a long time not knowing what to do. Without having people physically near it was even harder to ask questions, but I should have. Keep asking, asking asking!
Expectation entirely from myself was that I should have known what to do, asking ‘simple’ questions seemed wrong. But I know now I was wrong not to ask. Ultimately it would have made zero difference to the company, but it would have made my time better. I would have been more productive, while I’d have gained more valuable insight which would then go on to aid in future positions.

Top points

  • Ask, ask and ask some more.
  • If you have time, work on personal items you enjoy (this will let you get a new job)
  • You are valuable, even at junior level. If they are not investing in you, you are being used. Prepare to LEAVE.
  • Do not be fooled by gimmicks such as games machines, free food & fruit, playing LAN games during lunch etc! These are great and may seal the deal to keep you in a job you enjoy, but if the core (investment in you) isn’t there, these are not worth it.

This post has gone on a bit longer than I expected. So I’ll continue the learning’s from my 2nd job (and last) in the games industry in the next post. Plus what I went into after games.

What would I teach myself?

What would I teach myself?

I’m sad right now. Why?
Well many months ago, when looking forward to this week coming, I expected to be getting myself all worked up. Tonnes of nerves, excitement, anticipation etc. Yes I was meant to be at the seriously good React Finland Conference, doing my first talk!

But, as with everything right now, Covid-19 is putting the best laid plans to the side. Off course all going well I’ll get back to Helsinki another time. Beautiful city and having been twice already I’ve got some great memories already. Anyway I digress…

View from bridge in Helsinki
View from one of the bridges in Helsinki

“Notes to my younger self “

Yes that was the title of my talk – “Notes to my younger self “. So what exactly would I try to teach myself if I had the chance?

Abstract –

Want to hear about getting the most out of the company you are in, whether it’s a dead end job or perhaps the company are on the brink of sinking into oblivion? Maybe you’ve hit the apparent jackpot and are working in the most fantastic start up – is it though?
It’s also about you! Listen to this talk and hear real life lessons on why Monday mornings are not painful, but are instead something that can be looked forward to.
And of course the code, all those things I’ve done or not done over the years – would I do it all again the same? No!

To much there for a single post, so I’ll see if I can break them up into various posts.

Where to start???

Context is king. So where have I gained my knowledge from? Here is a super brief outline.

  • First 9 years of being a developer – 12 companies.
    • First few were permanent roles, later ones were as a contractor
  • Worked in games industry, creative and business sectors
  • Been in tiny start ups, and huge multi million pound teams
  • Had privilege to work all over the UK and further (not a fan of the sun, but warm countries in winter, yeah I’ll take that again 👍)
  • Last 8 years, been in one company, with the ability to swap teams (essentially new job, but with same employer)

The Start

I’m going to go back to a point where I wasn’t even thinking about work!
This doesn’t matter whether you are self learning, evening courses, formal university or other means to learn to code. Find something you enjoy, make it your pet project, create it, develop it and use it for your CV.

This will be your best friend when you go looking for a job. If I was to interview two people and one had a demo and a degree (lets say a 2.1) and someone else only had a degree, but it was a 1st. Who’d I hire? The one with the demo (providing it was good 😉).

Why? Enthusiasm and a passion will trump pure head knowledge any day. If I can see your code, I can see how you think and how well you’ll fit into a team. Coding more often than not requires team work. Working on your own, being the sole developer has it’s place, but on anything substantial you’ll have to share responsibility.

For me, I created a 3D racing game for the playstation (yes this was almost 20 years ago now). It got me a number of interviews with games companies. I can still recall my first ever interview, with Rockstar North – for a role with creating GTA! Man did I screw that interview up!!! That’s for another post! Still it was a learning experience 😎

TIP – avoid super clever code

You’ve spent two days solving a problem, you’ve been in the zone and created a masterpiece, it’s even got multiple levels of recursion in it, so elegant you want to frame it.

Now you’ve solved it – change it! Clever code, or more to the point masterpiece code, no one will be able to debug it or follow it, other than you (only after getting back into the ‘zone’).

This is why if you are one of those really clever coders that can name and use ever pattern under the sun, think about those that will follow. It’s a team effort, code must be readable/maintainable. If it’s such a masterpiece then highly unlikely to be either of these things.

We’ve all been there and we can be proud of our creations, at the time the code makes complete sense. But pull your colleague over and get them to scan it. How many attempts did it take them to understand, if at all without you telling them what each part does?

I’ve done it before, had a senior dev come over and polity tell me to change it. Was I annoyed – yes a wee bit. Was he right? Yes, completely.
Creating the ‘masterpiece’ wasn’t a waste of time though. It will give you a deep understanding of the issues and as in my case the refactor was a fairly painless exercise. End result, clean maintainable code.

Getting back to your personal project for demo purposes. Test Test Test.
It’s the phase of our times just now, but it applies to code as well as covid! Maintainable code will be tested, can you write tests? Show you can. Take time to test, doing so will get you a job and a good job at that.

If an employer isn’t interested in testing, you are going to be in for a rough role. Beggars can’t be choosers with your first job, but you’re going to want to leave there pronto.

Next post

I’ll cover my experience in my first role, which was very much less than ideal for a range of reasons. Enjoyable and not at the same time. Find out more here