My career started as glamorously as one can imagine. It all began one stormy evening volunteering for a website from my mother’s damp basement, all the while struggling to complete college.
Fortunately, when you have a passion to achieve something, it’s the effort that counts above all else. Try telling that to your mother though, especially when suggesting that you are working on just a game. She was extremely supportive, despite my work often shrouded in mystery and stacked soda cans. It was particularly so because it was the time before the advent of social media. Everyone today is much more aware of each other’s activities online.
Eventually the first check arrived in the mail. No longer was I just volunteering time to do anything I could to build up my skills and social networks. A couple of years later I completed college and then immediately took a sharp right on my career path, right across the Pacific Ocean to China. If you’re working all your life in school to get top grades, I expect those looking for a career to first stop for a moment to take a good look around. Make the time for this before setting out on an even longer and perhaps much more permanent adventure.
While teaching English in China, I continued working for a variety of newly sprouted Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) networks. It was a great adventure just to navigate the unpredictable connection to the Internet. There were days without any internet access at all, and a few times where random websites would be blocked, only to be unblocked days later. I continued to push forward, ignoring these occasional inconveniences by taking a trip down to the local Internet Café. While working from home may be your key to getting a career started, it’s not for everyone. Above all else, don’t neglect a good coffee machine and Internet connection!
Leaping Forward to That Next Step
After returning from China, I felt I was armed to supercharge my career by getting a job at an actual on-site development studio … you know, directly working with people face-to-face. The first order of business was to start networking. It doesn’t matter which industry you are looking to get into, networking is one of your keys to success. Craft a website and present your skills on it, and don’t neglect LinkedIn. Attend as many conferences as possible, primarily to listen and learn, swap business cards, and be a familiar face amongst the crowd. Don’t be shy, but at the same time don’t be a jackass. (Careful with the drinks at after-parties on this last point.)
It took me more than a year after returning from China to land my first gig. Even though I had previous experience at press outlets, community management is much different on the developer side. You are at various trade shows actually presenting the game to visitors that quickly remind you of what it was like to be on that side of the booth. During this year I also decided that writing a book would be something worthy of noting on the resume. I did just that with a book about my year teaching English in China.. Did it help my career? Sure, but it was just one possible path to explore.
Breaking into any industry, especially one as often turbulent as the game industry, will take time, patience, relentless improvement, and admittedly some luck. In addition to creating your own website (which shows design skills and initiative), try working with a mod team, or start your own side project. Since community managers are highly valued for their writing ability, I would suggest starting a blog (or writing that book if you feel extra confident about working on something big). Don’t forget to tweet about these things too! Simply keeping busy is a strong indicator to prospective employers that you are passionate about your career.
Today I have more than 15 years of experience in community management. I wouldn’t change any of it, including the times that were challenging, because I learned something in the process. Be cautious about heading into community management expecting to focus just on tweeting for a company. If that’s your interest, then look for job descriptions with titles around “Social Media”. However, if you love working with the community through multiple website channels, creating events and contests with the help of marketing, handling support aspects in conjunction with the customer support team, then community management may be for you!
What’s your community management adventure? Share your story with us!