If you’re a small developer and you’re having trouble finding skilled help, you might consider teaming up with a local college or university. Schools are often in search of professionals who can come in as adjunct faculty to teach specialized courses, especially courses that would be popular with students. Game-focused classes are popular because so many people want to get into games, but these classes tend to focus more on game design than the “hard” skills needed by game companies.
The problem facing those trying to break in, of course, is that the industry needs artisans – especially programmers and artists – who have specialized skills coding in C++ or creating 3D models and environments in 3ds Max or Maya. While many colleges offer some courses in object-oriented programming and 3D graphics, the instructors usually have no game industry experience, and so students are simply introduced to the basics of a language or graphics program with minimal experience in creating large, long-term projects like games. Moreover, most schools do not require students to work in teams where they learn about sharing duties and working to a milestone schedule. Finally, each department at a college may act as its own fiefdom, and therefore trying to set up an interdisciplinary course where artists and programmers work together is nigh on impossible.
You might want to check your local college to see what kind of graphics and programming courses they currently offer. If their offerings for programming and 3D graphics are limited or non-existent, you might be able to help them by sharing your technical know-how and in return they might be able to help you by turning out more skilled graduates.
Teaching a course requires a major time commitment. In addition to preparing the lessons, you also have to grade the students either through tests or projects. Before starting, you need to think through what you want to cover in the course and how you will present the materials. You have to write up a syllabus outlining your lectures and grading method to be approved by the school. Preparing a one-hour lecture can take three to four hours while grading tests and projects can take an hour or more per student or team. You also should include time getting to and from the school and for meetings with students to answer their questions.
If your project is nearing a major milestone, you may not have the time to devote teaching to a class. You can still be of help to schools by offering to give lectures to classes or taking part in symposiums. By reaching out to the schools, you will gain allies who may be able to help you find talented students to hire when they’ve finished their degrees.
Another way to work with schools is to offer internships where students work at your company for 15-20 hours a week during a quarter/semester and receive credit from the school. You can find out how quickly students fit into your company environment and how well they work without having to make a commitment to hire them. However, you still have to make a major investment in time, resources and effort because internships are supposed to be learning experiences. Each intern will need equipment and software and someone act as a mentor until the student is up and running. The school will expect students to do some real work on a project, too, not simply play testing or debugging. Of course, once you have established a good relationship with a school, you can offer temporary jobs through the college’s placement or outreach office for students as testers during summer recess.
Some schools offer work study courses where students work at a company full-time for a whole year. These kinds of courses are ideal for game companies, since internships are relatively short. By the time students catch on to the basics of game production, their internships are over. Work study courses are better because they are long-term and therefore a student can be taught the basics of game production early on and then start turning out significant code or artwork for the remainder of their stay. Students learn not only how to make games but also what it’s like to work at a game company, and therefore they will require almost no mentoring if hired permanently.
If you are interested in working with a local college or university, contact the Art or Computer Science department to see if they can use your assistance. Be proactive about what you can do for the school – giving lectures, hiring students part-time, teaching courses, offering internships/work studies. In return, let the school know what classes you would like to see taught, if necessary by employees at your company who are willing to make the effort. Working with a local college or university is a great way to get the best employees as they leave academia for the real world.
Michael E. Moore is a 30-year veteran of the game industry. He was recently chair of the Game Department at DigiPen Institute of Technology and is author of “Introduction to the Game Industry” and “Game Development Essentials: Game Industry Career Guide” (with Jeannie Novak). He is currently finishing a book on the mechanics of game play.