Every few months there is a wave of emails about students wanting to intern at dotBunny. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, it is from a placement coordinator. Other times, it’s the student themselves pleading their case. I still try to look through all the HR emails, looking for that one person that sets themselves apart. Unfortunately, finding those gems has become more and more of a challenge as the years have gone by. Coupled with the obligation that I feel to provide value to an intern’s experience, it just isn’t in the cards . You should know your limits, and play within it!

BUT I went to a game development program at college!

As the industry has grown, the educational institutions have too. Creating programs to bestow students with diplomas and degrees. The problem with these sorts of programs, and industry has been quite vocal about it, is authenticity. Programs being designed, developed and taught by people who have never done the real thing professionally. It’s like having an auto mechanic designing a course in micro biology. They can read about it in books, and watch YouTube videos about it, but they don’t have the in the trenches authenticity when they talk about the subject. Yet, it happens, a lot more than it should, and students are starting to catch on and ask the right questions ahead of time. I’ve talked about this before, over and over, so I’ll keep it there.

To make matters worse, I’ve seen in multiple cases instructors misrepresent their experience to students, and even their administration. From suggestions of having a PhD in game development to implying they’ve made games professionally. It’s disappointing to see people posturing themselves like that. I’ve taken the stance not to get involved. It’s on the employer to prove out their staff’s legitimacy.

They’re all bad?

No. There are some great things tucked just below the surface. Currently, in my opinion, the best grads in Ontario are coming from Sheridan College. The projects the grads produce speaks for itself, and has for many years. The way Sheridan has structured their curriculum and streams seems to just work. They also, as you would hope, have instructors and program developers with real industry experience. If you are looking for an online program, Full Sail remains one of the best online programs after all these years. Same idea with them, since their start, they have always tried to bring real world experience to their offerings and most people in the industry know about them.

Yes, full disclosure, I hope to change this soon and do something with Fleming College, that was part of my pitch after all.

Things I look for when looking at resumes / interns

What an applicant has done. Plain and simple. I tell every single student I talk with; your portfolio must shine. Not from the content you generate in school, but the content you create on your own time. I think almost everyone I know in the video games industry can pick out the school projects. There is nothing wrong with that! However, having content that says you’ve done something on your own time is more impressive and will open doors. It is almost like saying, yes, I do care about making games and do it when I’m not required.

Over my career I have had three instances where, if I could have brought on an intern, I would have. In those three cases, I instead contacted a few people I knew with openings and asked them to have a look at the applicants.

Good examples

The first was someone apply for an art internship years ago. The applicant had taken characters from a game we had recently completed work on and clay figures of them with accessories! This caught my attention, to this day I remember it, and even have a saved picture of them. That is the sort of impact you want to have.

The second was a person who approached me for some advice on what to do to improve their chances of getting into the games industry. He had told me about how he had participated in game jams during high school in his remote town, and how he was trying his hardest to do little contract jobs. His motivation and experience before going to ‘post-secondary’ made me confident he was destined for greatness. At the point of writing this, his studio is about to release their first game across numerous platforms.

The third person, most recent again showed an aptitude and willingness to work. He aggressively was eating up information and using it to create prototypes of a variety of game concepts. This again, all before having attended any of the post-secondary programs.

Do you see the trend? Making your self shine so brightly that you can’t be missed. Why didn’t I bring those examples on as interns? This is a complicated answer, broken between two major talking points.

Task Availability

dotBunny positions itself as an experienced solutions provider, leveraging our years of experience to offer effective solutions in and around the video games industry. Our clients are paying for our experience, and honouring that relationship is paramount. While having an intern work on a project would help our bottom line, it exposes our clients and our company to an enormous risk. The intern likely would not have the prerequisite experience that we have promised our clients. A good example of this was our recent R&D work into mass data capture and manipulation. After we handed the project off to the client, they inadvertently hired a studio which put a junior on the project. Couple months later, there has been no traction, and the product is bordering on missing its market window. That was a junior, imagine if an intern was used.

I’m not in any capacity saying interns are a bad thing. The experience can be great for the company and the intern, should the situation be arranged correctly.

What about on internal projects? Dethol!

Internal projects inside of dotBunny often revolve around a quick prototype, or a Friday project that evolves into something shared with the community. Dethol is really our first internal game which has grit behind it. As it stands now in the development process, we are heavily into  engineering, which unfortunately for the prospects of interns, doesn’t fit whatsoever. Objectively, these are senior level problems which we need to solve effectively and efficiently.

It’s our own money on the line here, and with no intention to hire the intern, it would not be a good fit.

What about making work for them?

When the idea of interns first came about I spent some time thinking about the morality of this situation. Creating a division of the company which was exclusively intern powered could produce something at a fraction of our regular costs. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea, but it quickly loses its luster as you look at the details. Firstly it almost immediately puts the company in a bad light. Any colleague that I discussed this arrangement with, immediately pointed out that this smells fishy. The general gist, interns should complement your work force, not be driving it.

Mentorship

The intern relationship with a company in my opinion is one that should be reciprocal. The intern is helping the company out, and in return the company is giving that intern some real-world experience. That means, to me at least, that every intern should have a mentor relationship with someone in the company that can support them throughout the experience.  After discussing that idea with my team, it was clear that no one really wanted to take on that burden to their workload. I respect that decision on their part, and was not going to force it.

In Practice

The difference between a junior and a senior developer’s work is should be immediately clear. Having to redo and fix problems caused by inexperience is a major time sink and holds back projects from completion. A project that should take a month in a senior developer’s spare time, with interns could take multiple years. That sort of timeline scares me, and means that you are constantly changing your engineering team.

I’ve seen the direct effect of losing engineers mid project and cannot begin to imagine what would happen with a revolving door of developers on a project. Let alone the issues upon release of anything created under that system.

So what do you do?

Absolutely nothing.

Yup, that really is the current solution until things change. I’m hopeful that recent developments may lead to some changes in that space. In Ontario, they are formalizing what the diploma program looks like for Game Development, so this should clean up the mess of fly-by-night schools running courses with no industry backed experience. I provided feedback on the program and while it isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.

Time will tell really as every couple months a new batch of students get shopped around for placements. Admittedly they are getting better, so little rants like this are to some effect having an impact, or they just upset the status quo.

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