In my previous post, I wrote about my outline and intent for talking about getting into a career in game development (or elsewhere). In the end, I delivered the presentation ten times at five different high schools. Here are my recollections and reflection on the experience.
High School 1
The first high school was a lot of fun. As I mentioned in the previous post, I was somewhat uncertain about what would constitute an appropriate pitch and this was my first such talk to a group of unknown teenagers — which makes it exciting/scary/fun :)
I talked to two groups of around 40 students back to back. There was a mix of grades (7-10) and a pretty good balance of male/female. The room was smallish for the group, which I like as it makes it all feel nice and cosy, and helps focus attention. Unfortunately, there was limited ventilation, so it did get a bit stuffy through the talks. I got lots of good questions throughout the presentation. There were dead patches (combination of stuffiness and me talking for too long), but overall I was very happy with these sessions. The majority of questions came from younger students, with fewer from those in grade 9 and 10, though those seemed to be (at least) weighing up what I had to say.
I don’t recall giving the same presentation back-to-back before, and due to my talk-about-things-as-I-get-to-them style, at various stages in the second talk I lost track of whether I was repeating myself to the group. Fortunately, I had the Pathway Planning Officer present in the room (sitting among the group) who asked some useful leading questions from time to time, which seemed to work well.
Also, I had some pacman-shaped keychains from the UTas School of Computing. They were popular ;)
Feedback: see the comment here.
High School 2
After being advertised to other high schools around the state, I was contacted about visiting another one nearby. The original suggestion was that I would talk to the ICT class(es) — I pushed back against this, suggesting that it would be far better to talk to students with some interest in the industry, and this was agreed to.
The presentation was — I believe — advertised to students, and they could opt in. The group was 40+ students, mostly year 9 and 10, some 7 and 8, and included one female.
The setting was a larger area in an open-plan building, which meant attention was less focussed inwards. I would describe this talk as being “more work”. I got far fewer questions and less interaction, which resulted in me talking more. I don’t like that — it tends to be a cycle that is hard to break. That said, I still got a number of good questions. Particularly, some of the younger guys were very keen and were making games. At this school I was asked for suggestions about how to get into gamedev when you don’t have a computer or internet access outside of school.
At one stage in the presentation, I was certain that I saw a look of horror on the face of one of the staff due to something I’d said. Not sure what it was (or — in hindsight — if I’d read it correctly), but it stood out and amused me just a bit.
High School 3
Another room full of guys, opted-in, nicely structured seating, great attention, lots of questions and engagement. Grades 7–10 (iirc). Turned out that this school uses GameMaker as part of the ICT curriculum, and these were a particular eager and interested bunch.
After the presentation, one asked to show me a game he had been working on, which was absolutely fantastic to see — I got to see it in action, hear his plans for what he wanted to do with it, offer some ideas. Also, some days afterwards, one of the students sent me a thank-you card! :D
High School 4
This place was hard work. Three sessions, each to a different grade computing class (against my stated preference). Included students who were vocally opposed to being there, and consequently an environment where it was difficult to get engagement (answers to questions or questions from the audience). Sessions were held in computing classrooms, with PCs around the outside of the room, and chairs clustered (somewhat awkwardly) in the middle.
It wasn’t a total loss — there were certainly students interested in gamedev careers, and there were others that (I’m pretty sure) heard enough about what I had to say about career preparation in general that it might be of benefit.
The second session was with the grade 10 class, who were very short on questions. There were a number in this group who were clearly a lot more thoughtful and calculating — there were looks of concentration on and consideration of what I had to say. Also, the couple of teachers in the room threw in some questions to help focus the content on what was relevant to this age group — questions of subject selection for college and later came up from teachers a few times through the talk. My answer to that is do what is useful for the sort of career you want — there are potential benefits to both broader and narrower paths.
The three talks at this school were spread out over a whole school day, and the last group, at the end of the day were grade 7 and 8s. There was not a lot of focussed attention in the room. There were a number that were distracted and distracting for most of the session. In the end, it kind of devolved into me asking for games people had played recently and me providing a quick fact/anecdote/news headline about the game/mechanic/developer/development process/whatever. In hindsight, I’m not sure what it was the best way to round out the session — it kept their attention, but probably wasn’t all that useful.
There was a cool conclusion to the day — after the last session, one of the students demoed some gameplay extensions he’d made to a game he’d downloaded from @notch’s website (I think it was this). Getting to meet students with this kind of interest and enthusiasm (and this wasn’t the only time it happened) was the high point for me of the whole series of presentations.
High School 5
Final school, another three presentations. This time, I spoke to all of the grade 10 students (and one grade 9 guy who was super keen). I was a bit worried that this one would be another one stifled by objectors, but overall things went very well. The students were interested and engaged, and mostly the dynamic within the room was comfortable/amiable. It was a great place to finish.
The school has a large kitchen operated by students, and I was provided lunch from there which was also pretty cool — students eager, active and making stuff (eats!) was consistent with what I was trying to encourage and a delight to see :D
Themes of questions did tend to vary from school to school — I do recall answering different styles of questions at different schools, though it’s hard to generalise what the differences were. I did get quite a few questions about what my favourite game is that I was not well prepared for — “I like lots of different types of games” is not a satisfying answer, even to me.
I had very little with me in terms of props — a whiteboard, upon which I wrote my name and wrote the 5 points as I went through them, and my Touchpad (containing notes, in case of catastrophic memory failure). My name — deliberately written out in full — tended to lead to some banter between myself and those gathered before the presentation regarding its pronunciation, which worked as a starting ice breaker. I did try chatting with the students beforehand in most cases to try to help lower the barrier to interaction during the talk.
Another stand-out was arriving early at one of the schools and getting to hear a couple of pieces performed by the small male choir, which was very impressive :)
Was it worth it? What was the benefit? Would I do it again? I enjoyed delivering the presentations, and the experience overall — but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. The feedback I have received is that there were students who were impacted by what I had to say — there were consequences. Students (and teachers) gained a slightly better understanding of the industry. I didn’t sugar-coat it — I presented what I think was a fair summary of risk and reward. I told no one to go into gamedev — rather, encouraged them to work for what they’re passionate about, to choose to do things that will help, and maybe to aspire a little higher than they otherwise might do. Given the chance, I would be very happy to do this sort of thing again.