Do you remember when you were a kid and adults asked you what you wanted to become when you grew up? I certainly remember - I always had the same answer. I told people I wanted to become a video game developer.
But I was a kid of the early '90s and when I told adults my dreams, it was often met with scoff and hesitation.
"Well, you'll probably have to move to Japan and work for Nintendo."
"Video-game developer jobs are rare."
Yes, back then the video game industry was far more niche than it is today. By the time I finished high school in 2005, my dreams of becoming a game developer had been long forgotten. Instead, I opted to attend Ryerson University in downtown Toronto to study something far more sensible - Business Management.
Once I graduated in 2010 and started working various jobs in the business sector I always had a feeling of... "is this it?" I remembered that my peers who I had studied and graduated with had so much passion for what they were doing, whether it was finance, human resources or marketing. Why didn't I feel the same way?
Then in 2014, I started to work for an HVAC wholesaler called Keystone Steam Supplies. It was a small company where a lot of the processes were still done by hand. For the next couple of years, I started learning about steam and hydronic systems and working on sales, marketing and IT for them.
To my surprise, it was the IT portion of the job I naturally drifted towards. I had always had a natural affinity for computers and I quickly found my place as the "computer broken - go fix" guy for everyone who worked there. I ended up bringing the company into the digital era by redesigning the website. I automated and digitized many of its manual processes, drastically increasing efficiency. And I even developed a massive Google price calculator for the company's large inventory list. Tasks that used to take days, or even weeks, to complete could now be finished in a few hours.
For a while, I felt like I had finally found my place. I hadn't thought about game development for a long time. And it stayed that way until one day in late 2016 when I came across a Facebook ad for Gamedev.tv. "Learn to develop video-games - no programming experience required."
Piquing my interest, I signed up for the original (now archived) 2D development course and immediately fell in love with it. I remember those projects fondly - Text 101, Block Breaker, Laser Defender, Glitch Garden. Not only that - but it turned out I was really good at it! That took me by surprise considering how poorly I had done in my high school Java and Visual Basic classes.
Over the next several years I continued working for Keystone Steam Supplies while learning more and more about game development. I took more Gamedev.tv courses; I started a YouTube channel where I produced coding tutorials of my own, and I developed and launched several games such as Portal Galaxy and Feeding Mr. Slithers under my own brand - Wild Cockatiel Games. But I still never considered game development to be a viable career option. After all, I was now in my mid-thirties, I didn't have a computer science degree and I had been working in completely unrelated industries doing jobs that had nothing to do with software development.
Then one day in early 2022 something unexpected happened. The HR recruiter from a local Toronto game-development company contacted me about applying to work for them as a Unity Developer. Me? I only briefly discussed some of my game development on my LinkedIn profile. I was in disbelief but of course, I went and did the interview. And guess what happened?... I didn't get the job. In fact, I never made it past the HR recruiter. But that did spark something within me. If someone thought that I had what it took to apply to work for them when I had barely mentioned I did game development for fun, what could happen if I actually tried?
I remembered seeing an ad for a Gamedev.tv course a while back - How to get a job in the video-game industry. I signed up for it and consumed the course's material in one week. I followed everything Rick said to do - I updated my LinkedIn, resume, cover letter, created a portfolio and started making LinkedIn connections. The only part of the course I didn't focus too much on was creating an artifact - as that seemed less relevant for a programmer position. Plus, I felt confident since I had launched several games on my own, as well as having a programming YouTube channel.
I started applying for jobs and I started getting interviews. I received several rejections until I found one company in Vancouver called Raccoopack Media that said yes - they would hire me to be a Unity Developer. It was a position that started as a 4-month contract back in August 2022 but has since then transitioned to a full-time role. The company is fully remote, which is wonderful, but one of the really cool things about working here is that we have a virtual office on an app called Gather. It's fun having our little virtual office spaces to decorate.
It's been an amazing experience working with them and I'm incredibly grateful to George and the rest of the team for helping me transition into my dream career path. The job has been highly rewarding, but of course, comes with its own challenges. I remember on my first few days of the job when I found out what I would be working on I suddenly had a huge feeling of imposter syndrome and actually asked my wife, "how did I con them into hiring me?" After clocking out on my first week I actually continued to work on my own time in the evening because I was nervous that I would fall behind otherwise.
Fortunately, my time with Raccoopack has given me the confidence to know that I made the right choice. Also, working as a full-time Unity Developer has accelerated my learning exponentially. Now I'm doing things like integrating Unity with databases and other apps - things that seemed like an impossible task only half a year ago. I'm also amazed at how much I've been able to contribute. Whether it's been integrating particle effects or code, I feel like I've become a valuable member of the team. One of my highlights was when my project manager commented that the game I've been working on is the most polished-looking app Raccoopack has made to date.
I thought the odds had been stacked against me. I thought it was too late to transition my career in my thirties. Game development programs at various colleges are producing new graduates every year knowledgeable about the most cutting-edge game dev technologies. How was I supposed to compete with that?
I suppose what I'm trying to say is - if you're having any doubts about getting a job in the game dev industry then remember my story. If I could do it with all of these hurdles then I'm certain you can too.
And of course... I'm still taking GameDev.tv courses. I am currently working on the 3D Unity course as up until now I have mainly focused on 2D. Next, I have my eyes set on the math for game developers course. Ironic considering how much I used to hate math. I'm also looking forward to learning more about multiplayer development and networking.
Keep up the great work!