Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Note to schools: Remove obstacles!

One thing that came across loud and clear to me at GDC is that there are many developers who would like to teach, but they don't know where to begin... and there are many schools who would like to hire people with industry experience to teach their classes, but every time they try to recruit they don't get any applicants. This is strange. What's going on here?

The solution to this mystery lies in the obstacles that prevent developers from applying. Here are some examples:
  • Accreditation boards require that all professors must have a terminal degree.
  • All applications must go through Human Resources. HR writes the job description and also screens applicants, even though they don't know the first thing about game development.
  • The school is located in a place where there are no professional game developers anywhere nearby.

There are plenty of schools that have found ways to remove these obstacles, and they are the ones who have no problems filling faculty positions. There are other schools that throw up their hands, assuming that these are just forces of nature that can't be worked around, and then they complain that they can't find anyone qualified to teach their classes. If you are at a school where you just can't seem to attract experienced people to teach there, I'm here to tell you that these problems are not insurmoutable if you are sufficiently dedicated. Here are some examples:


  • Talk to your accreditation board to see if any exceptions can be made. Game development (especially game design) is a field where terminal degrees don't exist, so finding someone who is both educated and knows what they're talking about is effectively impossible. See if it's possible to substitute experience for formal education in specific cases.
  • Some accreditation requirements don't force all faculty to hold terminal degrees, just a certain percentage. Hire industry people into departments that are already above the threshold.
  • Accreditation requirements may not apply to certain kinds of positions, like adjuncts or visiting faculty. (I ran into one developer who has happily been a full-time "visiting" professor for the last four years.)
  • Some schools allow provisional hires, where they bring in someone with industry experience to teach now, and it is expected that the person will work on their own time to earn an advanced degree within a certain amount of time. Plenty of industry people are more than willing to do this, we just aren't willing to leave the industry to become a full-time grad student first.
  • I ran into one school that offers online classes, claiming it must meet accreditation requirements in all fifty states. I wondered, if there are only a few states with super-strict requirements, why not hire an industry prof and only offer their classes in (say) 47 states?

Human Resources:

  • I remember a certain job posting where a school was trying to hire an art/animation faculty under the job title of game design. I talked with some people at that school at GDC, who expressed equal frustration at the whole thing. Apparently they had not been consulted to write the job description, and of course anyone from industry contacting the school to inquire about the position would be talking to HR and not them. This is a communication breakdown that could be fixed in a few ways...
  • Open a dialogue with HR to make sure the job postings say what you want them to say.
  • Put contact information in the job posting for someone who actually knows what they're talking about, in case anyone from industry seeks additional information. HR is not capable of answering technical questions about game development, and they will probably not forward these things on in a timely manner, so prevent them from getting these questions in the first place.
  • Don't just post a job opening on your school's website and think you're done, because the number of game developers that regularly search there is pretty much zero. Make postings on places game developers are likely to read, such as Gamasutra and Game_Edu. Attend GDC and go to events and sessions where you're likely to find interested candidates. Spread the word, because it isn't going to spread itself.

Schools located somewhere other than California:

  • First, are you absolutely sure there's no game developers in your area? I had always assumed I was the only professional game developer in the entire state of Ohio, until I received email from a casual game studio just a few miles from where I live. And then another email from a publisher about as far away. And then I met someone from EA at a local IGDA meeting. And then I encountered a local game audio professional on the plane back from GDC, who then told me about another game studio that I've yet to meet. Columbus may not have the developer population of San Francisco, but it's certainly not vacant. Of course, it took a bit of digging (and a bit of luck) for me to find this out. Maybe you're in the same situation and you just don't know it.
  • Does your school offer online courses? If a professor can teach from their living room, you can open your search to the entire world; it doesn't matter where your physical campus is, if all your game courses are online.
  • Do you have teleconferencing? I met a few industry professionals who would be happy to give a guest lecture to my class, as long as they don't have to travel.
  • Develop and maintain ties to the industry. Conferences like GDC are ideal for this. I even met one school that hired a full-time employee whose entire job is to research and contact game development companies. How do these ties help you? For one thing, it makes it much easier to have guest speakers from industry; even if no one lives in (say) Nebraska, maybe a few people have family there, and they'd be happy to drop by for an hour the next time they're visiting. Maybe someone at that company knows someone else who happens to live in your area, and a couple of phone calls to a friend of a friend gets your position filled (it's a small industry). And even if you don't have any faculty with industry experience, you can at least run your course content and curriculum through an industry advisory board, and get additional feedback from any of your students who happen to land summer internships.

In short: stop whining and start recruiting!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Reading posts like these only remind me the lack of GD courses here in Brazil. Hopefully enough this picture is already changing. Let's see if it can grow at a sustainable rate.