On Hiring, Learning, And Technology

At GDC 2018, I had an unfortunate conversation at one of the exhibitor booths with a CEO/founder. He said his company was hiring programmers and designers with experience in Unreal, and as soon as I said I didn’t have any he cut me off and asked if I knew anyone who did… and then whined for a good several minutes about how hard it was to find people who were as experienced as he needed because he company was doing Very Advanced Things in the engine.

At that point, I wasn’t interested in getting the job, I just wanted to see if he was really as stubborn about this as it seemed. I tried to bring up my wide range of experience, including that I’ve worked as a game designer, programmer, and producer, but he wasn’t having any of it; It was Unreal engine experience or nothing.

Now I can definitely appreciate that there is specific domain knowledge that comes with any technology, and that there is true value in that experience. But… most people working in games are learning or doing something new every single day, so measuring someone’s job fit purely by their experience doing the exact thing in the job description is at best unnecessarily pedantic and at worse a complete misunderstanding of what to look for in a new hire.

Most of what we look for in a resume isn’t about exactly what’s on the resume, of course. We’re trying to divine more abstract qualities from it, qualities that persist regardless of changes in technology. Passion for games, passion for learning, and the abilities to take in, process, model, and apply new information. And of course the ability to collaborate and play nice with others.

When someone lists those qualities in their resume, though, they don’t mean anything. Everyone wants to say they’re a great communicator or they can learn stuff quickly.

The job of an interviewer (or screener, if they’re not interviewing) is to read between the lines.

For instance, if an applicant has ten years of experience working in a technology that has a low barrier to entry and productivity, did they actually grow? Is that ten years of good experience or is that really one year of experience stretched out into ten? I’ve seen that, and the interview reflected it.

But on the other hand, if the applicant just graduated from college but has five completed game projects across three engines and can answer detailed questions about them in an interview, well, that’s someone I want to hire.

I’ve worked in either new or proprietary tech for nearly all of my professional career. “Do they know it already?” is almost never a more useful question than “Can they learn?”

(I will add the caveat that there are a few areas of specialized knowledge that require a lot of advanced study to become proficient in, like AI, physics, and graphics programming. But even then, that knowledge does translate between engines. For example, if I needed an AI expert, I would hire one who had no engine experience in a heartbeat over someone who had engine experience but no AI experience!)