With the possible exception of Flash programmers and backend engineers (because, wow, are YOU guys in demand) it’s still the case that who you know is at least as important as what you know. This is definitely one of the more crucial pieces of knowledge that has been driven home to me as I’ve started working as a freelancer. I’d love to tell you there’s some magic trick to increasing your network of industry connections, but it really boils down to this: meet more people.
This is the age of rampant social connections so I probably don’t have to tell you how to do this. Get on Facebook, get on Twitter, update your LinkedIn profile, follow a blog, comment on news articles, play online, and if it comes down to an absolute last ditch do-or-die situation, meet somebody face-to-face. There’s no shortage of opportunities for introducing yourself, and the whole “it’s who you know” thing has been a cliché for decades, so why isn’t everyone sitting on a nearly infinite contact list?
Maybe it’s fear. Maybe you don’t feel you measure up or you think you haven’t been in the industry long enough so you just don’t reach out. For far too much of my career, that was me. When I began as a programmer I quickly learned of people who were orders of magnitude better than I’d ever be, so I turtled up. Why would anyone want to hear from me? Here’s why: because you’re an individual and you will always bring a new perspective to every situation. And a new perspective is always worth being heard. Don’t be afraid to jump into a conversation on a forum. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Anyone you reach out to was once more of a newb than you are currently. Chances are, they remember that.
Maybe it’s insulation. You’re happy with the people you know, the job you have, and the company where you work. Maybe you’ve even been there long enough to become a grizzled veteran (which, according to a lot of surveys, is six years. Six. Whole. Years.) so you’re comfortable and don’t feel the need to stick your head up and learn about the world around you and the rest of the industry. For far too much of my career, that was me, too. I worked at the same company for a decade before I started to realize how much of the outside world I was missing. And just from the contacts I’ve made in the past year I’ve been enormously enriched on a personal level as well as from a professional standpoint. I’ve been challenged, educated, and enlightened by new contacts to such an extent that I’ve been kicking myself for keeping my head in my own cubicle for so many years. And it’s been critical for my business to know lots of people in lots of different niches throughout the industry. You may not think you need anyone now, but there will likely come a day when a layoff, a studio closure, or a personal upheaval will blindside you. You’ll be thankful for every person you ever met when that happens, so no matter how comfortable you are right now, I encourage you to start making new connections.
Maybe it’s geography. You don’t live in Seattle or the Bay or wherever the hip kids hang out. I can’t imagine anyone in the games industry in the 21st century thinks this is an actual barrier to meeting others, but in case you do, let me just remind you of @ReallyVirtual who almost broke the internet by accidentally live-tweeting the killing of Osama bin Laden from Pakistan. He tried to get away from it all (and in terms of transistors per square kilometer did a really, really good job) and still became a celebrity.
So just take my advice and meet more people. You’ll probably learn a few things, you might even help somebody else come out of their shell, and even if it doesn’t pay off today, there’s a good chance that at some point in your career you’ll find yourself saying, “Man, am I glad I met THAT guy.”