A posse is what you put together when you need to find someone. The one I got was for people who didn’t need to be found — but being found didn’t mean they weren’t invisible.

I run regular social events for video game developers in Austin. Not long ago, on a Tuesday night, as an add-on to a regular Game Dev Beer Night, we had a Portfolio Posse. It was meant to be informal, as a way to bridge one of the many gaps that exist between those fascinated by video game development — the world will never run out of people like that — and those who actually do it for a living. The “job haves” and the “job have-nots”

Take 20 review seekers, or review-ees, and pair them with 15 reviewers. Review-ees bring portfolios, work samples and/or resumes, reviewers give them 15 minutes of review time, one on one. After 15 minutes, the reviewer has the option to continue the conversation. Continue rotation for three hours in the north dining hall at Scholz Garten, and have drinks and German food in between.

Why we did it

Reviewers on the right, review-ees on the left.

Austin has somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 professionals whose work involves video game development of some kind (not counting the 2,000 or so more that the IRS tracks as being related in ancillary roles such as customer service and just-in-time oh-God-certification-is-due-tomorrow testing and validation services) and “the industry,” as it is often called, represents close to $1 billion in revenue to the city every year since 2012. It has a 30-plus-year history that well predates the first time anyone used terms like “SaaS” or “ARPU”.

And yet you hardly hear of people talking about it and how “dev” relates to Austin, except when a studio closes and employees get dumped back into the job market.

Why? Well, “because it’s video games” is one answer. It’s software development, but it’s also creative entertainment enterprise with an ever-expanding potential customer base and tools that are easier to use than they’ve ever been. It’s also just as volatile as it’s ever been, with more attention paid to the parts that are at best unpleasant, and worst, embarrassing. Games are project-ized, which means they have an end. And at that end, for the enterprise to continue with all its employees, there must be a new project to follow the first.

Such is the nature of things. Add to that how many development studios jealously keep their employees close, even going so far as to encourage them, by example if not word, not to call attention to themselves. Often, it’s in context of the project they’re working on, which I agree is volatile stuff that most well-meaning employees can falter in representing. Especially if it’s not their job to talk about what they’re working on.

Most of the time, beer nights have no other working parts besides a location, date and time. The purpose of Beer Night is Beer Night. Basic fellowship. Social club for people who are less than social. There are rules against overtly soliciting people for jobs, at the events themselves and on social media we use to advertise the events. ADJ is a welcome alternative for those who want to use social media to talk about employment. That it exists is a boon to everyone running a Facebook group with any veneer of professionalism; that they don’t all have to inevitably become a job board. At least, not in Austin.

This was a different kind of beer night. Still casual, but with a higher mission, an experimental one, in mind.

The posse

This wasn’t the first time I ran something like this. The last time was an actual job fair, called Career Catalyst. I did it through IGDA-Austin, at Tech Ranch’s offices, back in February. You can read about it here. This time around, I didn’t have employers specifically purchasing table space to represent their own company as a job creator. The portfolio and resume review was only part of this event.

This time, there weren’t going to be employers set up specifically to recruit. Several people who wanted another chance to do reviews after February, and a few more who didn’t get a chance the first time. “I love doing these,” said one of the reviewers, a friend who’s been a generalist artist at several different studios in Austin for the past 20 years. Once, he got good advice that helped him along in his career. “So, you know, pay it forward.”

The posse had five women, out of 15 reviewers. Better than the 21% who responded to the 2014 IGDA survey who identified as women. Most of them artists of some kind. Three who had done some actual engineering, and two who could call themselves designers, three producers and a staffing agent. 

Most of the review seekers, by contrast, were recent graduates. Austin Community College, University of Texas undergraduates, and a few currently in the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy associated with UT. Some were recently between jobs, and some had spent months or even years pursuing their chosen field, but had yet to break in. And, just like the posse, five women — out of 25 total.

Conclusions

The posse didn’t quite fill up the whole room, but we came close.

It can be said with authority that Austin doesn’t have a talent problem. Talent is here in abundance, but there’s not as much opportunity as anyone would like. It’s a good problem to have. Better than, a room full of people with no talent.

Most of the feedback from reviewers was full of praise. “Everyone took the feedback well and were eager to improve,” said Brad Clark of RiggingDojo, “and I got lots of positive feedback that it was extremely helpful and how it wasn’t what they had been told before.”

“This guy’s work is professional quality,” one of my friends who reviewed another friend’s work said afterward. I had seen this friend’s website and told my friend the reviewer, I hadn’t thought it was that great. “There’s a difference,” she explained, “between mediocrity on a web page, and overall.” The problem wasn’t that he was a mediocre artist. He just wasn’t presenting it well.

There was some exasperation, but the good kind. Another one of the reviewers caught me while taking a break after a review, to gush about a project he’d discovered the review seeker was working on. Something with data visualization in virtual reality, using the game engine Unity. But none of that was on his resume. “That’s like *crack* to recruiters! But he didn’t put it in there.”

One of the review seekers, an acquaintance for several years, pulled me aside to say he would be moving out of town for a job before the end of the year. He was going to miss Austin, and all his connections to the local community. “This all gives me confidence,” he said — that after moving, he’d be able to present himself well.

There’s a lot that could have been done differently. There was no assigned seating and the tables and chairs were arranged like a dining room, rather than best suited for one on one reviews across a table. 

It’s hard to know if this would scale well, if we spent more time advertising the event. Did we luck out, because those who wanted the work badly enough, who were also the ones who deserved it the most, were the ones who made it out? If the group snowballed to 100, would we suddenly not have enough room to hold everyone?

We’ll have to see about that. Special thanks to Erin Rourke at Scholz Garten for arranging our event, Austin Autodesk Animation User Group Association (AAUGA!) and Austin QA Beer Night for coordinating their groups with us, and Trey Reyher at TabbedOut, for providing discounts for our attendees’ tabs.

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