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I'm just coming to the end of my BSc Computer Science degree, and I'm faced with a choice.

My dream has always been to do independent game development, and I'm considering taking the next year to try at indie game dev. If it works, that's cool and I can carry on, if it fails I'll try looking for another job.

However, one of my friends suggested that doing this would massively hurt my employability, which would not be good! Will it?

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Remember Companies are clever, They can determine if you actually did what you say you did. –  Aditya P Apr 29 '11 at 5:24

9 Answers 9

Here's my experience:

I wrote an embeddable open source HTTP server library back in '05-ish, a couple years after high school. It was a 3-4 month project maybe, and I got invitational emails from a bank company in France, a software firm in Arizona, and another in Toronto.

A year later, I wrote this article on screensavers and got an offer from a local company.

Later that year I wrote an angry petition to Microsoft and landed an interview there.

I never took any of these jobs, sometimes because I wanted a degree first and sometimes because they wanted me to have a degree first (make of that what you will) -- but I think it's evidence enough that working on your own projects out of your own interest is a huge boon to your employment prospects.

The only thing to be careful of is getting behind the times. I mean, if I wrote that screensaver article now, people would think I'm nuts.

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+1 for sharing your experience. Can you elaborate a little, just a little more on "getting behind the times" ? –  explorest Apr 29 '11 at 19:06
    
Those are awesome works , how much programming experience did you have before writing those apps ... how much do you read other peoples code vs writing your own vs reading books/theory/articles/blogs ? –  explorest Apr 29 '11 at 19:22
    
I started when I was 9 and took programming more seriously than school (huge mistake), so quite a while. Reading people's code and reading books/articles etc are more or less complementary to me; I think they're both really important. I think most universities could benefit from having students read good code more often. Theory is useful too, but I know a lot of people who are about to graduate SFU comp sci (which is said to be highly prestigious) barely knowing how to write or read any code. These aren't stupid people either, just victims of a terrible curriculum. –  Rei Miyasaka Apr 29 '11 at 23:14
    
On not getting behind the times, this industry is easily influenced by fashion trends. You have to keep an eye on the news and know what's in; otherwise, within a couple years, employers will lose interest in you. Often times these trends are utterly silly fads that take the cutting edge a step back, but you have to suck it up anyway. Of course, there are some fields where you're more free to be idealistic, and indie game development is one of them -- which is why I want to remind you to watch for the more bizarre things that happen throughout the industry. –  Rei Miyasaka Apr 29 '11 at 23:28

If you make an honest whole-hearted attempt at starting your own game development house, any potential employer who saw that as a negative wouldn't be someone I would want to work for in the first place.

Just be mindful that most interviewers would be happy to see some evidence that your year wasn't spent idle. Blog about your progress; open-source some of your code; make your journey public.

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I don't think he was talking about starting a game company but more like trying to do a very small game (the kind he can do alone, like an iPhone game maybe). Otherwise, you're answer still makes sense so it's ok ;o) –  n1ckp Apr 29 '11 at 13:39
    
@n1ck A company can be one person, building games on their own, supporting themselves. Also, the winking emoticon just makes your comment seem smarmy. –  Jeff Swensen Apr 29 '11 at 13:43
    
@Jeff Swensen: Yes it can but it still not what I think the question's asker was talking about. The way he says it seems like he wants to take a year off to try to build a game, not start his company (with all the overhead that it would require). I just wanted to precise even if it do not change much in the question and this answer is still very valid. Also can you explain what's the problem with the smiley? I don't see anything negative myself but you must have interpreted something a way I don't see so go ahead and tell me what is the problem? –  n1ckp Apr 29 '11 at 15:14
    
+1. There are a lot of resources for showing off your skills and experience besides just a resume. If you are taking that much time off of work, just make sure to have something come out of it that you would be proud to show a potential employer –  GSto Apr 29 '11 at 15:20
    
What exactly do you see as the goal of "independent game development" referenced by the OP as a "job" if not to generate a sustainable income? The OP says "If it works, that's cool and I can carry on, if it fails I'll try looking for another job." You'd probably be surprised how many "small" iPhone game companies are run by a single developer. –  Jeff Swensen Apr 29 '11 at 15:22

If you are a newbie interested in game development, shouldn't you try to first get into a game dev job? Doing it in a professional environment will teach you a lot that you may never learn if you set off on your own directly. If you are looking at game dev just for fun or to hone your skills , then your idea is fine; but if you are looking to make your bread and butter as an indie game dev, make sure you understand real game development and market needs.

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I guess it depends on the potential employer. If you are successful as an indie game developer, it speaks volumes about your programming and project management ability, and would mean that you'd be top of the list for a company that understands how to hire programmers. But if it looks like you "took a year off," that can look like you've missed out on the latest technology development. Also, getting past the HR trolls so that you can interview with someone technical is a bit of an unknown.

Note, though, that when I hire programmers, I don't especially care whom they've worked for, I only care about their skill level and experience. And often working for a big company can be a strike against an applicant, since big companies can be notoriously poor at picking coders. And if they have been at the same company for a long time, that can be even scarier.

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+1 for being at the same big company for a long time. A lot of lazy "corporate drone" types get ingrained in huge corporate hierarchies. Smart employers know that spending 12 years at X Corp maintaining some obscure legacy system is a red flag, and not a good "senior" 12 years of interesting, motivated experience. –  Bobby Tables Apr 29 '11 at 11:17

Any employer that considers my independent pursuit of a programming challenge as worthless isn't worth working for.

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If you focus on something actually achievable in a year, and have something that is demonstrable, you can actually help your chances at employment, everyone likes someone that can deliver.

If you try and write the next great MMORPG by yourself you will just be wasting your time and any employer will see that you don't understand delivery as the ultimate goal in programming.

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It depends on how successful you are. A reduced employability situation would be where you end up saying, "I worked a year and accomplished nothing: I have nothing to show for it."

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Reduced? I dunno. As Bobby Tables said above, "people take a year out after college just to backpack the world, and even that isn't much of an employability killer". –  Carson63000 Apr 29 '11 at 4:48
    
@Carson63000 - Reduced: having nothing, compared with having something, on your resume and to talk about in an interview. –  ChrisW Apr 29 '11 at 10:02
    
but we're not comparing it to having something. We're comparing taking a year off and accomplishing nothing to not taking a year off and applying for jobs now (without having accomplished anything in between). –  Carson63000 Apr 29 '11 at 23:48

I don't think so at all. Heck, people take a year out after college just to backpack the world, and even that isn't much of an employability killer (when comparing to graduates who didn't).

About the only possible negative to doing this compared to getting a standard job is that some - very, very, very, very few - extremely conservative hiring managers might not see much value in it. Some people just have an attitude that only "standard" commercial experience counts. So doing things like Open Source or being your own mISV (unless it really makes it) are completely ignored by them - prior to being past your first "normal job" that is. But even in these rare case, it's not a negative per se, just a clean slate - they'll treat you as if you were a fresh graduate.

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I know a guy who took a few years off after college to play drums in a punk band. Now he's a well-paid engineer at an aerospace company. –  Mike Baranczak Apr 29 '11 at 0:47
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And I do realize that many drummers would consider this a demotion, but he seems pretty happy with his career choices. –  Mike Baranczak Apr 29 '11 at 1:22
    
@Mike, good point. A break means recharging your creativity –  Joset Apr 29 '11 at 2:29

Why would it hurt your employability? It would show people that you have a passion for the craft of programming, and you're not just another brain-dead cubicle drone. (That's assuming you actually spend the time doing game development, not sitting around getting stoned.)

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If you take a year out, you will need to explain it. When you say what you did, you will earn some respect (brownie points meter goes up). If you tell em you took a year out to goof off, you lose respect (brownie point meter goes down). –  quickly_now Apr 29 '11 at 0:49
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+10 for the assumption. –  Aditya P Apr 29 '11 at 5:21
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+1, completely agree. He should just have something to show for it after a year. Even if its just a work in progress. Otherwise he may be perceived as someone who cant follow through. –  GrandmasterB Apr 29 '11 at 6:29
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@Mike: I agree completely, but you had better have something to show for it. Even if you don't produce anything useful at the end, keep a journal of tasks you've completed on a daily basis as you go. Then you can massage this into a more relevant weekly list of tasks to add to your portfolio. When people point me to a web site and say "Look I did that, my name's on it" I always wonder, did they build it or buy it? A list of tasks / accomplishments that you can talk though greatly mitigates the distrust of distrusting people like me :) –  Binary Worrier Apr 29 '11 at 7:18
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@Brendan: Yes, it is, hence I don't work for a pointy-haired boss. –  Binary Worrier Apr 29 '11 at 7:18

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