I love coaching. I think about it each time I coach someone. It’s awesome and inspiring to be able to get out there and help people figure things out. There is nothing I enjoy more than than sitting down with a person who is stuck and helping them find the answers to get on the right road to a powerful and satisfying career. The road to the promised land. The promised land of a career that is rich, exciting and fulfilling.
It’s also painful and heartbreaking at times.
Because I see so many people who desperately want a career change. Being stuck in the wrong job is like a disease. It just eats away at your soul one day at a time. It saps your energy, your confidence and the joy of living. It makes you question yourself and second guess decisions that ordinarily should be easy. This disease is everywhere around us. It’s not a middle class or rich person thing. It’s not black or a white thing. It’s not a male or a female thing. It’s a human thing. We all face it sooner and later, but how we face it, is really what matters. When that crucial test comes, our disposition on life, our humility, how we invest time in other things outside work and our willingness to ask for help will ultimately dictate how we cope with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
So today, I’m going to talk about HOW we can tackle the issue of getting into the industry / job we believe is right for us. If we have a good idea of what industry or what type of job we’d really like to get into, how do we go about making that happen? Some of the answers lie here: In my own story of how I went from strategy consultant to video games marketeer some 15 years ago. Let’s dive in.
It usually starts with a crash
In 2001 I lost my job. Like many people working in tech, when the bubble burst, over 50% of the business in the technology consulting firm I worked for simply evaporated overnight. Contrary to most of my colleagues going through Black Monday that day, I actually walked out of my meeting with HR with a big old grin on my face. When people congratulated me for “surviving the purge” I actually laughed and, to their surprise, told them I’d been fired. I had hated consulting. Every bone in my body told me it wasn’t the right work for me. I knew that, given the chance, the best thing that could happen to me, given the climate, would be to get the axe and move on with my life. These guys were actually doing me a favor and paying me in the process. It seemed like a sweet deal.
I’d been a gamer all my life. I started gaming when I lived in Brazil in the 1980’s and got my first real taste of video games playing Castle Wolfenstein on an Apple IIe and Donkey Kong Jr. on ColecoVision. Seems like ages ago; yes, I know. I’m totally dating myself. So when I got fired, I instinctively knew that this was a sign. It was a chance to finally get into the industry I’d always enjoyed as a kid and young adult. I was determined to get into video games. The trouble was I had no connections, had never worked in games and didn’t have a degree in programming. How the hell was I going to convince someone to take a chance on me without experience? (Tweet this)
Time to go back to school
So my first step was really to try and just learn about the industry. I read research reports, industry white papers and tried to read as much about the industry as I could on blogs specific to games. In business school, I’d written a business plan on LAN-based gaming. I’d come across a dozen or so kids playing Counter Strike in a small computer store in France. I’d been blown away (literally) by the experience. Playing on networked computers and seeing the faces of the guys you were fragging (blowing up / killing) in real time seemed like the future of video games to me. I had a vision that the future of games was competitive, it was social, it was real time. So after, leaving my consulting job, I dusted off my business plan, re-wrote it and started to do research.
In 2001–2002, Cyber Cafes had started popping up all over Spain. Since high-speed Internet had not yet fully gripped the country and was fairly new, kids all over the country flocked to cafe’s with networked computers to play against each other and surf the web. This was my first real break into gaming. Armed with a notepad and snack money, I went from Cyber Cafe to Cyber Cafe and played games against other gamers, bought them pizza and asked them questions about what they played, why, and for how long. I talked to store owners and the guys behind the counter and got even more information about my users. After a few months of polishing up my business plan, I was finally ready to start meeting industry execs. I just had to find them. I learned a valuable lesson in this process, namely:
If you’re serious about getting into a new industry with no experience, it all starts with massive amounts of reading, research and meeting folks who work in that industry. Knowing the industry trends, players and critical challenges is essential to even start a reasonable job discussion. (Tweet this)
Making new friends
An article by Payscale recently shared that up to 85% of all open jobs get filled as a result of networking. But in my case, keep in mind that my transition to video games was happening pre-Linkedin days which made networking that much harder. If you wanted to connect with industry execs, there wasn’t a global database where you could simply inmail someone or get a warm intro for a connection. You had to do things the hard way: You had to go to industry events. Although Linkedin has made things a lot easier through its database, groups and content publishing, I still believe that there is nothing quite like “pressing the flesh” and meeting people in person. So in 2002, I bought a plane ticket, booked a hotel room and headed out to my first Apple Developer Conference in France. It seemed like a lot of money for someone with no income but it turned out to be well worth it. I met some key people like Rich Hernandez who helped me develop a better understanding of the games business and provided me with Apple’s take on it. I also met games developers, sat in on panel discussions and keynotes and started to develop a rudimentary understanding of what the major issues facing the games industry were. Over the course of the year, I attended several other events including E3, the world famous gaming Expo hosted every year in LA, and continued to learn about the industry and meet people.
Attending conferences not only helps you learn a lot about an industry, it’s challenges and opportunities, but is key to network and meet industry veterans who can be critical in helping you get a foot in the door and grow your career. (Tweet this)
Take a step back to take a step forward
Raising angel money for a chain of Cyber Cafes focused on gaming in Spain right after the crash was a bit like being sober on New Year’s Eve: Not going to happen. However, armed with my business plan, research and industry contacts, I was eventually hired to try and turn around a small, struggling chain of Cyber Cafes called Net-gaming by the company’s investors. Over the next year, I learned a ton about the business by watching how our customers played games on our networks, attending our gaming competitions and talking to games developers. Running, scaling and, sadly, watching Net-Gaming implode proved to be a powerful life experience for me. After 3 years in Cyber Cafes I finally got my big break into the industry when I received an email from a friend in the UK about a position at Codemasters. So I learned another valuable lesson:
When you lack industry experience, start your own entrepreneurial venture and get the experience you’re lacking. Even if you don’t succeed, you learn and acquire valuable experience you need to get into the industry you’re targeting. (Tweet this)
Although the position at Codemasters was a bit of a step back for me, I was willing to take a pay cut and a lateral move career-wise in order to get into a reputable company in the industry. Why? Because I knew that working in a reputable company would give me valuable, practical experience that would help me get the next video games job. That was my another important lesson:
Sometimes, if you want to crack a new industry or take your career in a different direction, you have to be willing to take a step back career-wise. Don’t focus so much on the role or salary. Focus on getting your foot in the door and go from there. (Tweet this).
As a matter of fact, shortly after joining Codemasters, an early stage mobile games company, Digital Bridges, reached out to me. Although I had just taken the Codemasters job, I stayed in touch with the folks at Digital Bridges. As luck would have it, 4 months later, Codemasters had a major revenue miss and since I was “last man in”, I became “first man out.” When I reached out to Digital Bridges, not only were they still looking for someone but I also had acquired some valuable experience working in a games studio. I had an offer 2 weeks later for a better role making 30% more money. Sometimes you simply have to create your own luck when you need it most.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Changing careers or industries is a slog. It’s hard, daunting and can create quite a bit of anxiety as you leave what you know and try and reforge yourself as a new person in a new industry. But I firmly believe that if you network like crazy, attend industry events, teach yourself about your target industry and are willing to take a lateral career move or even a step backwards, you can make it happen. In the age of Linkedin, online learning and social media, there are also many new tools available that I didn’t have earlier on in my career. For example, as I’ve grown my coaching practice and looked to serve others, I’ve done quite a bit of research. I then took this research and translated it into articles for my blog which have not only enhanced my learning but also helped create awareness for what I do and built my reputation as a coach. Watching YouTube videos or taking online courses on Udemy, Udacity or even here on Linkedin, provide additional options for learning.
In conclusion, if you want to get into an industry bad enough you can make it happen. It’s up to you. You have to find the determination and drive to push through but I’ve also found many people were willing to help me along the way. So can you. You just have to be willing to put in the effort and take risks. You also have to be humble enough to put out your hand and ask for help. I always found that when I asked for help, people were there for me.Here’s to hoping 2018 is Your Year. Now go make it happen.