Story time today. First – read through these tweets:
As someone in her early twenties feeling like an absolute failure, this sentiment is actually really depressing.
So to those of you who didn't hit your stride until later in life: what did you do until then?
— Stephanie Shivak ❄️ (@Athevra) January 26, 2018
That's completely fair. I guess I just feel… smothered? Overwhelmed? Like there are a lot of little things surrounding me and I can't figure out which ones lead to The Big Things
— Stephanie Shivak ❄️ (@Athevra) January 31, 2018
The more cool little things you do, the more you increase the probability of big awesome things beyond your control happening. You also won't miss out on anything, because there will just be more interesting stuff to learn and do – too much for one life.
— Adam T. Croft (@adamtcroft) January 31, 2018
While the advice I gave Stephanie, from my experience, is entirely true… the unfortunate part of Twitter, and often the internet, is “sage advice” without detail.
In action, what does it look like to “grab something small” and execute, and keep executing. How long will it take until you find success? Those things. The things that, even this blog realistically can’t answer for you personally.
But I can give you a story of what happened to me – because from some perspectives (mine included), I have a pretty wonderful gig right now.
How I Landed at 343
In October of 2017, I started as an audio implementer on contract at 343 Industries. I have a job that high school me would be shocked about.
But what you don’t know, and what I don’t say on the internet all the time (because there isn’t really a reason for me to – until now) is that shortly prior to accepting that job, I’d accepted a different one, not in audio or games.
To give you an idea of what I was giving up in my mind – I’ve worked with audio professionally for over a decade. I had my first paid audio gigs while in college around 2005. In 2012 or 2013 I made my first steps to move into the games industry, as it was one of the last audio-related jobs I hadn’t done (and was therefore super exciting to me).
But my then-job wasn’t in a place of stability, and as much as I knew what I wanted to do, at that moment I believed I needed to walk a different path and perhaps work that much harder to get back.
So how did that change in the span of a week or two?
To explain that, I need to go back at least 9 months.
How to Work Without Promises
Despite the fact that I’ve worked in audio for a decent amount of time – I’m a horrible sound designer. I know what sounds good, I can mix, I can record, I can run sessions, and my specialty is working with the human voice. I can run circles around you when it comes to dialogue.
But making sound effects? I mean, I can… but there are schools that churn out kids who want to become sound designers. I don’t believe I can compete at the highest levels among them without a lot of work.
Programming, however, is something I’ve done in various forms since I was young. I’m not the best programmer – but the competition for people who can program audio is much less and even junior programmers get paid well enough.
So in late 2016, when it became clear that there wasn’t really any upward mobility with my job and I found out my footing could be unstable – I set myself on figuring out how I could work by doing audio-related programming.
I started this blog. I started speaking with lots of sound designers. I started a Slack channel, I made products and put out a book.
Obviously, I’m still working on all of this today.
But working at 343 Industries wasn’t even on my radar.
My “coolest little thing” – as I mentioned above to Stephanie – was making VST plugins. I figured I could spend the time to figure out how to do that (I’m still not quite good enough at DSP math – but working on it!), and that would lead me down some sort of path. I assumed it would be selling VSTs and making custom game-audio related DSP-ish things (see how clear this was?).
Instead, separate from my full time job, I spent nearly a year doing the following:
- Started reading (and didn’t finish) a book on making VST plugins. I’ve made a few super basic ones. I’m still proud of that.
- Worked on improving my math – this helped with the previous bullet.
- Took a challenge from a friend to put Pro Tools’ audiosuite functionality into REAPER. Months (and a lot of help from a beta-testing Mark Kilborn) later, that turned into The Instant-Take Suite.
- On the “success” (I put out a product and anyone purchased it) of that product, I made another one that wasn’t as successful.
- I wrote blogs 3x a week for a year.
- One blog series turned into a book on learning to script REAPER if you have zero coding experience – I initially gave away over 100 copies. It was awesome.
- I briefly joined Gamkedo Club and met some really wonderful people. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stick around, but it got my hands on Wwise again regularly.
- From the club experience, I became closer with Christer Kaitila, who helped name my book and even tried to help hook me up with a real publisher.
- I started, and still maintain, an audio programming-related Slack channel.
- Worked part-time with a wonderful group of audio people up in Vancouver.
- Completely unrelated – I also helped my wife maintain a successful eBay store.
Thankfully, my wife is a wonderful human who lets me spend a lot of time on improving my opportunities.
But I did all of that, with no promise of anything. I had no idea (and still don’t, for any work related to my own business) where any of it would take me. As I work, I have a better idea of what will lead to success and what won’t – but I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t tell the future.
A Little Luck
So around late August/September of 2017, I was offered that non-games, non-audio opportunity. It promised me programming experience, and a job for at least another year. I wasn’t in love with the idea, but it was the best thing I had at the time.
Things changed when I literally got lucky with timing. Some people don’t like to say they benefit from luck – but lots of opportunities, especially timing, are luck. This was luck.
I had put in a resume with 343 prior to getting the non-games, non-audio job – but for various reasons I hadn’t expected it to work out. In addition to that, I’d also recently had my worst interview ever, with a large games and audio-related company. I felt like I was in a hole, and even contemplated the idea that maybe it was time to be done with audio altogether.
But, thankfully, it wasn’t.
The interviews with 343 went extremely well – they seemed excited about my abilities, and I was excited about an opportunity that always seemed as if it would be out of my reach.
But I didn’t start knowing that working with 343 would be a part of what I’ve been doing.
It just happened that they needed someone who could work with Wwise – I took a course a few years back when the Audio Director at Bungie told me I needed to know it. I use it daily now.
It certainly helped that I knew how to code Lua – which I only learned due to a challenge a friend gave me to customize REAPER. I use that regularly now too.
I’ve also tried my best to help people in the community by doing interesting and helpful things (such as the products and Slack channel) – this was noticed by more people than 343.
So I did my part, by doing as much as I could to prepare myself and grow the probability that any option would present itself to me.
It just so happened that timing worked out that I get to spend my days at 343 Industries for now.
What Else You Don’t See
So great. I worked hard, found some luck in the timing (which, trust me, you’ll get if you work). Happy story, blah blah, right?
Well in the midst of all of that work, I gained so much more. I now have relationships with the following:
- Raven Software (Call of Duty)
- A ton of people doing game audio in the UK
- Epic Games (Unreal Engine)
- Audiokinetic (Wwise)
- Firelight Technologies (FMOD)
- All the people in the #audiocoders Slack
- Lots of game industry professionals in the Pacific Northwest
And when I mean relationships, I don’t mean I know of people at these companies. I mean that I’ve worked with them and/or had serious exchanges of ideas, help, etc. Relationships that actually count beyond “hey do you know of anyone who is hiring?”.
I wouldn’t have gotten any of that had I sat back and wondered what to do next. None of the above offered me jobs, most all encouraged me, all helped, and some bought products to support me.
Literally nothing can buy what some effort on my part has gained for me. I don’t have a crazy number of online followers, I don’t make enough money off of this website to not have a regular job, I don’t have any promise that I’ll have this job that I enjoy forever either.
But you’ve got to start somewhere, even if you are already somewhere.
So instead of even contemplating the destination – which you don’t know, but can hope for better than you imagine – start with the coolest little thing that’s right in front of you.
Then move to the next one, and the one after that. You literally don’t know what’s going to happen next.
To think… I even thought my career with audio might be done. So the next time you’re in despair, don’t worry – it really seriously isn’t unique to you.
If you need any motivation – tweet at me. I swear I read them, and I’m usually happy to reply.
Go get to work, and best of luck to you!
Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.