I am absolutely fascinated by this video. For one, I’m amazed that someone decided to ask the question, “What Do Game Developers Look Like” of a bunch of Russian women. But I’m equally fascinated by the answers.
Let’s face it, my fellow game developers. We have a well-earned image problem. Game development started off as the very definition of the garage industry. And the traditions that fueled the industry’s rise – long hours, cheap food, near-religious avoidance of the sun – let’s just say that these aren’t habits that are conducive to side jobs as fashion models.
This may strike some people as a trivial subject, but games are a real business now, and all the lessons that get beaten into you during your first crappy office job tend to get skipped by people who go straight into games. Appearance matters. Whether it’s the look and feel of a game, or how long you go before washing your black t-shirt with a white game company logo on it, appearance matters. In the game that is your career, it’s entirely under your control.
I have a knack that my wife dislikes. I am terrible at cleaning things, but I am awesome at straightening things. If we’ve got company on the way over in five minutes and the living room is a mess, I have a great eye for picking the five most egregious things that are out of place and quickly fixing them. (Vacuuming is never on the list.)
If you walk into an unfamiliar office and there are four identical cubes, three of which are occupied by guys wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and the fourth is occupied by a guy in a button-down shirt and khakis, who do you assume is the team lead? Who do you assume has the most experience out of the group? We make snap judgments on appearance. They’re not the most accurate judgments we make, but we make them. We can go back later and overwrite them, but not entirely. First impressions are huge.
When you get up in front of a room full of people to speak, there’s a confirmation bias at work. That guy is up on stage giving a talk, therefore he must know what he’s talking about. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be up there! Now, some of the most talented designers, engineers and artists I know look like they’ve crawled out from under a rock each morning. Appearance doesn’t change their ability to get their jobs done. But each of the people I’m thinking of have been pigeonholed by their organizations in ways that their less talented (but sharper looking) colleagues are not. Confirmation bias will have a thousand tiny impacts on your career, and you won’t even notice it happening. Keeping appearances up is about maximizing future opportunities.
I do not recommend completely changing your wardrobe and approach to appearance. That smacks of cleaning. I’m suggesting some straightening. Here’s an exercise.
Make a list of all the people in your immediate work environment who do roughly the same work you do. Rate them on snazziness from one (actively covered in mustard) to ten (James Bond). Take the average of the group. How do you compare to that average? Let’s say the average in your environment is a low 5, (Jeans and t-shirts, mid-level scruffiness) try to envision what one to two full notches above the average would be. (Nice jeans, button down shirt and a belt.)
Dress the +1 way for two weeks in a row, and take note of what happens around you. In most organizations, that’s all it will take to start seeing some subtle but meaningful results. Sometimes it’ll be blatant. People will outright ask whether you’ve got an interview or some important meeting. More often it’ll be subtle. Make note of how people address you, especially outside your immediate department. Notice how much people swear around you compared to how much they did before.
The first time I did this, I was surprised by just how dramatic a difference it made. I remember thinking at the time, “how unfair!” The idea that the way my job ability was perceived was altered by something that had nothing to do with my job ability struck me as wrong somehow. But in time, I came to realize the following truth: If it’s in your control, it’s fair. You may not like the rules of the game, but as soon as you understand them, you can be plotting a strategy to win.