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How We Become Leads

April 29, 2008

In response to my previous post about the IGDA’s leadership conference, Chris asked if meant to say something more. While I hadn’t at the time, his questions prompted me to write this post.

Is the video game industry short on leaders? Do you (we?) need more courage in game development?

I’ve been a lead on 6 projects, and the training I got for the job was being on 18 other projects. That’s pretty good training, I know, but never once did I train directly to be lead. Instead, I sort of apprenticed. This model tends to work well for smaller teams in the industry where you can actually have constant, meaningful, instruction-by-osmosis with your existing lead.

But what about others? I’ve known – we’ve all probably known – individuals that became lead, because:

  • They were hired into the position
  • They were the most talented individual in that discipline
  • They had been there a long time
  • It was their turn

I’ve seen each of them, and there are probably 10 other reasons I could add to the list. Being a lead requires so much more than talent or seniority or “your turn.” Being a good lead requires an individual who is self-disciplined, kind, able to inspire, non-political, not afraid to turn the fire up, and so much more. We could use some training, if only there were training to be had.

One company I worked at was actually pretty forward thinking in this regard and decided to get training for its leads. We were all shipped off to one of those training workshops run by Skillpath. On face value, it seemed like a good idea, but within 30 minutes of the presentation’s start, it was obvious we had wasted our money. We were surrounded by managers who lead teams of individuals that weren’t at all creatively vested in their project. Many managers were working with teams of individuals that were paid minimum wage, not 80K a year programmers, artists or designers with dual degrees from great schools. I don’t think I got a single thing out of that day except a great opportunity to discuss what being a lead in the game industry meant with my peers, and that in itself was quite valuable.

So, all this to say that I’m glad that the IGDA is once again offering this conference, and that I hope that those in positions of power, leads and future leads will take advantage of it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2008 5:18 pm

    This article makes a whole lot of sense and I can see how it could help me if I ever desired to strive to become a lead on any game developing team. However, I am endlessly confused about the non-political requirement for being lead. I just don’t understand how being interested and involved in politics could harm your productivity as a leader. Its almost like saying you can’t listen to swing jazz . I personally can’t help but to take interest and become involved with politics, it seems to be located somewhere in my blood stream next to gaming and late 80’s thrash metal. I’m certain I am translating the term non-political incorrectly but I figured I’d ask if you would mind elaborating a bit.

  2. May 5, 2008 9:57 pm

    Thanks for asking for clarification on that. By non-political, I meant office politics in the form of gossip, passive-aggressive stuff and other non-professional behavior, not governmental politics.

  3. May 6, 2008 12:57 am

    Ah, I’m not used to that kind of usage of word political. That makes perfect sense. I imagine if a lead was into office gossip and what-have-you there would be many negative things would come from it(most likely a product with untapped potential). I appreciate the clarification and the advice.

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