Friday, 28 June 2013

In the halls of Elysium: Career insights from Bioware

This week's blog post comes from Kristina Drozdiak. Kristina is in the Arts Work Experience Program (AWE) and is doing a one-year internship at CAPS.

The folks at CAPS recently visited BioWare. For those of you who don’t know, BioWare has nothing to do with medical equipment, but is an Edmonton-based video game company known worldwide for creating carefully crafted story-driven games. Some of their more recent titles include Mass Effect and Dragon Age—whose third installment recently released a teaser trailer at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (the much-awaited E3).

I have played and loved BioWare games for a number of years; in fact, it has been my ardent aspiration for most of those years to be involved in making their games. In spite of years of dreaming and building up my expectations of what the company might be like, BioWare not only met those expectations but exceeded them. My wildest imaginings did not take into account the rigorous and careful recruitment process, the inspirational environment or the friendly atmosphere.

A few of these privileged employees took time out of their busy schedules to speak with us—including Shanda Wood, Recruiter and University Relations Specialist; Alex Lucas, Quality Assurance Engineering Lead; and Fernando Melo, Director of Online Development—and I will share with you some of the insights I gleaned from my visit.
Education. As a University student, I find it gratifying that this is a consideration. Why do degrees matter? According to Alex Lucas, they demonstrate a commitment spanning years, along with the ability to (for the most part) meet deadlines. 

Non-linear career paths. You haven’t spent the last seven years in computer programming? That’s fine. Since video games haven’t been on educational radars for very long, many of the people currently in the industry have found creative ways into those sacrosanct halls. 

Passion. Although no two interviews are the same at BioWare, there is one standard question: Do you like video games? They aren’t looking for name dropping, just a sense that you enjoy games (of any kind), to know if you’ll fit in the company culture and to see if you understand their demographics.
Diversity. Although “video games” is the name of the game (more specifically, Dragon Age III: Inquisition at the moment), not all staff are programmers. In fact, to create games of such high caliber, their Quality Assurance (QA) department is split into two main branches: Tech and Design. It’s even possible to get into QA—and from there, potentially bridge into other jobs—with a B.A.
Teamwork and cooperation. In the final stages of their interviewing process, you can spend a day in interviews and with the team you hope to join. It’s reassuring to know that they take the team into account in the hiring process. 

LinkedIn. The recruiter also made a point of recommending students to get on it.

To top it all off, we saw these stained-glass panes brought to life in their building, depicting key moments from The Chant of Light, from the Andrastian faith written for their Dragon Age universe. Rooms and hallways alike were filled with models, artwork and stills from games-in-the-making, and I find it hard to imagine a more inspiring way to remind everyone of where they’ve come from and where they hope to go while still maintaining the integrity of the BioWare brand.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Careers abound for geography enthusiasts

Today's guest blog comes from Sharon Sherman, one of CAPS' Career Advisors who specializes in working with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and who has a keen interest in geography and urban planning.

“Wear comfortable shoes!” As a newcomer attending the 2013 Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, this was the first tip I received from a friendly AAG staff member.

Following the advice we offer students – taking action to create opportunities (a tenet of career management and engagement) – I ventured off to Los Angeles to experience this massive geo-centric event.

The high level of organization required for 7,000 to 8,000 attendees and 5,000 plus presentations and papers was impressive indeed. This comprehensive geography conference, quite possibly the largest in the world, attracts international attention and participation. It’s not surprising then that the AAG offers an actual Newcomers’ Guide to the Annual Meeting. What was surprising was the friendly and welcoming ambiance – almost a ‘down home’ feel – that made me want to proclaim “I want to be a geographer!”

Coming from a career development perspective, I was fortunate to participate as a Career Mentor at the Jobs & Careers Center. Throughout the week, the Center offered career and work search advice, networking opportunities, job postings plus a plethora of well-developed resources. I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with students and professionals from around the world and was truly inspired by their enthusiasm and commitment. I was amazed at how fresh and energetic several participants seemed even after arriving from distant places on marathon flights.

AAG’s top-notch job and career support emphasizes the transformation of geography degrees into practice, strongly reflecting the approach we take right here at CAPS by adopting the career management model of life-long learning and discovery based on the works of John Krumboltz and Al Levin (Luck is no Accident) and Herminia Ibarra (Working Identity).

Out of numerous tempting field trip options, I selected cutting-edge geographic information systems (GIS) developer ESRI, altered landscapes of Palos Verdes Peninsula, scenic Mulholland Highway and recently $100M renovated Dodger Stadium. The field trips provided wonderful opportunities for learning about local initiatives and making fruitful connections. For example, on the Mulholland trip we were introduced to various conservation groups and I had the pleasure of meeting Harvard Librarian George E. Clark who organized the excellent thought-provoking session “Geographers in the Library: The New Landscape” with U of A’s own Elizabeth Wallace contributing as a panelist. During the trip, the urge to locate homes of the stars proved irresistible even for this crew of dedicated geographers.

Other standout points for me included learning about the multi-faceted interdisciplinary nature of geography, the immeasurable potential of GIS applications and the postdoctoral program offered by NASA. Since my return, I have already incorporated much of the information I gained into my career advising sessions.

Encapsulating the sheer magnitude of the AAG’s Annual Meeting might seem like a challenging task. What would I say if asked for a nutshell version? Easy - it’s a place to meet friends. Next year, Tampa!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Creative recruiting

This week's guest post comes from Christine Gertz, CAPS' Library and Information Specialist.

At the end of May of this year Flickr, owned by Yahoo!, embedded a job posting in its source code as a way to attract programmers. Since Flickr had just gone through a massive redesign, they gambled that programmers would be looking at the source code and find the hidden job posting. You can still find jobs posted on Flickr’s own job posting website, but this technique meant that Flickr could find candidates who were looking at the source code out of curiosity, and that the media would pick up their clever ploy and spread word of their search much farther than they could expect to.

This got me thinking about other creative job posting efforts that have come to the attention of CAPS’ staff in the past year. BBR Saatchi & Saatchi of Israel was having difficulty recruiting a programmer when a junior staff member suggested they select candidates based on their resume as well as their team skills when partnered with the CEO in a delve into Diablo 3. According to an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, the Hell of a Job campaign managed to find six suitable candidates who were willing to accompany the CEO’s level 60 barbarian for a 30 minute interview conducted in Sanctuary. BBR Saatchi and Saatchi were able to find a programmer, while also garnering international press for their campaign and company making Diablo 3 Number 5 on the Top Ten Google Searches for 2012, ahead of the 2012 Olympics but beat out by Gangam Style on the list.

For years Facebook has run programming challenges as part of their recruitment efforts which has uncovered applicants far from their immediate region, as well as applicants who might be considered “non-traditional.” As described in George Anders’ book A Rare Find, the purpose of these challenges, amongst others described in the book, is to find capable applicants who might not be revealed by the work experience provided in their resume. The difficulty is for employers to devise a challenge that attracts applicants they might not have found through traditional means, and challenge them with a problem the organization needs to solve, so that the potential hire can demonstrate their ability to solve real problems facing the organization.

Lest you think that only computer programmers have their creativity challenged, there are several Canadian recruitment efforts that called for unusual application methods. The Greenest Workforce, an initiative of the Forest Products Council of Canada, was launched by advertising internships that candidates applied for by submitting a YouTube video. Young and Free Alberta, a social media hub operated by Servus Canada, has successfully recruited several “spokesters” by asking candidates to submit a YouTube video, though this year the YouTube video was optional and they asked for the traditional resume and cover letter. On our campus, DiscoverE asked candidates to submit a “creative cover letter” from a poem to a YouTube video, which revealed a pool of highly creative candidates with strong presentation and teaching skills, uncovering abilities that might not have been apparent from the resume.

Employers use unusual job postings for a few reasons, but most likely because if an unusual recruitment campaign is picked up by the media it can widen the applicant pool while also increasing name recognition of the organization. BBR Saatchi and Saatchi, for example, will probably remain in search results for years, and appear in results with the search terms and phrases Diablo, Blizzard Entertainment (the makers of Diablo) and hell of a job, offering huge international exposure to the firm. For programmers who love Diablo 3, they may think of BBR Saatchi and Saatchi fondly, possibly aiding in their recruitment for additional programmers.

For a job seeker, these campaigns have both benefits and drawbacks. A huge benefit: you can find out about an opportunity or a campaign that may not come to your attention without the press coverage. If you are a successful candidate on one of these campaigns, it may show as the first result when an employer searches your name in Google. As a drawback, if your application is public but not a quality application, your poor submission will also appear in search results with the marketing efforts of the organization. Based on the amount of links and notoriety a successful campaign can accrue, your Google search results could list this as number one in your search results for years.

When you encounter a job posting that has unusual application requirements, you can contact CAPS for advice and assistance. We might even be able to put you in touch with players who could help you level up in Diablo 3 before your interview.