Game Development Career Night: Level Up Your Interviewing Skills

This is the final article of this three part series of AIE (the Academy of Interactive Entertainment) and IGDA's (Indie Game Developer's Association) Career Night. In this article, Anthony from Seattle Indies will sharing how we can prepare for an interview at a studio, learned from industry professionals present at the Career Night that took place on January 14th, 2019.

Guest Writer - Anthony Ritchey (Seattle Indies)

January 12th Interactive Experience Day - AIE

Anthony Ritchey is a Seattle-based writer and game developer. Anthony's writing appears on the Seattle Indies website, where he reports on Hackithon game jams, events, and more. He is currently working on the Story Mode for Keyboard Kommander, an open beta typing tutorial game that is free to play. His team meets every Saturday at the Seattle Indies-run, AIE-hosted Indie Support Group to further develop their game. Anthony is a welcomed guest writer for the Academy of Interactive Entertainment-related events and meetups.

Why are there so many "weird programming questions" in interviews?

Interviewing involves dealing with many false positives. Interviewing helps ensure that a candidate’s resume correctly matches their skill-set, which means that the questions shouldn’t be easily found online and studied before the interview. There are three specific qualities of any good interview question:

1. The question must be difficult.
2. The question must come from similar skills to what you’ll actually do on the job.
3. The question must be solved within a reasonable amount of time.

Answering these absurd problems will help you for the real world.

Why do we still use "whiteboard questions" as part of interviews?

Whiteboard interviews are where you’re given a problem on a whiteboard or laptop and must identify the solution. They aren’t great, but it’s an important skill to have, because they help the interviewers see the interviewee’s thought process when handling a problem. Whiteboard or Laptop answering questions can either be broad or specific. It depends on the team and the role you’re interviewing for, along with how they’re using tools.

How can we deal with the anxiety of interviewing?

Interviews are full of anxiety. Control and redirect that negative energy, especially when you’re stuck on a tough question, to break the question down into something more solvable. Don’t think too much about a question that is too challenging.  Reset your expectations to better address the next question. Make sure to ask the interviewer questions that clarify a point, if you’re not sure or feeling overwhelmed. The difference between that anxious unknown and something you understand might just be one rephrased question.

Think out loud, almost like an external monologue, to avoid silence. This will help the interviewers gauge your thoughts. This will help you talk through the problem. The interviewers may also help guide you along, if you’re thinking in a direction that might be close, but isn’t quite what they’re looking for, to solve the problem. Interviewers can’t read your mind!

You won’t be able to mitigate anxiety, to reset your mindset, if you’re worried about how you answered a specific question. Interviewing is stressful. It’s costly for the company to set aside time for its employees to interview people. Prepare for high false negatives. Interview failures will happen to good, qualified people. Remember, most interviewers typically aren’t full-time interviewers. They’re taking time out of their jobs to interview, and they often times need to get back to work.

Addressing conflicts, or touchy subjects, within interviews.

Remember, the interviewer wants nothing more than for you to succeed. You’re never programming alone. Your art asset is going to be worked on by another artist before it gets put into the game. Game development is not a solo activity. Communication is a must.

Don’t bring up any controversial or negative statements. Even if you feel they’re universal, there could be someone in the room with a different point of view. If you don’t agree on a particular topic within the interview, remain professional by asking: “How should I approach this?” An interviewer in the room could be your future boss and you could be wrong. “Can you look at things from different perspectives?”

Making friends during the interview is cool, but just remember they have to return too, so don’t take up too much time during the interview. However, don't keep it too casual. They’re usually not professional interviewers, so if, for example, the interviewer innocently asks an illegal question about your age or other protected classes, feel free to redirect them away from that. Even if you’re not leaving a job because of some conflict, keep it positive: "I'm looking for a better fit” or “a better use of your skills,” or even: “I can’t discuss that.”

What are some generally useful interview preparation tips?

Know your audience. Know the company. Understand the mindset of the company. The way Bungie asks questions will be different than Microsoft. Be ready to talk about any project or anything that’s on your resume. Have a story to tell about all of your projects. Rehearse your story to ensure it flows well. It’s important to have a level of self-reflection before going into interviews. There was also a few reading recommendations from the talk.

Steve Yegge’s essay “Why I Left Google To Join Grab.”

The Algorithm Design Manual, as summarized in this YouTube video, and in particular study the last chapter on Backtracking.

How do you prepare for “the day of” the interview?

Prepare by getting into the head-space of your job. You won’t learn anything new, but this will help prepare your mind and steel your resolve. Review your accomplishments over the past six months to get yourself into a positive head-space. This will also help iron out any conflicts or strengthen any pitches that you can talk about during the interview.