Originally posted: Tuesday, 22 May 2007
This friday I’m going to be speaking at the Digital Media Arts College graduation ceremony. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to write a speech about owning your career & working towards a goal. It’s been quite fun driving around, pretending to give the speech, realizing that I have WAY too many stories that are WAY too long to fit into a 15 minute talk.
Next week I’ll post the finished speech here for people to read, but in the meantime I thought I’d include one of the stories I had to cut. This isn’t a “funny” story, but it’s meant to illustrate a point: that it’s possible to achieve a goal if you understand how to work towards it.
When I graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1996, I was working for a 3d animation software company called Alias|Wavefront. You may have heard of them, they created the software Maya – one of the most popular 3d animation software’s around. I had been interning at Alias|Wavefront for 6 months, learning the ins and outs of Maya and was on the track to become the key tech support person for the product. This is because every other tech support person was focused on supporting the legacy products: Power Animator, Wavefront, Kinemation, Dynamation, TDI, etc. I was new, so instead of training me up on their older products, I spent my time learning Maya.
At the time, Maya was in Alpha stage, meaning it was so brand new it didn’t even have a file->save option. Seriously. You couldn’t save a file. Since Maya was not even out the door, there wasn’t much to support so I spent most of my time testing the code & making little demos. At one point I was in a video conference meeting with some developers in Toronto when I heard about this guy Bubba who was making a short film in Maya.
My ears immediately perked up.
Short Film? Here? Somebody is making a short film?
I didn’t even know that a job like that was POSSIBLE at Alias|Wavefront, let alone that someone was doing it. I immediately thought “man, that guy is so LUCKY! I want that job!”
I knew that my career at A|W wasn’t heading in that direction, I was headed to become the guy explaining to the customers that the drink holder on the computer wasn’t too small to hold their coke, the can didn’t fit because it was a CD drive.
So I set about figuring out a way to switch departments. I didn’t want to just leave the current job for a number of reasons. First, burning bridges is bad. It’s the worst thing you can do. There’s a saying, it’s not what you know but who you know, right? There’s a third part to the saying.. It’s not what you know, but who you know and how you treat them. So I didn’t want to piss off my boss. Second, I didn’t know if Bubba needed anyone else on his team. Third, even if he wanted another person, there was no way he’d know about me.
I realized that the first thing I had to do was solve the problem of my boss being upset if I left. Since I was one of the people in the support department with the most knowledge about Maya, it stood to reason that I was going to be the main support person once Maya got released. If I wasn’t there, then the team would have to scramble until everyone else got up to speed. So I spent the next few weeks writing up a course explaining everything I knew about Maya and how it worked. It was designed to help people who already knew other 3d software understand how Maya worked so they could get up to speed quickly.
Then I went to my boss and told her that I’d like to teach the class to the support crew in Toronto. Kind of spread the knowledge around so we wouldn’t be hit too hard once Maya went out to beta customers. She thought it was a great idea & sent me to Toronto the next week to meet with the team up there.
While there I introduced myself to Bubba. I told him that I heard he was working on a short film & said that if he needed any help I’d be happy to help out. We talked for a bit & I showed him a few things in Maya that I had picked up over the past few months. He invited me out to sushi with the other two members of the team (Corban and Adrian) so they could tell me about it. We talked, and ate, and drank sake, and beer, and had more sake and more beer, and more beer, and more sake, and at the end of it they said that they’d be happy to have me help out.
They were also happy to stick me with the $300 bill, but I was so happy I didn’t even care.
6 months later I moved onto that team full time & stayed there for 3 years, creating demos, short films, and generally getting to travel around the world & talk about Maya.
This experience demonstrated to me that just wanting something isn’t enough. You have to actively go out and seek it. To work for it. And most importantly, do it in a way that doesn’t piss anybody off.