The last few days have been interesting and enlightening. Yesterday, I went for a job interview at a place called IGT (International Gaming Technologies) in San Francisco for the position of game artist. First of all , let me say “it was flattering just to be nominated”. I was told I was one of three candidates up for the job. The fact someone would consider me was very very cool. Like many artists, I have always been a little insecure when it comes to my work. Hearing an art producer tell me I did wonderful work was very flattering. All I could do was say “thank you” in the most sincere way possible. I meant it. Although I had a small circle of friends that would tell me I was good at such a craft, during these long years in pre-press and production I didn’t hear it much. First of all in pre-press I dealt with nuts and bolts, and rarely got a chance to express myself. When I did, any “art” had to be done in less than an hour an average., so nothing intricate or creative could come of it. Also, working 50-70 hour work weeks left little time for free time after work to create art. So many years had been unfortunately whittled away on the gerbil wheel called life.
So what follows is my experience at IGT, as I interpret it. First of all, a qualifier. I am essentially a country bumpkin. A fairly well read, and increasingly cosmopolitan yahoo, but my roots are rustic. While I try to maintain a cordial and friendly (and hopefully somewhat contained) air, inside Imy mind I often am just saying to myself “Gawrsh, lookie here!” It is perhaps why I tend to come off a little younger than I am. My personality tends to be 10-15 years off my chronological one, and the disparity increases yearly. Currently, I’m probably close to 28-30 years in my personality. Thank goodness I’m not mentally a 18 years old in my brain like I was when I was 30. At least when I interviewed I had some tread wear to show in my mannerisms. I also was lucky I worked at Zazzle for a month temping and with an insight into Silicon Valley mentality. The Zazzle experience at least prepared me in some measure for what I experienced.
What I saw first was a sleek glass and concrete wonder of a building, kind of a cross between Zazzle-Redwood and Rockefeller Plaza. I walked through the tall glass doors (which I find interesting to have all that glass in earthquake territory), and in this huge granite and marble lobby 2 gentlemen (one manning the desk, the other who’s purpose was to place a person on the elevator), kindly greeted me. I felt somewhat relieved to be in my best suit, because walking in jeans unannounced just seemed rather understated and disrespectful, to say the least. I tried my best to contain any exasperation (I gave myself 2 hours and 15 minutes to arrive in San Francisco, for less than an hour drive – I arrived 15 minutes late for my interview despite my well-laid plans), my well dressed and groomed persona arrived, and let myself deal with it like nothing was wrong. So up to the 6th floor I went, and viola! I stepped into a lobby that looked like the headquarters for the men-in-black had a metro sexual Art Deco shopping spree. And I mean that in a very tasteful way. It wasn’t the whimsical Zazzle locale. But it had some whimsy combined with a corporate vibe. Very cool, chic, corporate yet still a young energy and vibe to it. The Human Resources Rep, Christine was around my age. I had spoken to her before, and I wasn’t surprised with her appearance that day. She had a hippy chic, professional air that carried in my mind a bit of a wild cougar underneath her very sweet and funny personality.
Looking upon these visions, I once again saw why I love Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. Somehow, the collective Bay Zeitgeist has agreed to keep it both professional and casual. And somehow, such a work philosophy blends together better than the finest yogurty puree. The personalities I encountered were laid back, cheerful, kind and professional. And as expected, the art team was even more casual. The head producer seemed part rock star, part record producer, and part new age hippie. The art leads in general looked like they could by turns produce high quality art, hold a board meeting, and go to a funky dance club in the same couture. I was in my suit, but darn it, I just wanted to rip off my tie, and proudly show my pirate shirt and say “arrrrr matey’s I be just like you!”. It was a very similar vibe to what I experienced at Zazzle. And although I hate to admit it, since I fell so hard for Zazzle, I found a new and deeper love for IGT. Zazzle was like having teenage heart palpatations for a first love. IGT was like being in love with a full-grown woman. Two very different beasts. IGT – They made video games, and loved to speak art! The team I spoke with were gamers. They were illustrators more so than graphic designers. And so, not surprisingly, inside my little neanderthal brain-pan, I thought of an ill thought plan. I so badly wanted this job after 10 minutes of my interview, I thought perhaps if I could tear out my still-beating heart to give to the company as a token of soul-sacrifice, would they do me the honor being employed there? Even as I perished, I at least would hear a pronouncement of affirmation. As I was led to the underworld by the reaper, that would be enough. Then I reckoned, “but then I wouldn’t get to make the art I desired!” And another thought – such demi-gods needed not such energy from souls such as I. So I stuffed my ancient tribal impulses down past my medulla oblangata, and I tried another, desperate but somewhat bland approach. I tried to be nice, be honest, be me, and hope for the best. And then maybe make a sacrifice during to next Thunderstorm to the God of Thunder and hope lightning strikes for my career. Hey, can’t hurt, right?
I thus had 2 hours of not-so formal interview time. I had the sense in general that they liked me. I sure as heck loved them, and we all joked and had a good round of it. Goodness, interview not withstanding, I just felt like I could have been friends with them. I suppose I think that a lot. I can’t help it. I like people, especially clever people, and I delight in their company. And since I left my favorite group of clever geeks over 2500 miles away, I am starving daily for interaction with such folk. In the end here is what I hope I came off as: A rather experienced, well-spoken, exuberant, energetic go-getter who is tried and tested in work ethic, gets along well with others, and is really ready and more than willing to tackle what they could give me. I came off as ambitious, but very interested in the opportunity to learn and grow. I connected several times on points of work ethic (doing what must be done), my passion for games (helping people fall in love with the game experience), and I had a “I’ve been through the pressure cooker” look. I also conveyed my fabulous sense of humor. That’s what I hope happened.
However, in analysis I had a few potential pit-falls. First of all, I was asked about the structure that I worked in and what groups I liked to work in. I told them I like alone or small groups (half dozen or so), but felt I could work with whatever form I was expected. In general I think working alone is ok, but with at least a recourse to speak with someone else. In a way, I tried to deflect the fact that at my former job of 17 years, there was very little structure. I mean, we didn’t have titles. If someone asked us, we had to give ourselves a title. Only 10 people in a company of 400 were even given titles. We didn’t have a structure. It was organic. It was why I (who was always spontaneous) gave myself structure, devised my own training manuals, etc. And truthfully, I am not proud of what I did in some ways. True, I learned valuable lessons about pressure and time. I learned how, without any formal training time, we just had to train ourselves, and quickly. I know I did the best with what I had to work with, but what I and my colleagues had to work with in Pennsylvania wasn’t much. While there were well-meaning people at my former workplace, they were continually hampered. Few people received formal training and less still updates on new software. Management received little direction. People overall were lost, sad, angry and despairing. My former work place was the place where dreams come to die. Where the lowest common denominator wasn’t only tolerated, in many ways, it was encouraged. I learned if people are treated like children, they act like children. I learned towards to end in such an environment, trying to help people laugh, to lead by example, sharing and help others many times only led to derision, anger and pettiness. This was and is the polar opposite of my personal ethic. I believe that in enriching others lives, you enrich yourself. I believe in truth, and free exchange of ideas, and mutual respect. And laughter. All combined with a strong work ethic. When I worked at Zazzle, Darren Luvaas as the Creative Director really hit the nail on the head for me in his management skills.
However, my philosophy (and Darrens) does not thrive in some environments. In some environments, even when there are pockets of truly good, honest workers, the best one can do in such a morass is build up a psychic armor, try to help when you can, and then hunker down and prepare for the cacophony of petty screams and finger pointing that usually will follow. Of course, in my interview, none of the negativity in my former work environment was mentioned on my part. I just highlighted my organizational and mentoring skills, which I do think I excel at. But I hope they could get over how I could gloss over much of the time I spent there and forgive my time in Purgatory. When I see places like IGT and Zazzle, and I have to hold back tears of joy and admiration. Places with my philosophy do exist! That at least comforts me, even when standing on the other side of the glass window. It at least gives me hope. Even if I can’t be a part of it (for now, perhaps forever), I know that some people are being treated well, and with mutual respect. But oh, I am still wanting to just join their Reindeer Games.
Before I knew this philosophy existed in pockets of reality, over the years, I eked out some illustrations, most of it at home. I kept trying to live that dream. I so badly wanted to be creative again, even when all seemed lost. In order to find creativity anew, I had to travel out of Western Pennsylvania, and to the West Cost. And now I am fighting like a rabid dog to break into something meaningful and pertinent in a career.
Another problem I could see is some may have doubted my spontaneity, at least initially. This is almost hilarious, at I am very spontaneous by nature. It is just that life, and my former workplace set 17 years of soul-crushing organization on me. Actually, I shouldn’t go that far. Although it did almost crush me, it taught me focus. The shame is that such a lesson was adjudicated through almost squashing my artistic soul like a bug. Luckily though, my artistic bug was a cockroach and still lived. Now, away from the great shoe of my former life, my little artistic cockroach daily grows in speed and endurance. He scuttles more and more every day.
I may have shown a host of other weaknesses that I may not know about as of yet. In my happiness and candor, I may have dropped my guard too much. I was truly me, which could yield positive or negative results for me professionally. It is all how I am viewed by others, always a difficult task to measure. And though I will try to not take it personally, my interview thus will truly be a an affirmation or rejection of me, my work and my personality. This is not to say it will stop me in my quest in the to be a working artist in the Bay. But I won’t deny it won’t sting badly if I fail. I am still a very tender soul at heart.
So now the problem is this – Did they see a professional artist who is creative, and just needs a chance to bring his artistic creativity to the fore? A man who loves the philosophy of their company, a clever and resourceful individual that would, in years to come, be eternally grateful for the chance to shine, grow and mature as an artist? Someone who will be a valuable asset to their company? Or…..do they see an over-zealous, somewhat desperate middle-aged man who sees his chances of his dreams slipping by day by day? A man who may wind up an insurance salesman or bagging groceries, wearing a name-tag and shacking in some small apartment for lack of good solid employment? In the following months, I could be either of these. I hope for the first, and I scared as hell about the second. I ask myself if there is any justice, let me get this job!
IGT could offer me the personal and professional redemption I seek. And I would serve them well, I know I would as they seem, from my vantage point, to dovetail with the very core of my being. However, until someone can gaze into my soul, and see what I am, I must confess – I am doubtful. In a week or two of time, I will know. Jubilation or despair will follow. Until then, I must try to forget how I could be in a place that could achieve absolute synchronicity with my goals and aspirations. I must try to let myself understand that I may have been there at the wrong time. How, had I been younger and more in tune with current trends, or how in a few years my portfolio would be stronger, things would have been different. I need to forget such dreams for now. For now, I just need to draw, apply for other jobs, and get my insurance license in case the whole house of cards falls to pieces.