How the Tech Industry Discourages Multi-Passionates

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I sometimes regret specializing in a front end development framework. Mainly because I inadvertently pigeonholed myself into work with outdated technology. What I realized I might have been accidentally implying in that post is that the tech industry therefore prefers multi-passionate people. I wanted to correct this implication because it is extremely incorrect, in fact I would argue that it is the opposite. There are not a lot of creative jobs in the tech industry, at least not if you are a developer. This is what makes it especially difficult for multi-passionate folks.

Technical interviews, especially for developers, are grueling. It is not uncommon to have one or two coding tests, sometimes with multiple developers watching you code live and taking notes while they’re at it. I’ve had cognitive assessments, personality tests, multiple choice questions, timed exams, and everything in between. What sucks the most is that almost all of these tests are designed to assess your left brain. That is, how good you are at algorithmic thinking, or logic puzzles, or your depth of understanding a specific programming language.

Coding reports like this discourage people who are looking for creative jobs in the tech industry

It’s a real frustration for someone like me, who has a mixture of skills in user experience, web design, and front end development. I often find when I’m looking at jobs that the ones which list this mixture of skills as “desired” are also the companies which are very small and basically just want to have one developer that doesn’t mind “working under pressure” (sidebar: if a job asks you about how comfortable you are under pressure, you should probably run away). Then the jobs which specifically want a “front end developer” couldn’t give a damn that I know my way around Photoshop, or that I have an online portfolio that showcases my game development, or that I have interests outside of technology at all.

The closest thing I found among creative jobs in the tech industry that I came across was being a UI developer, which crossed the boundary between user experience design and programming to some extent. But it was still a far cry from truly stretching my creative muscles.

Of course I would not write this if I thought I was the only one who experienced this frustration. There is a ton of gate-keeping in the industry, which you can read about here, here, and here. Not expressing enough passion about coding or not being up with the latest frameworks can easily cost you the job. As a result, people in the tech industry often feel pressured to give up their hobbies and their other interests and spend both their time inside and outside the office brushing up on trends, researching new tools, and making side projects to stay fresh.

The gatekeeping is real. Probably from StackOverflow.

This is a huge turn off for most multi-passionate folks. They tend to get bored doing the same thing each and every day. When they first discover a new interest they might become intensely absorbed in it for a while. But eventually that intense interest tapers off and is replaced with something else. Emilie Wapnick discusses this phenomenon in her fantastic TED talk, which I highly recommend.

The tech industry receives so much criticism for excluding people and ideas. Yet it continuously encourages developers to specialize in more and more specific tools. What the industry needs most right now is people who value the the long term happiness of their customers. That includes the user experience, genuine human interaction, and taking privacy seriously. To do this well, employees should be able to put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Hiring people who have diverse experiences and a wide range of interests would certainly help. Hiring people for their single-minded obsession with technology will have the opposite effect. It will continue to fuel the delusion that all problems can be solved with more technology.

The lack of diversity also discourages multipassionate folks

Some might infer from this that I want to do away with all coding tests. No. I am not advocating for an extreme approach. I think currently the industry skews very far in demanding employees to live, breathe, and eat code. That it is not conducive to a collaborative and open minded workforce. Of course it also relates to the bigger problem of toxic work culture. That, unfortunately, is another can of worms I won’t get into in this post.

Hiring in tech is broken. Having a single minded focus on the developers technical skills dehumanizes them. It also makes multi-passionate folks feel like they need to fit a very specific mold. I believe it is also the reason why so many companies don’t invest in good UX researchers and designers. After all, those skill-sets bridge different industries and require a more multi-passionate approach. Many companies seem to not see the value in anything that is not pure code. Basically anything that doesn’t follow the motto of “move fast and break things”.

That motto has NOT aged well.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to have an outlet to talk about all of my interests. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to write about a multitude of topics. While there are not a lot of creative jobs in the tech industry for developers, there are other ways to stretch your creative muscles. I do it by refusing to force myself into a niche that I would get sick of after a few weeks. The tech industry is changing, albeit not as quickly as I would like. I hope this post reaches the people who can spread the message that multi-passionate people in tech should be embraced rather than estranged.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Why I Don’t Make Art For a Living: How Capitalism Kills Creativity

I’ve been writing a lot about game development and coding so far on the blog, especially from a creative coder perspective. However today I am going to empathize the “creative” more than the “coder”. I initially created this blog with the help of a book called Renaissance Business by Emilie Wapnick. I discovered her after listening to her amazing TED talk . Basically this blog is my platform to celebrate and share my many passions with readers, instead of forcing myself to fit into a specific niche mold. This post explores the question about whether capitalism kills creativity, and how I have personally found that it’s difficult to focus on creative expression when trying to sell my work and make it marketable.

To bring this back around to the topic of art consumption, I have always thought of art as the center of all things, because artists can make work about almost any topic under the sun, and in almost any form, and still have it be recognized as art. I won’t get into an art history lecture here but if you’ve ever been to a modern art museum you will know what I am talking about. I think that makes art, in many ways, the original Renaissance Business. Why business? Because artists need to eat, too.

A little more background about me before going further. I have been working professionally as a developer for four years. However, I actually majored in Visual Arts in college and still have a lot of passion for the arts. When I was in school I imagined myself being a graphic designer and selling photography and illustration on the side. In my sophomore year I got my first DSLR, a Canon 60D and I was utterly thrilled. I was also lucky to have a family that loved to travel far and wide.

I used to take my Canon 60D with me every time I travelled

As you can guess by now, I took a lot of photos. I also knew a fair bit of photo editing with Photoshop, because it was the same tool I used for graphic design. I loved to tweak my photos and create vibrant, luscious imagery of nature. Unfortunately for me, there was already tons of these images on the internet. I didn’t think about that while beaming at some of my best photos. What I was thinking about was how great my photos might look on someone’s wall. Or how with my nice fancy camera I could print them out at large sizes.

You can probably guess where this is going. Like millions of other people on the internet, I decided to open an online store. There were quite a few platforms to choose from: DeviantArt, Shopify, Etsy, Cafepress, Fine Art America, and all of these other options. I did several hours worth of research and settled on Fine Art America, because I liked how I didn’t have to deal with any of the shipping or printing, and basically just had to upload my digital files and set my prices while letting the platform do the rest. Below are some of my photos, for context:

At first I was hopeful. I saw visitors looking at my images, sometimes commenting. I decided to share on Twitter and Facebook. Got some more visitors. A few family members bought some prints in the first couple of weeks. Unfortunately, that was all that ever came of that shop. Even today I still get visitors checking out my photography, because I haven’t bothered to take down the shop.

That was when it hit me. Being a skillful artist, photographer or otherwise, was not enough to see any success selling your work online (not implying that I believe I am exceptionally talented, just that I put in many hours to hone my craft). In fact, being a skillful artist didn’t even mean that you would get noticed. It might have worked years ago when artists relied on selling to local communities that didn’t have access to a tool allowing them to view beautiful art with one simple click or keyword. Back then, seeing a skillfully painted landscape or illustration might have been at least a little bit rare.

You have to advocate for yourself to make it as an artist in the twenty first century

Perhaps that is not entirely fair of me to say. I have sold a few small creative items over the years. Once I had some illustrations featured in a magazine, and I’ve drawn some portraits in a park for donations that people seemed happy to hand over. Some might even accuse me of being delusional. What was I expecting, that posting some art on the internet would actually mean something? I admit, I was naive. But I think there is something sad about the state of art consumption. It seems the business acumen of an artist ends up being more of a contribution to success than the years they spent perfecting their craft. Maybe this is nothing new though, after all, we know Van Gogh died penniless and hated by many.

Yet I wonder even if artists who were successful in the era of Impressionists would be able to succeed in today’s online world. There are so many things an artist needs to know in order to be able to sell their art to make a living. First, they must be active on social media. They must be active members in several online groups or communities. They must post updates of their work frequently to their followers lest they lose interest. Finally, they must be in tune with popular culture and understand things like SEO, content management, and web hosting. Then they must continuously keep their finger on the pulse of the creative industry they are in. That was when it hit me. Could this mean that capitalism kills creativity?

Competition for selling art online is fierce

Naturally I didn’t know all of these things at the time. My thinking was that I could simply put up my photos and people would come and buy them. I wasn’t ready to devote hours of my day to promoting my new photography store and getting my name out there. I thought my photography could stand on its own, but I realized that was simply not the case. The store has been up for five years now but the only sales were in those first couple weeks.

Fast forward to 2018. I was missing graphic design after working for 3 years as a front end developer. My husband was in law school and after work I was often bored while he studied. Recently I had finished reading The Handmaids Tale. I knew that on Etsy, people liked to buy posters, purses, and mugs with quotes on them. My thinking was that maybe I could sell digital prints with quotes from feminist literature. I bought Photoshop and started to collect quotes from books and authors I liked and download beautiful cursive and italic fonts that would make the quotes look more like a work of art than simply text on a page.

My most popular print on my Etsy shop, Literary Ladies

In many ways the Etsy store I created with these feminist literature inspired quotes was exactly the kind of thing that most marketing gurus and even other successful artists encourage creatives to do. Find a niche that fits into popular culture, create a style or brand, and make items that fit into it. Finally, they must create a store only for selling those items, and make it easy for consumers to purchase.

Sure enough, following these guidelines did lead to some moderate success. Certainly a lot more than my photography store. I sold dozens of my download-able designs (I didn’t want to deal with printing and shipping myself), though most of them were all purchases of the same thing. A Wonder Woman quote (see image above) that I made after the Marvel film was released.

If I had to be honest, this was the most discouraging part of all. It meant that unless my quotes were centered around something popular, nobody would buy it. Even if it was a specific niche with a specific brand. I had been more interested in finding quotes from literature, but those quotes sell in much smaller quantities. It felt like if I wanted to make art for money, I wouldn’t ever be able to follow my heart. Instead I would need to follow hours of research based on trends and popular culture. That concept essentially sucked all of the joy out of making art.

Screenshot of a site letting you buy posters. A good example of how capitalism kills creativity: everything has to be pop culture related.

Perhaps this is more of a philosophical question, but isn’t true art the kind that comes directly from the heart, and brings the artist joy? I don’t mean to disparage people who make art for a living, because I have tremendous respect for them. Especially Japanese animators who toil away under extreme deadlines and often work themselves to death because of the time consuming nature of the art they make. In this case, capitalism kills creativity by literally killing the person. What I really hold at fault is capitalism, and how it turns art away from joy and into another corporate product for consumption. A product that can be broken down into business components instead of creative spirit.

Even if the artist actually enjoys the art they are making, the value of the art is considered so low that it is considered OK to burn them out and basically, torture them. To me, that is a sign of a culture that does not appreciate art at all. It’s a sign that maybe capitalism kills creativity after all. Although my Etsy shop and my Fine Art America website are still up, I don’t really have any expectations that they will ever turn into actual businesses. In fact, I’m not sure that I want them to, because making art is one of the few joys of adult life and I don’t want that joy to be stolen away from me.

Some people say that if you do what you love at work, you never work a day in your life. I would argue that, at least under a capitalist system, if you do what you love at work, what you love could eventually become what you hate. That is why capitalism kills creativity. That is why I have continued to work as a front end developer and make creative works like games, drawings, and generative art as a hobby and passion. I wish this wasn’t the case, but sadly after my past experiences that is what I have concluded.

The most overused quote on the internet.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the state of art consumption, and what you think could be improved. Do you think capitalism kills creativity? Are you a professional artist? Hope to become one some day? I know this op-ed may be a bit depressing, but by no means do I want to discourage readers from making art. The world needs it, even if it goes under-appreciated.

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Making Your First Video Game: 10 Tips

Over the years I have participated in several game jams, some solo and some with peers. I don’t regret getting involved in any of them, but there were definitely some disappointments and frustrations along the way that I think could have been avoided if I had done a bit more of my own research first. I hope this post will offer some useful tips for making your first video game to help readers to avoid some of the pitfalls that I encountered.

Game jams are one great way for someone to get their feet wet with games, even if they’ve never made a game before. The most important thing to remember is to keep the game simple. It should also be mentioned that there is sometimes a pretty thin line between interactive art and game development. Take for example, Nathalie Lawhead‘s work, which I wrote about here. Don’t let the traditional perception of games as mindless shooters burden you. Make sure you check out games on itch.io to see how diverse games have become.

One tip for game jam success: having a good team makes a big difference
  1. Be extremely cautious of teaming up with strangers on the internet. This may be the most controversial suggestion for some and the most obvious for others. The thing is, I do not have any friends that wanted to work on a game, so I decided to team up with some people I met through a discord group. It all seemed fine at first, and many of the team members delivered. We had a story, music, and graphics for the game. Unfortunately, our game developer disappeared a few days before the project was over and never came back, leaving the game unfinished.
  2. Keep your scope small, ESPECIALLY if developing solo. When I was developing one of my first games, I became excited about all of the cool mechanics and logic I could add to make the game more interesting. What I didn’t think about was how each feature I was adding would affect the actual game play. I ended up play testing the game an insane number of times, and still wasn’t sure if it was winnable at the end.
  3. Make sure your UI is not an afterthought. It’s easy to get so caught up in the mechanics and other features of your game that you can forget about how important it is for players to actually understand HOW to play. This is probably my biggest regret with Education Sim. I assumed that players would look at the instructions before they started playing, which is usually NOT the case. The engine I was using added limitations to how intuitive I could make the UI, and if I had given myself more time to think about those challenges I would have had a better game.
  4. Agree on regular check in’s with your team. There is nothing worse than getting ghosted by a teammate when the project is about complete. You can avoid this happening by agreeing on regular check ins where teammates share their progress. That way, if a teammate does not show up or have any progress to share, you can find someone else. This ensures the game still gets completed on time.
  5. Make a game design document early on. Probably the best way to do this is in google docs, so you can share the document with the team and give them editing rights. You want your team to be on the same page about what you are making and what the major features will be. Until it is written on paper you don’t know what ideas are really in everyone’s head. It’s important to know whether you are all really on the same page. This also goes for solo developers, because it will work as a reference for you and keep you clear on the scope of the project.
  6. Draft a time table/schedule to stay on track. You don’t want to be polishing off your graphics when there’s less than a few hours remaining (if you’re doing a game jam) and you’re missing key features. Use google spreadsheets and map out how long you (roughly) want to spend on each aspect of the game. That will keep you from getting carried away. Make sure to mark the priority items as well.
  7. Be experimental. You don’t have to make a clone of another game. Sites like itch.io are not for professional, polished AAA titles. People want to see the trashy, the bizarre, and the experimental games so let out your inner weirdo.
  8. Stay reasonable with your expectations. Many people dream of making it big in the game industry, but the indie game scene is vast. As a result, it’s unlikely your first game is going to be a huge success. You are more likely to be noticed after growing a portfolio of games, with fans who will come back to see what you make next!
  9. Share your progress on social media. Don’t wait till the game is out to share! Twitter has a strong indie game developer community, with hashtags like #indiedev and #screenshotsaturday. You can also consider streaming your game development on Twitch or Youtube. I haven’t tried this myself, but it seems like a good way to build a following. Beginners enjoy following developers who stream. Make sure to save your past streams and link back to your portfolio/game to keep new players coming.
  10. If something is not working, pivot. If you’re not enjoying making the game (and you know you usually do, otherwise what are you doing???), or something is majorly wrong, the final product will probably not be very good. Don’t be afraid of switching it up! Just be sure to account for having less time and knowing the scope of the new game should be smaller.

I hope you found these tips for game jam success to be helpful! If you did, please let me know in the comments and share your games. What tips helped you the most?

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.

Cons of Specializing in One Front End Javascript Framework

Four years ago I got my first job at a start up. It was a very proud day. I called my dad from a Starbucks holding the offer letter in my shaking hand, and already imagined myself taking the metro the following week and walking down to the new shiny office building downtown and feeling like a grown up city woman, finally entering the field I had struggled for two years to be taken seriously by, building up my portfolio bit by bit. I was told many times that specializing in a front end framework was the way to go, and it wasn’t until much later that I learned about front end javascript framework cons.

I still remember it fondly, but what I hadn’t foreseen nor had anyone really warned me about was that it’s a lot harder to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies once you are actually employed. At the time the cool new front end framework was AngularJS, and I embraced the opportunity to master the framework, since a) the job required it and b) it seemed like something that would stick around for a while.

There are a LOT of Javascript front end frameworks

Now I wasn’t exactly wrong about it sticking around, but I didn’t expect that four years later I would still be working with, not just the same framework, but the same VERSION of the framework. For those that don’t know, the newest version of Angular today is Angular 8, and it is VERY different from AngularJS. So different in fact that learning it is practically like learning a new framework entirely. Then there is also React, a framework which has rapidly gained popularity and actually become more widely adopted than Angular. On top of that, there is also Vue, which isn’t as popular but is quickly gaining traction as well.

I hadn’t intended to get pigeonholed into AngularJS, but it happened because for the last three years I’ve worked in a city where there are a lot of government related jobs and a lot of enterprise companies that move slowly and use outdated technologies like AngularJS. I also typically found that by the end of the work day, I didn’t have a lot of juice left to teach myself other frameworks. As a person who doesn’t just live and breathe my day job, if I was going to code outside of work I wanted it to be coding games or working on creative coding projects with Processing or other generative art technologies (if you’re interested in this, I wrote another blog post about it here). I imagine there are other people reading this blog who have that itch to express themselves creatively that feel the same way.

There are a LOT of versions of Angular, and quite a few versions of React as well. Its constantly changing.

Many developers will tell you, its hard to work in this industry and maintain a hobby. But without exercising my creative muscles I feel like part of my soul is missing, and when all is said and done I still have that urge to express myself. To be fair, front end development does allow for some creative expression at times, especially if you are working at the ground level of a startup and get to have a say in the user interface of the application or website. But overall I still had the urge to express myself creatively when the work day was over.

What I didn’t always have is the energy leftover to learn the latest and greatest framework, because coding all day can really suck that out of you. So at that point I felt stuck with this specialty in AngularJS, one that is no longer particularly desirable in a field that is ever changing, but also one that is hard to break out of now that I have four years of experience with it.

I don’t want to end on this pessimistic note, because thankfully my hobby creative coding projects like making games also help to show prospective employers that I have the ability to teach myself other languages and frameworks, even if they are outside the front end tool set. However, I don’t think this issue of getting pigeonholed into a front end javascript framework gets talked about enough.

There are many articles about breaking into tech and getting that first job. It is also true that the next job is always much easier to get than the first. Still, it’s also easy to become complacent once you’ve broken in, because there is a lot less external motivation pushing you to keep learning and breaking new ground. This complacency is hard to guard against, but guard against it you must, because otherwise you may find yourself stagnating professionally, unmotivated and unhappy.

I’m curious to hear comments from other developers if they experienced any cons to specializing in one front end javascript framework. Have you found yourself pigeonholed into a specialty in tech? Front end or back end? Do you wish you had more time to pursue creative coding projects?

If you enjoyed this article, consider following me on Twitter @nadyaprimak or if you need more tips on breaking into the tech industry, you can read my book “Foot in the Door” in paperback or Kindle now.