The Next Generation

When I was in high school, "game programmer" meant at best BASIC or at worst 6502 assembly language, but either way, lots of text manipulation. These days, high school-age programmers are going to camps and programming competitions having spent their time in drag-n-drop programming environments like Game Maker. They've been doing work flow for 7 versions already!

Yesterday, I was a judge and the keynote speaker at a high school game programming contest. After asking a bunch of the 25 teams questions about their games, I was asked to speak about careers in software to 100 high school computer geeks. My people!

I started by introducing my youngest son as the "slide monkey" to warm applause and them myself as a Microsoft employee to... silence. So, I said: "How many of you think that Microsoft is..." and then I put my face down to the podium microphone and said in a voice from God, "EVIL?". Half of them raised their hands, all of them laughed and I had them engaged for the next 20 minutes.
Instead of listing various careers and their duties, I had dug through literally 13 years worth of bad Internet humor (641 emails) that I'd saved over the years and used all the silly, stupid, funny pictures to illustrate the various careers, like an x-ray of Homer's tiny brain (Architect), a picture of some hand puppets chasing a kitten (Legal), street signs that said "left turn" and "keep right" at the same time (User Assistance), etc. A couple pictures I had to clean up, like that one that said "Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten," but even so, the pictures worked: they were listening to me.
While I had their attention, I told them two things. First, I told them that Microsoft was hiring. : )  Second, and most importantly, I told them not to worry about the money, but to pick a job that's going to get them excited every day. Pick the job that's the most *fun*. And when that one isn't fun anymore, pick another one! I tried to put every ounce of sincerity I had into it, because I believe it. I love my work, I love who I work with and I think everyone should have that. I know it's silly, but if I could inspire just one person to reject some high paying job that's going to make them miserable in favor of a starvation-wages job that they'll love, then I'm happy.
And to illustrate the downside of picking the wrong job, I closed my talk showing a little boy balling his eyes out (although in his case, it was because of Santa's tombstone behind him : )
What a good way to spend the day. Highly recommended.

Comment Feed 5 comments on this post

Chris Brooks:

Thanks for being there for us Chris. Your keynote was a hit and I heard a number of comments confirming that you were a great choice for this event.

For anyone curious, you can learn more about the event here:

Sunday, May 18, 2008, 10:04 PM

Jarle Nygård:

Great post. I'd love to hear you speak Chris! Join Scott Hanselman and come to Norway for NDC2008! ( Or just to attend an NNUG (Norwegian .Net User Group) meeting! ;)

Sunday, May 18, 2008, 11:59 PM

John Ossowski:

Chris, thanks for coming to ogpc and speaking to the high school teams. From my point of view, you really connected with these bright young people (even the ones convinced of Microsoft's evilness).

Reminiscing back to my high school days, well over a decade ago, I can't really recall a 'career speaker' who projected the kind of energy and enthusiasm that you did. Furthermore, the notion that you should actually *love* what you do was completely foreign. I think you spoke to the heart of a work-life balance issue that is becoming increasingly important to young people. Careers of the future will demand creative and resourceful workers who are also voracious learners. In order to expend that kind of mental energy, people need to feel passionate about what they do and nurture supportive relationships with other people. Your talk captured the essense of these important and timely ideas in a way that actually appealed to the students there. Bravo! And thank you!

Monday, May 19, 2008, 9:40 AM

Chris Sells:

Chris, Jarle and John -- thanks very much for the feedback. I tried to channel my inner high school student and apparently I didn't do too badly. Maybe it's because I haven't matured much past that. : )

Anna! Honored to have you actually cruise the web site! It was a pleasure to find someone to sing Code Monkey with me. Love that song! Also, I heard all about Team PHRED during the day, but didn't get to see you guys. Hopefully next year.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008, 12:01 PM

Keith Patrick:

Back when I was in jr. high, 6502 was the main way to write a game (C64), but there still were a few gamemakers that I used (the best I could do in 6502 ML was code some demos). Gary Kitchen's GameMaker was the gold standard, but there was also something like Game Construction Kit (or the like), and for a bit Bill Budge (creator of Pinball CK) either wrote one himself or maybe I'm getting it mixed up with the never-released Construction Kit Contruction Kit. All pretty unsophisticated stuff compared with today, but that stuff still brings up great feelings from the golden age of my game-playing youth.

Sunday, Jun 1, 2008, 6:41 PM

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