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Your Career Website
In the game industry, it is incredibly important that you “put yourself out there” as much as you can.  This includes attending conferences and joining professional groups, as well as harnessing the power of the Internet.  In this article, I’ll explain some of the basic steps you can take to build a digital portfolio online, in the form of a personal career website.

Please keep in mind that the following suggestions stem from my own personal experience, and are in no way a guarantee of future success.  Ultimately your career will be made on the merits of your expertise, and in no way will the following compensate for a lack of knowledge!

Purchase a Website
Personal websites are not too expensive, even for students.  There are plenty of good deals out there.  I pay approximately $60 a year to maintain my personal site – $10 for the domain name (your “.com”), and $50 for hosting.  You can think of these two services as akin to purchasing a trailer home and the land to park it on, respectively.

I recommend using www.godaddy.com to purchase your domain name.  There are other services available, but GoDaddy is the largest service of its kind, and aside from an overly busy design, it has all the services you need from an Internet registrar.  

Your domain name should fall into one of two categories – something clever and catchy, or something professional.  A professional domain name might just be your own name, as I chose for my site.  If you choose something clever, that’s fine too.  Just make sure it’s short and punchy – something your users will remember.

Once you’ve purchased your domain, you need to purchase hosting.  Hosting can be paid for on a monthly basis, or you can buy large blocks of time.  Oftentimes, hosting services will give discounts if you pay for a year or more upfront, but students don’t always have that luxury.  

The service I use is www.everity.com, and I couldn’t be happier!  The owner, James, has an incredibly fast turnaround time when it comes to troubleshooting problems.  The smallest hosting package is $3.99 a month, which is perfect for a digital portfolio.

Once you’ve purchased your domain and hosting service, you’re ready to go!  The only additional step you need to take is linking the domain to the hosting service.  Typically this is done by providing the name server addresses given to you by your hosting plan to your registrar.  If you use eVerity, the name servers will be e-mailed to you.  On GoDaddy’s site, choose Domains > My Domains from the menu.   Select your domain name from the list that appears.  Information about your site will be presented, including your current name servers.  Click on one of them, and change the values to those provided to you by eVerity.  Save your changes, and you’re good to go!  Keep in mind though; it may take up to twenty-four hours for those changes to take effect.  

The Right Tools
In order to build a website, you only need a few pieces of software – all of which you probably already own or can download for free.  

First, you’ll need a text editor.  Honestly, I code all my websites by hand in Notepad.  However, more advanced text-editors such as UltraEdit (www.ultraedit.com) can be useful.  However, if coding HTML in Notepad is too overwhelming, you can always build webpages using good ‘ole Microsoft Word.  

You’ll also need an FTP program with which to upload your files.  This isn’t entirely necessary – eVerity, for example, has a file manager that allows uploads onto your site – but an FTP program will allow you to upload and download numerous files more quickly.  I recommend using FTP Commander (www.internet-soft.com).

Finally, having a few books on hand is a good practice when it comes to building websites.  I recommend the “In Easy Steps” series (www.ineasysteps.com) – specifically their books on HTML and CSS.  

A useful website to have bookmarked is www.w3schools.com.  Here, you will find tutorials on both HTML and CSS, as well as other Internet technologies.  Likewise, the W3C Validation Service (validator.w3.org) will help you determine if your HTML is working properly.

Build Your Website
The next step is to actually build your website.  Honestly, this isn’t as difficult as some people think.  If you’re savvy enough to program games, you can put together a decent enough site.  The only real challenge is organizing it properly.  For websites, the general rule of thumb should be simplicity.  Don’t go crazy with wild colors, busy patterns, or too many menu options.  In fact, I recommend building only a few pages, including:
  • A Main page that serves as a personal blog
  • A Games or Samples page to display your work
  • A Resume page to showcase your experience
  • A Tutorials page to demonstrate your programming know-how
The Main page (or index) should be a place for you to communicate with your readers.  Here, you should post important career-related news, game reviews, development commentary (what are you working on?), or links to useful information.  Keep this updated regularly.  If you’ve gone more than a month without new content, post something!  You don’t want your readers feeling as though you’ve abandoned them.

One final note on the Main page – keep it positive!  Remember, you want to express your passion and enthusiasm for the game industry, not personal gripes about you ex (that’s what MySpace is for).

The Games or Samples page should be a repository of your best work.  If you want a job in programming, showcase projects you’ve programmed.  If you want a job in design, showcase your designs.  This page may include descriptions, pictures, videos, or actual executables.  

The Resume page is your chance to impress.  I recommend posting your resume in .PDF format, so it can be downloaded.  Screen for typos, inconsistencies, and poor grammar.  Keep it to one page.  The sections you should include are:
  • Education
  • Work Experience
  • Game Development Experience
  • Technical Skills
Other sections to consider, if you need to bulk up your resume:
  • Awards and Recognitions
  • Publications
  • Relevant Coursework
  • Personal Statement
Finally, the Tutorials page is a place for you to exhibit your expertise.  Here, you can post sample files, how-to guides, or snippets of code.  This is perhaps the most important section.  The bulk of the feedback I receive from my personal site is related to the content in my Tutorials section.  I have had several truly unique opportunities afforded to me because of the information I’ve posted regarding the Torque Game Engine, for example.  

Finally, your website should give readers the chance to contact you.  Make sure your personal e-mail address is listed at the bottom of every page.  You can also include a Contact page if you would prefer to give your readers other options – such as a MySpace or Facebook link, phone number, or World of Warcraft server and name.  Just make sure that whatever you list, you check regularly.

Other Outlets
In addition to your website, you should consider these additional Internet-based services.

There is a fairly large development community on YouTube (www.youtube.com).  Creating an account is easy and free, and once you’re signed up, you can begin uploading videos.  Keep it professional – no beer pong!  The kinds of videos you’ll want to upload are development updates (what are you working on?), how-to guides, or game reviews.  You can easily cobble together videos using software such as FRAPS and Windows Movie Maker.  After a video has been uploaded, you can embed it on your webpage.

LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a professional networking site, similar to Facebook or MySpace.  It allows you to post career information for others to review.  In addition, your friends and coworkers can post recommendations for you, which demonstrate to potential employers that you are indeed as awesome as your resume indicates.  The idea here is to link to as many professionals as you can – just make sure you’ve actually met them!  Then, when you’re looking for a job, you can use your network to find out who-know-who, and possible get yourself introduced to someone important to your job search.

By the way, there are other sites similar to LinkedIn, including www.plaxo.com and www.xing.com, however, the game industry has tended towards LinkedIn, and you should too!

Now What?
Advertise.  It wouldn’t hurt to have some business cards made with your website on them.  You can order free business cards from www.vistaprint.com, by the way.  Also, list your web address in all of your projects, so people can find you if they like what they see.  Put a link in the signature section of your e-mails.  Post on forums, seeking feedback on your efforts, if nothing else.  

When can you expect awesome opportunities to start finding you?  That depends.  I think my personal site was live about six months before I got my first e-mail.  Now, I receive an e-mail from someone new about once a month.  

I’ve been live for a little over two years, and just recently, via my website, I landed a consulting position for a game developer in Virginia.  So yes, good things will come your way, it just might take a little time.  But stick with it, and you never know what might happen!

Building a personal website for your career can be a great deal of fine and a real source of pride.  It’s a great feeling to finish a project and upload it for the world to see.  And the time and effort it takes to build your site is well worth the opportunities that are sure to come your way!
© 2011 David J. Sushil.  All Rights Reserved.  For more information, e-mail davidjsushil@gmail.com.