30 September 2005

Am I blessed, or am I being foolish?

One of the wonderful things about life is that it's uncertain - especially once you've finished your studies.

From the day I entered primary school to my final exam in university, my life really only had one path. Plus, it's had the same goal for about 16 years - to do well in my exams.

For as long as I can remember, my mum has always told me that 'Education is protection' (My grandad told her that as well). That as long as you've got good grades, doors will open to you.

The best part of all this, of course, is that nobody ever tells you what happens after you graduate.

I have a degree in Software Engineering (a masters, on top of that) and had bright dreams of joining the games industry while studying in the UK. In fact, I actively scanned through all job vacancies in games companies - published in a mailing list, as well as in respected gaming mags such as Edge.

In fact, there was even a games company right next to my department - Infogrammes, Sheffield House (They used to be called Gremlin - the guys who did the excellent Lotus Turbo Challenge for the Amiga). They even had a couple of talks about how to enter the games industry.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, my university didn't do much to prepare us for life as a game developer. The main problem was that they focused on Java programming when the only 'real' programming language used in the industry was C/C++. Even worse, the modules and lectures on game development and 3D graphics had too much theory, and not much practical work (Plus, it didn't cover enough material).

Even worse, the requirements for entry into the games industry are bloody high - every company wants someone with at least 3 years experience in another gaming company, fluency in C++/DirectX/OpenGL/PlaystationYAROZE programming and familiarity with tools like Metrowerks Codewarrior and Microsoft Visual C++ - none of which my university offered.

So yes, it's really hard for a fresh grad to break into the industry, especially if you're not the top of your class. Plus, it costs a lot of money to actually get hold of these tools and even more time to learn everything on your own - Something which I wasn't willing to do, unfortunately.

In the end, I graduated, came back to Malaysia, and saw my ambitions slipping far away as I tried (unsuccessfully) to program a 2D pinball game for my Mac with OpenGL. Part of the problem, i guess, was that I knew that I was making a game with ZERO commercial potential and - since I was doing it alone - was probably going to take forever.

Then, I stumbled into The Star and became a journalist - with my degree in Software Engineering calmly collecting dust on my bookshelf (At least, I think it's there...).

But as it turns out, it's a great job! I get to voice my opinions, meet people and play with loads of cool gadgets. But most of all, it allows me to express myself - to unleash my creativity within the limitations of ink and paper (in about a thousand words or less, of course).

Part of the reason for my wanting to become a game developer stems from the fact that I want to entertain. I like to make people happy. If I made a game and at least ONE person thought it was the best thing he ever played, it would've been worth it.

I guess the same could apply to tech journalism. Of course, nobody reviews your articles in a magazine and puts a score on it, so it's hard to see if what you write is really being appreciated by your readers, or whether it's just filling up space in the paper.

We rarely hear from readers or get words of praise, such as "Hey, that was a great story you did" or "Thanks a lot for the article, I found it very informative". But when it does come, I treasure it.


For at the end of the day, newspapers are a form of entertainment, and that makes me an entertainer.

The audience may have changed, but the effect is the same. So yes, I enjoy my job.

But here lies the problem. I've got a wonderful job as far as I'm concerned - there's less office politics, it's more laid back and far more fulfilling than most other desk jobs (After all, you're not just adding numbers or writing code).

However, i'll never make big bucks doing something I like. Because journalists (in Malaysia, at least) will never earn as much money as any other profession. All the big bucks go to either the guys in nice suits telling people how to do their jobs, or to the engineers, lawyers and accountants who are good enough to land a job in a high-profile company.

And that's the irony of it all. I have an Hons. 2nd class 1st division MEng in Software Engineering from the University of Sheffield - I could've easily applied for a job as a consultant or tried out to be a programmer in some upstart software company. I could climb the $@#&ing corporate ladder.

But I didn't, because I was chasing my dreams (and bumped into another one - journalism - by complete accident). Because I can never imagine myself stuck in a job where the only satisfaction is from getting the job done.

I'm driven by the need to express myself and for that, I thank God that I've found a job that I love - I go to the office and write articles everyday, but I've not worked a single day for the past two years :)

I'm blessed.

Or perhaps, I'm just being foolish.


BTW, I still haven't given up my dreams of becoming a game developer. Now, I'm toying around with PocketPC programming - it's fun.


kruy® said...

just how did u go from Software Engineering into Journalism? i really wanna know. i wanted to do the same thing, to get out of pure IT into something else cos my programming and technical bits suck big time.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful entry. You sound so happy it's disgusting. But it's good you know where you wanna be for the rest of your days - you have a goal.

I hope Star pays more than the magazines though. It was costing me money to work at the job I loved.

Now I'm in a career where the only satisfaction is in the completion of the job (oh no) ... but it puts food and a few more luxury items on the table. I still don't know if it's worth it.