In my last written blog post, I detailed an experience that did not go as well as I expected. For almost a whole year afterwards, I could barely draw. It was during this rough period of time though, that I collected myself, gained new insight, and headed into a better direction.
While I got paid for the concept artwork I did for for the small indie game company, I was nearing the end of my one year freelancing adventure. My backup funds were drying up, and there wasn’t any further work lined up. I needed to pick up something to pay the bills.
Even though the recession was over in 2009, in 2012 the job market still had a tough time recovering. I contacted all the job agencies I used to be in touch with years ago, looking for office work or similar work to what I did before I went freelance. What used to be a couple days response time from these agencies turned out to be no response at all.
As weeks and then months passed by without any answers, I decided to look for any work directly. I started considering working at cafes or restaurants, and minimum wage jobs.
That eventually led to my current job at Panera. I started there on July 2013.
Knowing that this wouldn’t be a career path I would be set on in the long run, I began drafting a basic plan:
1) Get a job to cover rent and bills.
2) Work hard at that job and take any growth opportunities that appear.
3) Conduct research into a future career in an in-demand industry that is connected to my interests, knowledge, and skills.
4) Learn what it takes to get into said industry, and gain new skills related to it. Build some things with those skills. Start broadcasting and promoting what you’ve created.
5) Get a career in said industry, and keep on creating some amazing things.
With this plan in mind, I started drawing a Venn diagram of my interests and searched for something that connected to all of them.
I listed a lot of things I loved, ranging from drawing to video games, but I knew I had to look even broader. What were the kind of skills I could apply everywhere, and could help me no matter what I did?
It was then that I pinned down the thing that would set me on my new course: web & software development.
I came to this conclusion because there were so many times where I wanted to create something (be it a custom CMS system for comics, or an app to manage my ideas) and I knew the solution to it would be to code it myself. Coding is also a very creative skill that connects between the world of art and science, and with my creative skills I could apply it in ways that others haven’t before.
I am no stranger to code, I wrote programs in BASIC when I was 5 years old, and made webpages using text editors when I was 12. Apart from that however, my knowledge was still rusty. It would come and go, and I would refresh the basic concepts every couple of years by making a website with HTML and CSS or writing a simple Python program.
I needed guidance. Where would I learn these skills? Should I go back to college or to a trade school? Should I take some courses? Should I teach myself using just books and online resources? How could I best allocate my time and see the most improvement?
I asked two distant friends who work in Silicon Valley, Maggie and Julia. They mentioned the benefits of each of the different paths towards web development, but they said I should just get my feet wet first and head over to Codecademy and see if I enjoyed coding.
I also found another resource, called Treehouse, which was rich with up-to-date lessons on everything you needed to know about creating things on the web and mobile.
I then privately declared the year of 2014 the “Year of Code”, and started learning from the two resources. I went silent on all my social media outlets while I worked at my day job and learned in my spare time on nights and weekends.
I planned to eventually rebrand and redesign all my sites and promote myself again once I created a few things with the knowledge I learned.
The learning took longer than I thought though. It wasn’t because of difficulty, I found most of the material easy to understand and absorb.
I thought that after a few months I would be able to start working on some projects, but what happened was that my day job demanded a lot from me. I worked 40-50+ hour weeks, and when I began training to become an associate trainer, I worked six day work weeks for about two months.
I would be physically and mentally exhausted at the end of each day, unable to retain or hold information in my head for very long. I could only reserve about one day a week to really learn something from my online courses.
Because my learning was progressing at such a slow pace, I started researching different avenues of learning. At the rate I was going, my progress could have taken multiple years. I wanted something more efficient, perhaps a more involved and immersive experience. I needed expert advice from mentors that could guide me on the right path.
I contacted my friend Maggie again asking for further advice. She then mentioned that her company hired a graduate from App Academy, a three month web-development bootcamp in the San Francisco area. Prior to App Academy, this person worked in the humanities with no experience in code.
As I did research on App Academy, I stumbled onto all the other bootcamps that have been springing up across the US. The earliest coding bootcamp, Dev Bootcamp, started in 2012.
Excited by the idea of joining such an immersive learning experience, I started comparing all of them. I looked at the success and hire rates from each bootcamp and started messaging grads from these programs on their experiences.
I would look up responses by staff and grads on Reddit and Quora. I also made sure to check out any stories from anyone who attended but didn’t graduate from them.
I wanted to pick the bootcamp with the right culture and support structure for me. Location also played a part in that decision too. That led me to Launch Academy, right here in Boston.
In mid-May, I went through the application process, which applied a little pressure on me. I had to create a website on “why I was a good candidate” in two days before my Skype interview. Creating the website was a fun code refresher, and I went crazy with it by drawing many images and even making a video with me speaking over it.
The live interview consisted of me talking about myself, how I worked with others, experiences I’ve had, and some coding quizzes.
A few days later, I got a response that I got accepted for the Fall 2014 cohort. It was noted to me that Launch Academy’s acceptance rate is 18%, which is close to the acceptance rate of Tufts University. I got in!
I will be ending my job at Panera on the 27th of this month, so I can spend my time in July preparing and moving. I want to thank my coworkers and the management at the Panera at Harvard Square for their support during my year there. Without it, I don’t think I would have pushed as hard in everything I did there.
The pre-learning phase has begun a few days ago and I’ve started to get to know my fellow launchers. I’m excited for the days ahead, and the things we’ll learn and create.
I plan to update frequently here with my progress, as well as with any drawings I do in-between. Thanks goes to everyone (family, friends, work, and the BCR) for your encouragement and support.
See you soon!
In continuing with my promise to myself, I’m writing here with some content about a past experience, to note where I’ve come from, how I’ve grown, and to help others who might encounter the same kind of situation.
About more than two years ago, with a lack of job opportunities during the recession, I decided to take a risk and spend a year trying to make it as a freelance illustrator.
I felt pretty prepared— I had a few printed works under my belt, some backup funds to last me a year, and a solid work ethic. I drew at least once or twice a week, to build my portfolio, hone my craft, promote my work, and network with others.
I started taking on freelance projects for money, doing things for friends, and eventually landing a job as the lead concept artist of a small startup indie game company.
After meeting the group in person, I saw their vision and plan, and what they presented seemed solid. They had money from investors to last them for over a year, and prior to the project, they made an example iOS game together as proof that they could do it.
The new game they were working on was planned to be a “smash’em-up” for mobile platforms as well as consoles, and the plan was to create a beta in time for PAX East that year, to promote our work, as well as to see what people did and did not like.
I looked forward to the project as a challenge to test myself, and to work on a larger project I would be proud of. Once completed, it would be a great boost to my portfolio.
Including me, we were a team of four: one concept artist (me), two 3D artists, and one programmer (the lead).
During the early development of the project, there were very small warning signs that I brushed aside, and I attributed this being a part of the project’s minor growing pains at the time. I would later find out that these actually led to bigger underlying issues.
I happily drew concept art for the player characters, weapons, as well as enemies for the game, and these got converted to 3D models by the 3D artists. It was after drawing a several pages worth of concept art over the duration of a few weeks that I noticed something: Where was the game?
For a team making a video game, we had not sat down and talked about how the game would play like. Supposedly before I joined, there was such a discussion, but I didn’t hear any progress from that front after joining.
From what I’ve researched about game development, usually the core of a game is prototyped before any art assets are made.
Realizing this, I contacted the lead over Skype to propose a face-to-face meeting with the team about the game. I was told that a meeting would happen soon.
As the days went by, the meeting date kept being pushed aside due to “personal reasons”: a team mate had to attend a wedding, a Saturday did not fit into someone’s schedule, and things were either inconvenient or “unnecessary”. I asked if we could all conference on Skype, but I was told that it would best to relay ideas to only the lead or to the entire team via a Facebook group that we all were linked to.
Then came the bad suggestions in response to my input. I proposed several names for the game, all which were simple, unique, and reflected the core idea of the game. Each were shot down by the lead for different reasons, each ranging from “I don’t like things that end in -eer”, “There’s too many syllables”, to “The investors cannot spell the word ‘Corps’”. The lead then proposed his own names that had nothing to do with the game, and to change the game’s art to reflect those new names.
Because we had to relay everything to the lead, there was no immediate feedback. “I’ll relay that to the rest of the team” the lead would say, after I suggested something. I would not hear anything back.
Already knee-deep in the project, with it taking most of my time, I kept on with the work hoping to see completion.
The biggest warning signal came when the lead announced to us that he bought three large screen LCD TVs with an added touch screen interface to promote the game at PAX. I felt that the investment money and the game’s development time were being spent in the wrong places, and the project would be terminated.
Over the next month, I was sure that the investors thought so too, and on my last Skype communication with the project lead, my fears were confirmed.
He told me that the investors were pulling out from the game, and that the project would be put on hiatus until more funds were secured.
While I did get money for the work I did, the experience left me very betrayed, burned out, and exhausted. I stopped drawing, and every time I lifted a pen or stylus to make something, I couldn’t draw.
It took almost a year away from drawing to recover, and find personal enjoyment in it again.
While the above experience was a negative one, I learned a lot from it.
From this and past experiences working on collaborative projects, the best results come from people treating each other equally and honestly. While there can be a person who leads the charge, and directs the “vision”, there has to be a mutual respect among the team, with clear input and feedback. Everyone needs to be on the same page. There also needs to be outlined goals and milestones along a project’s development.
It’s also important if you are freelancing, to have a personal exit strategy and to not overcommit to the point of burnout.
Never be distracted by delusions of grandeur. It can be really exciting to work on something new and cool, but don’t let that cloud you from the reality of the situation. Weigh the risks involved.
I don’t regret encountering what happened, because future successes can be the product of past mistakes. Knowing this was the key to my recovery, and I am stronger from the experience.
For my next update, I have some really great news to share with you all, on the next chapter of my life. Stay tuned!