May 18, 2008 spout

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.