Job Applications, The Elusive Demo Portfolio

The Elusive Demo Portfolio – Part 2

In the previous article (which I admit was a long time ago now – been remarkably busy recently) I wrote about what people should consider including in their demo CD, which from a developers point of view is the most important aspect of a juniors application. In this part I want to cover how this could be presented in a way that can really showcase what you have created.

I’ll admit before I start that some people will say this part comes down to personal preference or possibly even goes beyond what is needed, but you have to understand that companies are looking for the best applicants, and the best applicants always add the finishing touches. If your demo is placed next to someone who has taken on board elements listed here, then it will look like the other applicant wants it just that little bit more. And if your demos are of a similar level, well you can imagine where I am going with this…

What’s So Important About The Presentation
So you finally have your demo work, fully tested and everything you need to include, ready to be sent off to the companies you dream of working for. The presentation will be the final touch, showing people you care about what you are showcasing and that you’re willing to finish what you started.

A good presentation allows people to actually find your work. From the previous article your demo might contain executables, screen shots and videos along with a collection of source code – all that for each project that makes up your portfolio. Unless you present it in a way that allows the reviewer to easily find this content, some of it can be easily missed or simply glossed over especially when the reviewer has a few portfolios to look at.

A presentation also allows you to group relevant information or projects. You may have a couple of projects that showcase your technical side (physics or AI demos), a couple more that show the development of gameplay and maybe some university projects. Being able to group these together allows the reviewer to see the most relevant demos to the job you are applying for, meaning you look better suited to the job than someone else.

Finally, by controlling the presentation you are controlling how the reviewer approaches your work. Do you want to guide them directly to the best content or do you want to start with your earliest work and guide them through the development of your skills showing your ability to learn? If you have a well presented portfolio you know what is being looked at and can control how it is being viewed.

One of the most important parts of a portfolio is understanding who you are presenting to. This is designed to be a professional portfolio being presented to other professionals for a valued role in their company. You need to tailor the way you write to contain a suitable level of technical language, but you don’t want to go over-board – be careful you don’t come across as a term dropper or someone who may be trying to hide behind big words. Humour is always welcome but you need to be aware that what you find funny isn’t necessarily to everyone’s taste – be careful here and only include it if it is natural and not forced.

The following is a description of different methods that can be used to present your work and while there are others these are the most widely used and easiest to put together.

A Collection Of Zip Files
The simplest way to present your work is to compress each project and send them via e-mail or via a large file hosting website (YouSendIt.com for example). While this is definitely the quickest way to get your work out to companies it is without doubt not the best and something that should be avoided. The following are just some of the problems that can crop up when using this method

  • Many companies will have strict attachment file size limits so you either have to send multiple e-mails (which can easily be mislaid or mixed up in a large organisation) or limit what you send. If you are trying to impress someone with your work, removing some of that work to try and fit in a 5Mb limit it not the way to go, and referring to Part 1, there is no way you can include everything you need to in an e-mail attachment (broken up or not).
  • File hosting websites often have a time limit on how long they will store your files. I have received links to sites like these where the attachment is no longer valid or has timed out. This will happen more than you think. Busy schedules, holidays or late viewing of CV’s can mean that your work won’t be looked at, or even downloaded, a week or two after you upload it.
  • Once your zip files have finally reached a reviewer, how they view the contents will greatly depend on the way you structured your files and folders. Chances are the small read-me file attached won’t be read before diving in because it’s so easy to ignore. So how do they find your best work?
  • Some zip files or e-mail systems will strip executables from the package. This usually happens if the sender doesn’t test their work but I have received small portfolios with no executables even though the sender assumes they are there!

A well organised structure can help here but this often seems to be at the bottom of people’s lists. If you really want to send your files this way, then taking into account the content discussed in part 1, you really need a structure like the following:

  • 01 Project Name 1
    • Executable
    • Source Code
    • Screen Shots
    • Videos
  • 02 Project Name 2
    • etc. etc.

One thing that that I would really stress here is if you want to use this method is to make it obvious where the executables are. Many times I have had to root around simply looking for something to run only to give up and try and compile the project myself (which isn’t usually that easy!).

As you can probably tell sending your work as a collection of zip files is not something I recommend and really can break what would otherwise be an excellent portfolio. Would you expect any other professional developer (in any line of work) to do something like this? Then why would you?

A Demo CD
This has generally been the most traditional way to showcase your work and is still one of the most versatile ways to send your work in. Even if you send a CD to a group of agencies they will duplicate that CD and send it on, meaning you lose none of the impact that your initial one had.

CD’s also allow you to store everything your portfolio needs (executables, videos, installs and screenshots) and to make it even easier you can set the CD to auto boot so the reviewer goes directly to the good stuff (be that an html file or a .net front-end application). By taking the presentation further you can add custom labels to both the CD and the case stating exactly what’s on the CD and whose work it actually is.

Since the structure of a demo CD can be very different, this will be discussed later in the article.

A Portfolio Website
A website is the easiest way to pass your portfolio around to companies across the globe. A link on an e-mail or on your CV means your content can be sent anywhere quickly and to the correct people. While the structure of the website will be covered later (since both the demo CD and website can follow very similar patterns) there are a few things that can be included to make it more professional.

  • Get a suitable domain name. These are not expensive and makes it easier to access your work and makes you more memorable. The address www.leewinder.info is much easier to read and remember than www.lee.myfreewebs.yahoo.co.uk for example.
  • If you have a personal website keep it separate. A portfolio is meant to be your professional front and shouldn’t be side by side with pictures of your last holiday or of you drunk and off your face in Spain. Trust me, it does happen!
  • Link to everything you need. This might be direct links any required installs or libraries but this information needs to be easy to access and may be quicker to download off other websites rather than your own host.

There are of course issues with website portfolios but they are becoming less of a problem as technology gets more efficient and reliable. Your website might not be accessible because your host has gone down (make sure you have a reliable server) or the reviewers internet access has dropped. While this is something that happens occasionally it’s not something you need to worry about.

One thing to note is that while links to sites such as YouTube will give you direct links to videos of your work, some companies will restrict access to community sites through the work day. It’s better to include the source videos along with any links just to make sure your work will be seen.

Presentation Of Your Portfolio
As you can imagine, a website or demo disk portfolio can be very similar. Whether the CD boots up a .Net application or a webpage, the way this is structured can be very similar to an actual website. The following are a few examples or pointers that can make this presentation clear and concise while directing the reviewer to your work in the way you want them to see it.

  • Try to keep your pages direct. A main introduction page covering your portfolio, who you are and what you are looking for (game programming roles, technical roles etc.). Keep to one page per project as this allows your screenshots, videos and executables to be easily accessible and more likely to be read before the demo is actually run.
  • Keep the different sections separate so your work is appropriately grouped. Game or tech demos followed by (if applicable) University work are all suitable groupings for your work. This will allow people to concentrate on the sections that are important to them without having to root through less important aspects.
  • Have a contact page which contains links to your CV (in both Word and PDF format), phone numbers and e-mail addresses. While these details will also be on your CV, it doesn’t hurt to have this information more visible and easier to access.
  • Try not to include links to your MySpace or FaceBook pages unless they are being used solely for professional purposes. As mentioned before pictures of you wasted are not going to impress a potential employer.
  • Make the information clear and easy to read. Simple colours and clear fonts make a presentation much easier to navigate (please no pink and yellow!). Flash can be nice but you are not showing off your website design skills and over-adding Flash will be the death of any website.

Once Again Please
So, a quick over-view of what I’ve discussed so far…

  • Presentation is important because it adds a final touch to your portfolio, making it easy to find the work that matters and allows you to lead the reviewer to what you want them to see
  • The people you are pitching your work to are technically minded who know what is happening in the industry so you can use technical language. Just make sure you don’t come across as just trying to impress or over-talk the talk.
  • Sending a collection of zip files is the easiest way to send your work but can cause problems and make it difficult for the reviewer to look at your work. If you need to send zip files make sure it is well structured, clear and consistent.
  • A demo CD or website allows you to structure your work clearly and provide all the required files easily and in one place.
  • By structuring your presentation appropriately you can lead the reviewer to the best of your work, showing them various skill sets easily without them having to root for the best bits
  • A portfolio is meant to be a professional piece of work designed to showcase you to potential employers. Getting a job in the games industry is not easy and every little helps.

In the next and final part (which I hope will be out quicker than it took for this one!), I’ll go through a collection of real-world portfolio’s showing the various points made here. This should give anyone a good impression of what’s out there and what you are competing with. Thanks for reading, this was a long one!

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