Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reality Check

I hung out with Dann, Melissa and Colin last night.  Colin has worked at Bioware for a little over a year longer than I have, so about 2 years total.  And we got to talking…  I didn’t like a lot of what I realized, even though deep down I already knew and was just in denial.

EA recently made a company wide mandate that terms could only work on contract for a maximum of one year.  The idea behind it is that companies don’t exploit term employees, and should know after a year if they’re worth hiring permanent (salary), otherwise they should let them go and try some new blood.  This is all good and great, but when the economy fell apart EA also instated a temporary headcount lock.  No new hires.  So essentially that puts terms between a rock and a hard place.  Maximum term of a year, with no hope of being hired.

But over the next few months I saw some exceptions.  A handful of people did get hired permanent anyway, but they were definitely a small group of people.  So we have a few dozen QA terms, some have been with the company as long as 4 years on terms, and know a lot more than I do, and they’re all competing for the rare time Bioware is willing to hire someone new.  Doesn’t look good…

I knew all this already, but was just being extremely optimistic in hoping I’d be hired permanent by the time my year was up (October).  During my last contract renewal I was told there was a loophole, somewhat.  If I don’t get hired permanently by the time my contract is up, I can’t work for the company for 3 months, but after that I can come back for another full year.  Not the ideal situation, but for the ideal job, I’d be willing to put up with worse.

So the way things will likely play out is I won’t get hired permanently by October, and will have to work somewhere else for 3 months (maybe the Rogers Video here!).  After which I can come back to Bioware and work for another year, and try my hand again at making permanent, and hope the economy gets better and Bioware can start hiring more liberally. 

I plan on learning the developers toolset  to learn a new skill set and be more valuable, and just continue to be my best and make myself as invaluable as possible.

Another fact of the matter is that not everyone will be as determined.  I hate the cut-throat nature of times like these, but I’m sure there will be a lot of people who aren’t willing to take 3 months off, and will just follow other ambitions or leads.  This pushes me further up the seniority totem.  I’m willing to put in as much time as required.

The whole conversation with Colin just made things real, doesn’t really change my plans though.  But I have to be realistic.  It’s pretty unlikely I’ll have permanent within a year making salary.  But if I’m willing to stick at it for 3 or 4 years, by then chances go up quite a bit.  My cousin was a term for 2 and a half years before he got salary, though that was in a better economic time. 

But I’ve finally found a career path I’m passionate about, and I can’t let go of this.  Whatever it takes, I’ll do.  Absolute worst case scenario, if Bioware Edmonton doesn’t pan out, I can look in to EA in Vancouver, or the new Montreal branch of Bioware.  Or even Ubisoft Montreal.

So the adventure continues.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

1 comment:

billy b said...

Couple minor corrections to make... To my knowledge the longest serving term that was at the company was closing in on 3 years, actually closer to 2.5 years. That was a very rare exception. Also, I basically put in about 17 months at EA Canada as a term, and was hired as a full time at BioWare when I made the jump from Vancouver to Edmonton. :-)
In the end, it might not be so bad to be honest. What you'll probably find is that at the end of the 2 announced projects, people often leave the company for other opportunities. After working on a project for several years, people may be looking for a change of environment, position, career, scenery, etc. It's a pretty natural occurrence to see a small percentage of attrition at the end of each project. One thing to note, though it's not a guarantee, is that it's a new hire freeze but that may mean that for any permanent positions that open up as others leave the team or company, new spots open up for new hires or terms that are deemed ready to make the jump.
What I generally tell the terms I work with is "make the decision impossible for your lead". What that breaks down to is being so good at your job, that even in hard times or tight spots, the lead is in a position that they believe in their gut that it would be a huge disservice to the department and the company to let you go at the end of a contract. It's a bit tougher to do that in Edmonton than in Vancouver because there aren't really any other studios to snap you up should you leave the company. EA Canada always had to face the reality that if they didn't hire the people they really liked, those people would likely move to another competing studio... which was kinda like adding insult to injury for their department. It's tougher to make that case here in Edmonton, but it's not impossible. At the end of the day the best thing to tell yourself is to keep pushing, keep learning more, and find specialties that you can own and excel at. Start collecting those specialties and then you're in the "jack of all trades" or "generalists" list, where you can be an asset to any project. Much like many other industries out there, this is one that only the strongest/smartest survive, so learning and growing skillsets is a huge part of gaining full time and then keeping it. Keep plugging away dude! This is one of those few industries that gets better with age and experience :-D