For this 365 days of blog posts thing I’m doing, If I have a random idea about what to write about when I’m walking outside, then I’ll write it on my phone notes app then sync it to a single Google docs document. I realised that I had two ideas which felt a bit like two sides of the same coin.

During the last few weeks of university in my final year, I remember talking to my classmates in the computer lab about what our plans were for after uni, just about the time when the head of the department came in to teach a tutorial class. I asked, quite trivially, what I should do after university. This was then met with an appointment in his office for another time. Quite strange I thought, as I was used to being a bit of a joker and asking lots of throwaway questions and generally trolling in real life. This jokey throwaway question had landed me with a meeting to go to.

As I remember it, the meeting was actually fairly stern. He told me fairly abruptly that he didn’t know what I should do. That he was not some wise man who just knew everything and would impart some wisdom at this meeting. This took me quite aback, because firstly, I wasn’t thinking that. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. At best I thought it was going to be a careers advisor style talk. The closest thing I recall to advice was that, whatever I do, I should at least earn enough money to pay my way in life.

10 years later, I found myself working alongside another graduate of the Games Technology course. Turns out she was one of the 1st years I taught in a tutorials class when I was in 4th year. In the passing, she said that she had asked the same teacher about what to do after uni, and she was also given a meeting in which she was given advice. However, the advice she was given was about specific programming careers, companies and places in which to apply for jobs.

I couldn’t believe it, two people at the same point in their careers, the same teacher giving advice, and two completely different answers! I was actually quite annoyed when I found this out, as at the time I felt like I’d been fobbed off with some non-answer. Fine if both of us got the same answer, but why would one person get a totally different answer, and especially of such wildly different content and quality ?

It took another 6 years so before I finally got back to this one in my own head to come up with a resolution in my head. The teacher had probably seen a whole production line of students coming to the end of their education and likely a consistent amount of those unsure what to do. Over the years, it’s likely that he had built up his own selection of resolution answers to give, and dispensed them according to the personality type of the student he was dealing with at the time. Maybe I should have asked other students who’d asked to find out what they’d been told… 

Another story that happened. 14 years after university and I was in Japan for a 3 month trip. End of 2019. I was helping my buddy out in Kyoto with a software project in exchange for free accommodation, think WWOOF or Workaway, but more ad-hoc and much, much more geeky. During my trip I had two different people ask me for life advice! One person was 17 and was still in High School and we met at a meetup for a walking trip to a mountain in Kyoto. I was quite surprised because I’d never had anyone ask me that before. It wasn’t a work-domain specific question, it was just a general life question.

 I came up with ‘Never get into debt’ as an ideal for how to live well. I think in retrospect, I should have said ‘Always aim to be as socially mobile as possible’ because another person immediately started arguing with me, saying that some debt was good debt. We ended up getting into a whole debate about how some debts are indeed good debt, like a mortgage, or uni loans, or for a decent car that won’t break down. The problem with those debts is that on the face of it are actually reasonable debts to have. Having the mortgage is the sign of being a responsible adult. Uni loans are a necessity to get a degree and then get a good job that requires it. If you are spending more time and cost on a cheap 2nd hand car that breaks down all the time, then surely it makes sense to take a loan for a car.

Trouble is, if you have loans then you need a job to pay them off. If I had those kinds of debt, I wouldn’t be able to go walk about mountains in Kyoto. I’d be back in the UK, working a full-time job in order to pay those things off.

Also, telling a 17 year old to never get a mortgage in their life is probably bad advice. I got a mortgage when I was 26 and 6 grand in student loans (8 including overdraft) Both paid off now.

Another person also asked for advice about getting into the games industry. This time I was a bit more cautious and didn’t say something like “Best thing you can do is to not get a job” which is where I was at, age 36. I said something like, make sure you know your maths and programming. And you can learn these things for free off of youtube. This is coming from someone who studied a 4 year degree course in Computer Games from the early 2000s. The theory was that because now we are where we are, Education is insanely expensive, youtube has free content (MIT open course ware or Khan Academy, for example) you could get the knowledge from there instead. Who needs a degree any more!

The trouble with the advice I gave in these instances is I hadn’t lived them and I was giving kind-of directions for an end-state using methods that I never actually used myself. How could that possibly be good advice.

But then I realised that the question was wrong.

Any advice I can give will necessarily be based on previous experience, which might not be applicable to the person in their specific scenario. Also, for the two cases, I’d known each of them for a couple of hours before they asked me. How could I possibly know what their situations were in order to give advice that was in any way useful.

I think maybe a better approach would have been to answer the question ‘How did you do it’ rather than ‘Do you have any advice’ in response to the topic they are asking. Because how can I possibly know what they should do in their current situation.

As for student Martin back in 2005, it would also have set up the environment in a way that the teacher could actually have given a more concrete, useful answer. If I asked “What did you do after you left university?” Then I might have gotten some better insights into the path of becoming a university lecturer. Or I might have asked “What did you do when you didn’t know what to do” and perhaps got some insights into what other people did.

It shifts the focus as well to the asker. You might have a whole list of options to choose from, or likely as I was, a seemingly infinite array of things to do, with no specific path of what to do. There really is only one person who can decide what to do. Every other person can only give their view. It’s up to you to decide. So why not ask them questions that can have concrete answers rather than their own predictions of your life, from their perspective?

In reality we all have an infinite list of options to choose from, but on many occasions there might realistically be only a few options, such as getting a job straight out of uni to pay off the debt incurred by going to uni.

As for me, I ended up applying to a post-grad course in Japan, applied to all the games companies I could find in my city as well as other software companies as backups. Events transpired such that I turned down the highest valued options, the fees-paid Japan trip and a job offer in a games company, for a job in non-games! So I screwed that one up pretty good… 

So that’s my advice for now. If you ask my advice, I would say “Instead of asking for Advice, ask how they did it, or what did they do”

App Recommendation

Thumper –

My friend originally recommended this game to me on PSVR when it was first released, probably about 2017. I was a fan of music rhythm action games such as DDR, Frequency, Amplitude, Guitar Hero, Gitaroo Man and Mad Maestro, so naturally I got on quite well with this one.

Though it’s less about the music in this game. With other Rhythm action games I’ve played, the levels are designed in such a way that they correspond with the music being played. In essence, each game is a jukebox and you select a specific song. With Thumper, it’s much more Earthy. It feels like the sounds come together as rhythmic noises from your action that creates the beat, rather than a specifically crafted song but it still works.

It’s one of the more anxiety producing games I’ve played, particularly level 3 onwards. You have to concentrate pretty well in order to do well and proceed to the next level.

I got the game on my Android phone as it was cut-price at the time (as offered by AppSales) and I think the interface holds up really well. For what was once a VR game using a PS4 controller, you now control the beetle character with swipes, taps, holds and tilting the phone. I think it works really well

Youtube Recommendation

CarWow –

Carwow is a British price comparison website for buying cars, but also does car reviews for new cars. The presenter (Mat Watson) is quite entertaining and it’s a nice way of finding out information about new cars released. Think Top Gear before 2003.

Cars reviewed are of all sorts, ranging from every day regular cars to performance, sports cars with drag race comparisons. Sometimes the odd comparison challenge comes up, such as what is the best hot-hatch, or how far can these EV Electric cars travel one one charge up. Along with regular lambasting of car features that the presenter has decided is not good, such fake front grills, intakes and rear tail pipes, back windows that don’t go all the way down and flicking hard surfaces on the dashboard to hurt his finger. 

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