BUT I am NOT a Programmer, or an Artist, or a Writer, or a Marketer…

People are given titles. Our titles give us an identity, a way to introduce ourselves to the world, a sense of security. If you are in a well-respected position, you feel powerful when stating your title. “I am the CFO of Billshut Financials.” See there, instant power shot. It validates your skills and your accomplishments. It confirms your importance professionally.

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“Bond, James Bond, and I am a spy.”

But what happens when you want a different title? What if this thing you want to build requires people with different hats than the one you currently wear? “I have a great idea but I am not a programmer.” “I am a programmer but I can’t design for shit!” Many people stop here. These thoughts have prevented some of the most brilliant ideas from being executed.

If you find yourself in this position, you have two options.

1. Find someone with the right hat to work with you.

If you have the resources (money, network, contacts, power, persuasion skills…etc.), you can hire or partner with people with relevant skills to help with your projects. The challenge is finding the right people who share your value and motivation. This is a topic for another day.

2. Do it yourself!

If you are like most people who are just starting out, you may not have the resources to hire help. But don’t let that stop you, and Just (learn to) Do It!

When I first started Studio Pepwuper, I wanted to go with option 1 and hire people to help me build my games. I spent a few weeks looking at candidates, outsourcing studios, partnering development houses, and eventually found a great candidate that has all the experience needed for the project. But very soon I realized that with the money I had saved up, I could only hire them for 6 months. And if at the end of that 6-month period I didn’t have a game out, or if the game didn’t sell, it would be GAME OVER for the studio. It was too risky of a position to be in and I had to re-evaluate my approach. Instead of hiring out the development, I decided to put my head down and learn to do it myself – learning to code, to make art, and to design. (more on this here & here)

To be frank, it wasn’t easy. It was an 8-month exercise of banging my head against the wall constantly. It was like being back in school, except instead of knowing when the exam is, I had to fight against time – every month in prolonged development was another month of living expenses gone from my savings.

But I did it. I wrote all the codes and got all the art work and music/sound into the project. The game was released. It was done. 

That isn’t the end of the story. The real benefit of doing it yourself is not in getting it done. It’s in all the the side-effects that happen while you are making it happen. I got to learn the in’s and out’s of game development on a tight budget. I understand how to write codes, and more importantly, how to read them, so when I looked for help I knew what to ask for and knew what my team was talking about. I learned to know how long things take so I knew how to better evaluate opportunities and partners. I learned to really appreciate artists and designers and learned that good design and good art takes time. 

And I got to share my experience, through which I got to know many talented, motivated, encouraging, and inspiring individuals. Without this experience I wouldn’t have my current team, and who knows where the studio would be if I hadn’t gone through this 8-month marathon. 

So next time when you think you can’t do something because you are not a programmer, not an artist, not a writer, not a marketer, not a networker, not a public speaker, not a journalist, not a photographer…etc, STOP.  Don’t let your title limit what you can do. You are what you do. And don’t be afraid to spend time learning. There’s rarely any downside to be more skilled, especially in what you want to do. 

Note: I was lucky enough to quit my job with savings that would allow me to survive on pot noodles for at least a few months, but I know that many people don’t have this “luxury”. To you I point you in the direction of Gary Vaynerchuck‘s presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo NY (http://youtu.be/EhqZ0RU95d4).

“If you want this, if you’re miserable, or if you don’t like it or you want to do something else and you have a passion somewhere else. Work nine to five. Spend a couple hours with your family. Seven to two in the morning is plenty of time to do damage. But that’s it. It’s not going to happen any other way. …Everybody has time. Stop watching fucking Lost!…”

p.s. I never look good in hats. I spent 20 years looking for a hat that fits me across the world wherever I go, but I can never find one. Maybe I am just not meant to be wearing any particular hat.

Previously a strategist at Sony and a developer at EA, Brandon is the founder of Studio Pepwuper and co-founder of 30 Day Books who loves design, music, books, and games. He's also a bestselling author on Amazon and an avid violin player. (more about Brandon) --- Brandon holds an MBA from USC and an Economics degree from UC Berkeley.

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  1. I graduated with a marketing degree in ’06.  Ever since, I have discovered the reality of the working world and realized that I am completely miserable with a desk job.  I developed a couple of website ideas and one of them I hired out to a developer in India.  He hasn’t done that great of a job and I’ve come to the conclusion that if I want it done right, I’m going to have to do it myself.  So, I am learning to code, starting with javascript and then onto things like jquerry, ajax, and eventually ruby/rails.  It’s going to take a long time to learn all that but the ultimate outcome will see me in a position to work for myself which is truly what I want to be doing with my life.

    • Best of luck to you Jeremy! Hiring and managing is an art in itself. Hopefully you are enjoying the learning, and one way or the other, it’ll make you understand what you want to build better. In a startup event I went to a few weeks ago, I learned that one of the 2 founders of FourSquare learned to code and developed part of the site when they first started out. After they got funding, he asked their very first employee to re-do all his codes. His codes might have been scrappy, but it got them to where they needed to be! :)

  2. I feel like I am reading about myself and where I have been at this past week.  Good to know it’s normal! Thank you for the perspective-great timing for me.

    • Welcome! Knowledge is power, and sometimes the progress we made wouldn’t be obvious until much later on. Are you building something technical? 

  3. shaik shakeer hussain

    man ur great ….i just read your 3 articles and its just awesome and this one is like i am reading about myself …..hey em in same crisis position, i want to develop a game an release but(for that i need to write the code ,design, plan etc etc) so i joined an institute for learning to write the codes in java …..and also learning designing,arts by myself…..i know it is difficult but …………………………My question to u is how did u learn to code ur game ……was it by ur self or another source…….i just wanna know how u learned …cause it will be very helpful to me ………….and keep doing ur fabulous work …ur doing great   …..pls reply

    • Thanks for the comment Shaik! I picked up a book on Unity3D, and spent a lot of time reading, asking questions on the developer forum, and watched a lot of video tutorials. I probably spent 80% of the time building something that didn’t work. 

      Lots of trial and error, probably not the smartest way to learn, but that’s how my first game was made :)

      Hope this helps! I am now working with people much smarter than me at programming and art, but nothing replaces the experience of learning when making Megan and the Giant! 

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