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I turned down a $150k+ job at 20 years old.
How I did it, and why I said no:
I studied game dev and comp sci in college.
At the end of my 2nd year, I got really into CS.
But, I wanted to see if I was good enough to get a game dev job.
I also had a free ticket to GDC (Game Developer's Conference) that year through my college (RIT).
The goal: Get a full-time offer in a gameplay programming position
NOT QA/Internal tools
I had been in internal tools at every job so far.
I needed to know I could get a "real game-dev position"
At my current internship, I was offered a full-time job after graduation.
I was aiming to come in at a SWE-II level (Software Engineer II).
At my current internship, that was my full-time offer waiting for graduation.
But for game dev, I wasn't waiting for graduation.
If I was doing this, I was going all in.
I would leave college for this job.
The #1 tip I got about GDC was if you want a job, you have to get into a party.
Getting invited to parties is really hard when you're a junior.
But I got lucky.
After networking like hell on Linkedin, I saw a post from a recruiter with an open party invite.
I figured this was probably a garbage party that wouldn't be helpful, but it was my only shot.
So I took it extremely seriously.
I sent her a DM and got my name on the list.
It was time to prepare my plan, my story.
I knew no one would want to hire some intern kid as a full-time engineer.
So I did what anyone would do.
I crafted a story carefully around my current status that was just close enough to reality that it made sense.
I hadn't been an "intern" for 6 months, I was a "contractor" and my "contract" was expiring next month.
I "left college" after two years because I knew I was good enough and got my "contracting" job to prove it.
I came to GDC to pursue my real dream of doing game dev (true).
I'll skip over the rest of GDC straight to the party.
I show up, they ask my name, I'm on the list.
They hand me a name tag and send me up the elevator.
At the top, they asked me who I knew at the party.
I mentioned the recruiter from Linkedin.
They found her and intro'd us.
Her: "Oh! I know you....You're uh...."
Me: "Dan I'm Dan we talked on Linkedin"
Her: "Right! Yes! Dan! I think I remember you!"
Her: "What team were you interested in?"
Me: "Game features / core features"
Her: "Ok come meet MANAGER_NAME"
And so, the games began.
If there was one thing I'd learned at college, it was how to pitch myself. And how to sound cooler than I am.
I spent the entire party finding every member of the team (the manager gave me names) and asking them all about their jobs, what they do, etc.
I seemed super interested, and maintained my story and my passion all night.
A lot of people really resonated with my fake story of leaving college.
Engineer: "Yeah you know I always felt that way but never had the guts to leave, that's awesome that you did"
I did this all night until the party closed.
I got everyone's email/phone before I left.
When I got home, I emailed EVERYONE.
"It was so great meeting you... The work seems awesome and interesting... Would be awesome to work with you... Let me know next steps / who to talk to"
After GDC, I get a call from the recruiter.
Her: "Hey Dan, we wanna interview you. You worked on internal tools, do you want to interview for that team?"
I was here to prove something. Gameplay features team or nothing.
Her: "I'll see what we can do"
A few hours later...
Her: "Hey Dan, I talked to the team, we're gonna interview you for core features. Also, because the team loved you so much, we're gonna send you straight to final round and fly you in for the interview."
Game on. I flew to SF a week later.
I get there and meet new recruiter guy
He shows me around:
I'd get 3 free cooked meals a day.
I'd work game company hours (10am-7pm).
This was my first experience around anything like this, honestly I was freaking out.
I just had to get through 5 interviews.
I could do this.
To start, 3 Engineering interviews.
At this point I had practiced enough Data Structures & Algos & Design that I was had an internship offer at Microsoft.
Out of 3 interviews:
1 was DS&A
1 was architecture/design (basic OOP)
1 was distributed systems
Crushed 1&2, failed #3
Interview #4: Director of Engineering
Dude was like employee #5 or something crazy
I exuded more passion than anyone has ever had for anything
Me: "How quickly can I become a manager here? If I work harder, can I get promoted faster? I'll do whatever it takes to do that"
Director guy: "You could be a manager in two years if you work your butt off. Especially if you come in at SWE-2 and pick things up quickly. If not that, at least a lead engineer"
Me: "If I get this job, I will hit those goals no question."
Final interview: Recruiter guy.
He tells me I did really well in every interview except the distributed systems one (lmao true)
He says he's pretty confident I'm getting an offer but he has to confirm with his team
Says he'll call me later that day
Asks if I'd accept an offer
I told him: "It's either I take this job, or I go start my own startup. There is no in-between. If I decide not to pursue the startup, I want this job."
This was true.
I would either take this job, or go back to school and take entrepreneurship classes + a club leadership role.
He calls me later that day.
Offer: $130k/yr salary + $30k/yr stock
I call my whole family
Family: "That's a lot of money...maybe you SHOULD leave college"
What did I want to do with my life?
Who did I want to be?
What was the next level for me?
I had achieved my goal.
I didn't want to just go become some engineer again.
I knew what that was like, I knew it would kill me in the long run like my current job was.
I didn't really want to be a gameplay engineer.
I just had to prove myself that I could.
"I have to prove myself that I can."
This is the sentence that guides most of my life.
I need only to prove to myself that I am good enough to achieve something.
Once I had that job offer, I knew I could get it again one day.
That job was now my backup plan.
So I said No.
And started my first startup.
Here I am, three years later.
If you have the skills, don't let "reality" stop you.
You know what you're capable of. Go shoot your shot.
Don't wait for opportunity, find it.
If you liked this, RT it for me, and follow for more startup stories.