How to Break Into Gaming Careers with the CEO of NoDegree.com
Image: ABC News
Browsing Reddit years back, Jonaed Iqbal came upon a question about how people navigate degree requirements to land the jobs they want. It was something like — “Those of you without a college degree, how did you land the job?”
From purchasing an already successful business to “my uncle,” responses varied, yet were the same. “It always came back to accessibility.” He said workplaces, colleges, and universities all filter for a certain kind of intelligence, and reject the rest. So, strange as it may seem, even access to access is gatekept.
Since many years before the COVID-19 pandemic, American corporations and society as a whole have upheld an idea of matriculation and completion of traditional higher education as the singular marker of academic achievement and foreteller of professional fitness.
When interested job seekers don’t meet an employer’s degree standard and, whether for lack of time or money, aren’t inclined to lengthy educational pursuits, how can that dream job in the gaming industry ever be realized?
Passionate About Equitable Entry, Earnings, and Potential
Incensed by this socioeconomic conundrum, and its often outsized influence on career trajectory and economic mobility, Iqbal founded NoDegree to help close the gap between access and income.
That said, he’s not anti-education. Ironically, Iqbal established NoDegree.com in the midst of his own graduate studies at Columbia University. He did well there, but this had been the wish of his parents who’d migrated from Bangladesh to New York when he was very young.
“I didn’t fit in with those rich kids. My life experience wasn’t like theirs. If it weren’t for my parents, I would definitely have gone a different route.” The 32-year-old said he’s burdened with student loans to this day.
The doctor has a nurse, the nurse has a nurse’s assistant. From time to time, the ambulance driver will need a mechanic. To remove any link in that chain, he explained, is to create a social problem. “Regardless of background, academic achievement, or formal education, every skill set and every job has meaning and value in society.”
The CEO and career coach has worked with hundreds of people with and without college degrees, many ultimately accepting Big Tech offers from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Meta, and more.
“College isn’t for everyone,” Iqbal asserted, and a degree is neither an accurate, nor even good, representation of a person’s aptitude or intelligence. He believes, to incorporate the diversity of experience that makes a strong society, the culture of exclusion must end.
Image: Jonaed Iqbal
Breaking Into Gaming Without a Degree
For those interested in alternative tracks to a career in gaming, there are pathways to a more level playing field.
Boot camps and accelerators train on all kinds of things foundational to a gaming career — programming, building, testing, marketing, sales. As a first step, Iqbal encouraged, find out what’s available, then move from interest to engagement. Be proactive about research and intentional about conversations with industry folks. Use social media, networking events, one-off courses, or longer programs like apprenticeships.
While it’s unlikely that any one course will provide all that’s needed, Iqbal said, for his dollar, it would be Udemy. The company is a colossal online resource of more than 210,000 courses, from brief to robust, from beginner to advanced, in just about any discipline, many yielding certificates specific to careers in gaming. For as little as $20, enrollees can find highly-rated coursework led by professionals in their field, with plenty of free options too.
General Assembly offers several courses, online and in-person, at no-cost and tuition-based. Touting itself “the solution to the global skills gap,” GA makes deferred payment plans available for tech skills development.
There’s also Springboard. Its fully-online coursework is “self-paced throughout an average of 6-9 months.” The company provides one-to-one mentorship, helps students land jobs in their fields of study (money back guarantee!), and boasts a number of positive reviews for challenge, reward, and career tracking.
These and countless other training companies deliver subject matter targeted to specific learning outcomes, and this makes for students’ quicker grasps of concepts and returns on investment of their time and money. Some programs even provide a notebook for an enrollee not already equipped with the necessary internet capable device.
Noting the rise in popularity of accelerator programs, Iqbal said, “the most expensive boot camps [could run the cost equivalent of] a semester at a private college” — so do some comparison shopping. While their costs have increased, on the whole these alternatives remain more time- and cost-conscious than collegiate options, and depending on the end goal, Iqbal said, it’s possible to gain real substance within a three to 12-month timeframe.
If you haven’t already, join a Discord. There are active communities of people building their own games, and always working on something. Immerse yourself in that environment. Mix, mingle, and become an active member of its large gaming community, and ask questions. Stir conversations that could lead to opportunities, Iqbal advised. “If you can be a community manager or a mod for the discourse, even better. This will give you very good access,” and proximity to that energy will generate ideas.
Iqbal recommends leveraging other social media networks like Twitter and LinkedIn, particularly — a great platform to show off tech talent, and maybe even gain support through introductions.
While, for some, networking can be a fun way to make new connections, those settings can be absolutely debilitating for others. Social anxiety is a real thing. Podcasts are a great medium for those who prefer a party of one. Check out YouTube as well.
The NoDegree Podcast, available at Amazon Music, Spotify, and elsewhere, features interviews with folks who’ve achieved various levels of success without college degrees.
People across the spectrum of education and vocation are often confused about mentorship, Iqbal noted. Usually, these relationships happen organically, he explained, when people are drawn together by similar interests, and not so much by the formal arrangements most people imagine. He said a mentor is there to be a guide and a time-saver.
Offering to trade help for hands-on training is a way to form a mentoring relationship that could also serve as an apprenticeship. It’s a good option to start, but set boundaries, he warned.
As mentees grow their experience, free work can encroach on potential earnings. “Tell yourself, ‘Hey, I can only do this for five to 10 hours a week,’ and for so many weeks or months.” He said it’s important to know when you’re adding value, when that other person is in a financial position to compensate you, and when it’s necessary to make adjustments.
The fact is, creative people often wind up with more exposure than income on account of their free labor, and “exposure doesn’t pay the bills.”
An apprenticeship could be a smart route.
At Apprenti, students receive no-cost training programs in common gaming engines like Unity and Unreal, and programming languages like C#/C++ and more, before advancing to on-the-job training through game development apprenticeships, and no prior technical experience is required.
Epic Games apprenticeships are open to “candidates looking to re-enter the tech workforce, self-taught coders, or candidates without a Computer Science degree.”
However, at Electronic Arts, where “The only limit is your imagination!”, internships require candidates’ full time enrollment at an accredited college or university. Time and cost prohibitive, these conditions could be nonstarters for many would-be applicants.
Remember to show your work. Mentorships, apprenticeships, and coursework, especially in certificate programs, will involve interesting projects that should be reflected on resumes.
And for the younger set, Coder Dojo, free and operated by volunteers, could be an optimal learning environment for children ages 7 through 17. Girls Who Code offers similar tracks, serving girls and women ages 9 through 25 with a mix of free and fee-based summer immersion, college, and career programs.
When someone new to the industry is ready to hang out their shingle, Iqbal said “They either price themselves way too low, or too high.” Instead, they should put themselves in a position to receive multiple offers. Added to your research, that competition from employers will provide a metric for the marketplace value of your work. “This is how to avoid getting ripped off,” and it points back to the importance of networking and listening to podcasts to stay informed.
Ultimately, Iqbal said, it’s passionate interest, exploration, and knowledge, along with key attributes of consistency and realism, that will bridge the job seeker with alternative credentials to great opportunities they desire and deserve.