In the last lesson, we looked at several different ways to get a computer graphics education. Now, let's look at some strategies you can employ to get as much value as possible out of your time in school and beyond. As Hamilton would advise, "Don't throw away your shot."
Be engaged in class. You can't entirely blame your teacher if you feel you're not getting enough value from the classes you're taking. It's just as much your responsibility. Pay attention, take notes, ask questions, volunteer when the teacher asks for a volunteer, and welcome any feedback or critiques of your work.
Go “above and beyond.” Push yourself. Don't set the bar at the bare minimum. Going above and beyond helps you to grow your skills faster, build more confidence in your abilities, and develop the habit of leaning into your work and giving it your all. This approach can increase your chances of landing a great job out of school because you'll have a reputation as a hard worker and creative problem solver. Likewise, going above and beyond can increase your odds of getting promotions, pay increases, and new, unexpected opportunities throughout your career.
Visit career services. Most schools have a career services department, and in my experience, these are often under-utilized. Their primary purpose is to connect students to jobs they love, which is exactly what you want. Visit career services regularly. Foster a good relationship with them.
It was thanks to my career services department that I was connected to a job right out of school. A production company had contacted them seeking candidates for a newly opened position. Because I had a good relationship with them and they knew my personality, abilities, and work ethic, they were happy to recommend me for the job.
Take advantage of school facilities, equipment, and software. Schools, particularly those with an actual campus and facilities, often have great physical resources available to students. There are likely labs with fast computers, high-end drawing tablets, VR equipment, and perhaps even a render farm for big animation projects. The computers will come installed with the latest software, which can often be too expensive to buy on your own. You can also have access to other non-computer equipment like still and video cameras, lights, audio recording hardware, and more.
Even if you're not on a physical campus, while you're a student, you can often find major discounts on hardware and software. Companies want you to learn how to use their equipment and software as a student, so you'll stick with them into your career. Because of this, they're more than happy to provide steep discounts to get you using their products.
Attend events. Due to large budgets, schools are often able to set up excellent events for students throughout the year. Attend as many of these as you can! Go see talks from special guests and get the opportunity to ask them questions. Connect with a wide range of employers at job fairs. Go on exclusive tours of businesses and studios. Attend networking events to meet even more peers and people working in your industry.
Awards and contests. School-sponsored contests provide motivation to push yourself, the chance to meet other talented creatives, and possible career opportunities. They can also have nice awards! And sometimes, you may receive an award unexpectedly, without even knowing it existed, simply by being a good student.
Network with your peers. As you persevere through tough assignments and collaborate on projects together, you'll inevitably grow closer to your classmates. If you take care to always be a helpful and supportive person amidst all the stresses of school, you'll have the potential to form great relationships with your classmates. These can be mutually beneficial throughout your career.
Your task: If you're currently a student or are about to be, consider what school resources are available to you and assess whether there is more you could be taking advantage of. Do you have a good relationship with career services? Are you an all-star student? School could also be your best chance to try out lots of different software and expensive equipment, which might be more difficult to come by once you've embarked on your career.
If you're out of school, keep in mind that many schools offer continued resources to alumni after graduation. These can include special online groups and forums, use of school facilities and equipment, and events you can attend for free. As an example, I took on a freelance project soon after graduating that required narration. I was able to use my former school's high-end studio to do a professional recording session for free.
In the next lesson, we'll look at how to continue learning throughout your career.