So I’m part of the IGDA’s Scholarships Committee where we oversee the running of the various Scholar Programs at conferences like E3, GDC, etc. So in the group for the current GDC 2013 scholars I started sharing tips on being prepared for GDC and conferences in general. Thanks to one of the scholars, the wonderful Drew Utterback, I’ve been able to get these tips collated and nicely formatted as I’m sending them out so that I can post them here to share and reuse as each new batch of scholars comes in. [Note: I will also update this post as more tips are created.]

So here are the tips along with some of the comments from the others in the group (Scholars, organizers, etc.):

Student and job seekers start here if you havenโ€™t read this yet:

Tip #1: Seriously, Shower.
Tip #2: Business Cards
Tip #3: Sessions
Tip #4: Mentors
Tip #5: Parties
Tip #6: Personal Websites
Tip #7: Sessions Outside Your Field
Tip #8: Speak Up At Roundtables
Tip #9: Facebook
Tip #10: Twitter
Tip #11: LinkedIn
Tip #12: Directions (Donโ€™t rely on Google Maps!)
Tip #13: The Tenderloin
Tip #14: The Buddy System
Tip #15: Be and Feel Safe
Tip #16: Backups for your Backups
Tip #17: Conference Associates
Tip #18: Donโ€™t Ask for a Job
Tip #19: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy
Tip #20: Informational Signs
Tip #21: Lunch Time
Tip #22: Post Conference Tasks
Tip #23: The Elevator Pitch
Tip #24: Session Titles/Information
Tip #25: Career Pavillion
Tip #26: There’s Power In Power
Tip #27: Schedule Backups
Tip #28: Beware of Time Zones!
Tip #29: Create a prioritized, clean, full-event schedule

Tip #1: Don’t smell. Seriously, there are showers, use them. ๐Ÿ™‚

Commenter: If you can’t go to GDC without stinking, then you’re likely going to be stink in the workplace too.

Tip #2: You MUST have business cards for yourself at GDC. You MUST have them with you at all times. You MUST have a plan for both giving and receiving cards.

For example, I have some in a biz card holder for my cards to give out, a biz card holder just for cards I receive, some cards in my wallet (in case I’m without my biz card holder), some in a pouch where I carry cables. When I’m at GDC and wearing my badge I use the front pocket where my name badge is to hold my cards and the back pocket to put cards in that I receive. (Just be careful of the weight as I’ve had to staple mine back together before I started bringing my own.)

Look up FedEx office to get some printed at the last minute. There is one in the Marriott Marquis and one a few blocks out from Moscone.

Commenter: My business cards didn’t come in time/wrong hotel mixup, if you need a quick solution chinatown in san francisco doesn’t work too bad. It wasn’t as nice as moo ones but it definitely did the job! (+ It was relatively cheap).

Tip #3: If you are choosing sessions and you have a choice between a roundtable and a lecture/panel ALWAYS, I repeat ALWAYS choose the roundtable unless you have a specific desire to try and ask a question/talk to the speaker. Why? You’re getting an All Access Pass and you can watch/listen to the lecture later in the Vault but they NEVER record the roundtables so you miss out on all the fun.

Tip #4: You should have already been in contact with your mentor by now. If not, you’re behind the curve. I’ve already had an IM chat with my scholar, done an intro to one colleague, setup a meetup with a second, securing a meetup with a surprise guest for a 3rd, invited him to a meal with me and a dozen+ of my industry buddies, and making sure he gets invited to certain parties. You should be talking to your mentor as most of us have most of our schedules booked up by now or, for the partiers, have been RSVPing to things that we would have needed to know about you by now before doing so. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tip #5: Did you know there’s a Facebook group just for parties? Did you also know that there are industry veterans who have gotten so drunk and acted so inappropriately they no longer are able to work in the industry? If you’re going to drink it’s your choice but don’t be stupid, don’t get drunk, don’t make an arse of yourself.

Tip #6: Check your website (what? you don’t have a website? for shame!) and make sure it’s updated and presents you in the best light. Especially if that domain, even in your email, is listed on your business cards. (You DO have business cards, yes? :>)

Update (Because someone asked about what to do if they don’t know how to build one): I generally suggest to people that if the can afford it to buy a domain with their name in it (e.g I have and find a cheap hosting solution (or use Google) so you could have something like Most basic hosts have packages that have one-click installs of WordPress and that is fairly easy to use and setup. If you can’t afford that right now try a WordPress hosted site like or look into sites like that help you create easy personalized landing pages. Go to and search for and flavors. They also have a whole guide on setting up websites. Last but not least ask around. If you’re an artist find a programmer who can do web dev in exchange for you providing custom art for her site or vice versa.

Tip #7: Try and go to at least one session from each major discipline outside your own, roundtables preferred, e.g. a Technical Artists Roundtable if you’re a designer or programmer. It’s a great way to learn how to speak with those disciplines and learn what matters to them most. One of the best GDC sessions I ever went to was a Lua vs Python roundtable filled with programmers and tech debates and it was awesome.

Tip #8: Don’t be afraid to ask questions or speak up in roundtables if you’re knowledgeable in the area. You never know who may come up to you later to get your card (because you have one on you, right? ;>).

Tip #9: Clean up your Facebook account. There are a decent percentage of people who when they meet someone they like they’ll try and find and friend them on Facebook immediately. If you’ve made the decision to add professional colleagues as well as friends and family on Facebook then a) make sure people can find you at least by email but mostly by name b) the picture you have as your profile photo at least looks something like you and there’s no confusion so if they are trying to figure out if it’s you they have a good guess and c) that the stuff that’s publicly viewable is clean and hiring manager ready.

Once you’ve added them as a friend that stuff should be safe for managers as well. If you don’t know how to control who sees posts, photos, etc. or how to use lists do some Googling and figure it out, NOW, before it becomes an issue.

Tip #10: Clean up Twitter. Please see Facebook advice (Tip #9) ย but know that unless all your stuff is protected (which I still don’t get why people do that if they are on Twitter) you need to watch what you say and how you say it.

Tip #11: Setup/cleanup LinkedIn. Make sure you have a LinkedIn profile, its easily findable, and it’s up to date. I get that most of you are still students and not really working in the industry but do your best to show yourself nicely. There are a decent percentage of people on LinkedIn who after the conference will just go through each business card, put in the name and email, and invite you to connect.

Two additional notes:
1) You should have a personal guideline in places as to who you will connect with or not, e.g. some people are LIONs and will connect with anyone who asks and others will only connect with people they’ve directly worked with and can vouch for. Decide who you are and go with that rule.

2) When you are doing the reverse and asking someone to connect with you make it clear why you want them to and who you are. Unless you’re best buds the generic “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn!” is just not going to cut it.

Tip #12: Don’t rely on Google Maps. Even those familiar with the area have had Google Maps walk them in circles or into bad parts of the area, like the Tenderloin. So do your best to safely figure out how to get from Moscone to your hotel and to parties and have the directions sorted out ahead of time. <censored> is now a local so she can probably help.

Commenter: I just want to jump in on this one and let you all know not to hesitate to contact me if you have questions about the area or which routes are safe. San Francisco is a lovely, town but the atmosphere can greatly vary street to street. You may be in for some late evenings and I strongly encourage you all to take a cab when in doubt.

My response: Personal anecdote: A friend and I were walking to a party and on the way back we were standing at a corner discussing if it might be faster to go up the street north instead of staying on the street we were going west on to get to our hotel’s street. Two cops standing on the corner with us interrupted our conversation to ‘kindly suggest’ we don’t consider going north until we were at least four blocks west. So it really does vary street to street.

Tip #13: Don’t go into the Tenderloin, ever. It’s sort of San Fran’s ghetto, or as I was told yesterday “worse than the Soho district in London”, or maybe the equivalent (based on quick Googling) of Rosemeadow in Australia.

Commenter: I’ve been through the Tenderloin district in daytime and at night, and haven’t ever had problems there. Maybe it helps that I’m 191cm (6โ€™2โ€) tall. But I still would recommend avoiding it, particularly at night.

Tip #14: Use the buddy system. Whenever you can, especially when going to/from evening activities use the buddy system. Walk together, take cabs together, find a friend to leave the party with you, etc. The cops tend to ramp up the number on shift when big conferences roll into town but its better to go with someone. (Also, you will pass a lot of homeless people and beggars so have a plan for how you will be comfortable dealing with that.)

Commenter: Is there a specific ios/android app or phone number for cabs recommended?

My response: You can try Uber but this is the name/number of a cab company I’ve used in SF before (I kept their card): Yellow Cab Cooperative – 415 333-3333 ( I also have this cab company in my phone that worked one year when we were trying to cart a bunch of stuff from the conf to Kinko’s: Desoto Cab – 415 970 1300

Tip #15: Be and Feel Safe. When in doubt call Me, @Me, something. The GDC now has an official code of conduct ( but enacting that at evening activities may not always be easy for you. While you’re best bet is usually to find out who the main person in charge of that activity is (or a staff member of the establishment), if you feel in anyway that you are not safe, or not sure where you’re at, or just need someone to talk to, call me. Outside of a few activities that it’ll be hard to disengage from I will come find you or send someone I trust, or a group of us will come, and talk to you, get you out, get you back to your hotel, get you back to my hotel, something. Even if you are one of those people who will party til 4 AM, call me. My cell is <redacted>. I mean it, even if you’re not normally the bold/direct/ask for help type. Day or night I will come help and bring along support if I need to. I am in town from Saturday 23 March in the evening to Sunday 31 March in the morning. Please add me to your cells (and your US cells when you get them) and text me saying who you are and that you’re a scholar and I will add you to my phone book so I know it’s you when you’re calling.

If you can’t call me, or don’t feel safe doing so (or its too loud to call me), then text me with your location and I will come find you. I am @SheriRubin on Twitter and my phone will text me whenever someone @s me as well. Also for the non-US folks the number to call for emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) is 911 and should work in San Fran assuming you have signal.

Tip #16: Have backups for your backups. On years where I’m not so filled with meetings that I get to attend sessions I have a spreadsheet that I fill out with all my ‘must attends’, e.g. IGDA Scholars lunch, the roundtable I’m running, etc., my ‘should attends’, e.g. the WIG SIG meeting since I’m involved with the SIG, and the ‘want attends’, e.g. the other panels, roundtables, etc. I want to go see.
Then what I do is either in that box or in a list at the bottom out of my ‘calendar’ I have backup sessions listed. This way if I get to a lecture and it’s full, or a few minutes in I realize it’s not what I was expecting (you can’t always rely on the session descriptions), speaker canceled, etc. I know what the next session is that I would have liked to go to in that time slot and quickly get to and catch most of it. If it’s a particularly hot time spot I’ll list out at least 2 backups. It can save a lot of time so you’re not scrambling. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tip #17: Find a CA. GDC has Conference Associates, or volunteers. At GDC you can usually tell who a CA is because they’ll be wearing brightly colored shirts that usually say something like “Ask me for help!” on them. These trained, awesome people who are anyone from a studio head to student can help you find a session room, show you where the washrooms are, how to register for a badge, etc. They even staff the awards shows, some parties, etc. They are excellent people, some of whom have been doing this for decades and can help you find your way or even help you pick out a session. When they have their CA shirt on it means they are on shift so take them up on their shirt’s offer and ask them for help. ๐Ÿ™‚

Tip #18: Don’t ask for a job. Seriously. Unless you are in the career hall or at a recruitment booth or someone specifically asks you if you’d be interested in talking to them about an opening don’t ask someone if they’re hiring, don’t ask if they want to see your resume, etc. Nothing will turn off a lot of devs from getting to know you faster than anyone (student or pro) trying to hand their resume out to anyone and everyone (except if you smell – see tip #1 :>) before even getting past “Hi, how are you?”. If it comes up in conversation, great. But you’re here to network, not find a job. Finding a job is just the icing on the cake.

Commenter: This might be a stupid question, but if you’ve applied for jobs before you left, and say you’re casually chatting to some people that work there in a bar / dinner or they are friends or friends. Are you allowed to say “oh, btw, I totally applied for your company!” if it comes up, or is that still in the “asking for a job offer”?

My Response: There are no stupid questions, just stupid people who refuse to get over their fears and ask the question. So thank you for speaking up.

I would say your situation falls into a gray area where it’s one of those ‘it depends’ moments. E.g. If it really just is you and a friend and one of their colleagues at a bar and your friend goes “Hey Commenter, meet Ed who works at Microsoft” then I suggest you do what you’re talking about but in a more subtle, not asking for help/not asking for a job, but a ‘love to learn more/show passion’ kind of way.

So in that example: Your friend: Hey Commenter, Meet Ed who works at Microsoft. Ed, meet my friend Commenter who is <insert whatever you agreed to be intro’d as>. You: Hi Ed <shakes hand> Ed: Hi Commenter <shakes hand> You: You know I just applied for X position at Microsoft but would love some more insight on what it’s like to work there.” Then add something like “What made you choose to work there?” or “So what do you like best about working at Microsoft?”.

This makes it more about them not about you, you get first-hand insight into the company (you’d be amazed how truthfully people open up at GDC), and it gives you a great way to show them your knowledge about the company, their products, etc. (which you should know about if you applied to work there ;>) and if they end up liking you they may be willing to swap business cards so you can stay in touch afterwards.

This does one of two things: 1) You can then keep in touch and find out more about the company and if they are a good fit for you and you for them. 2) If they happen to be in that area, on that project, on that team, etc. they may be a part of the hiring process and can go “Oh Commenter? Yeah I met her at GDC – great gal. I give her a thumbs up. ” and then you’ve got another foot in the door.

Interviews are and SHOULD be a two-way street. As much as the company is trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for them and the position you should be trying to figure out if they are a good fit for you. If you are at an interview and you are not asking questions then you are not doing your due diligence ( and could be setting yourself up for a job you hate.

Commenter: I remember one of the things I was told by a lecturer is that when you are at an interview, asking them questions shows you are interested in the job more than just the money or the role – you want to be a part of the company/organization. I was told that it’s a good idea to go in with a notepad and pen (not a laptop – you’ll look preoccupied) and make notes about the job and the company as the interview goes on.

My response: I’m more of the way too detail oriented/overanalyzing/prepared type so I not only have that but I have a list of questions that I come with to ask and take notes on. I do this even with potential clients now that I consult/freelance.

In the cases where I’ve gone in for the full day long interviews at a company I would always ask the HR contact for the names of the people I was expected to interview with and their positions. I would then go look them up on LinkedIn, Moby, etc. and come in with a set of info/questions tailored to them. So for the art lead I might ask him about the art pipeline and what he thinks are the difficulties and benefits to the process they’ve chosen. For the programmer lead I’ll ask him his thoughts on daily builds, version control, etc. This way I’m not going in blind and they know that I care and am thorough and did my research (though to be fair I was going for producer positions where its your job to know what’s going on with everyone and everything :>).

Tip #19: Eat, drink, and be healthy. Devs have a lot of names for the ills that befall many of us each year, “GDC Bug”, “The plague”, “GDC Crud”. It’s what happens when you have 20k people coming in from all over the world and combining their various germs/illnesses – it can make for some very potent ickiness.

The following are some of the tips many devs use to avoid coming down with something during GDC and ruining that week and the week after:

  • Make sure you eat regular meals and drink lots of water. Not getting enough food or hydration is one of the fastest ways to weaken your system and open it up to the crud.
  • Carry hand sanitizer with you and wash your hands regularly. Although you don’t want to shake someone’s hand and then immediately sanitize your hands (you’ll make them think you think they’re icky) when you’re done doing all the mingling at a party or between sessions just do a little lather. And don’t shake a lot of hands and then touch your face without washing them first. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Start being healthier now – many of my colleagues start a week or two before the conference by taking more vitamin C, exercising more, etc. They’ll do pretty much anything they can to build up their immunization system to keep themselves from getting ill.
  • Take preventative steps during the conference – I have friends who carry Emergen-C and Airborne with them everywhere so at the slightest notion they are getting sick they start taking it in hopes of staving off the plague.
  • Get some rest – don’t feel like you have to party until 4 am every night and make the 8 am sessions, it’s ok to end your partying at a decent hour or to miss the occasional early session (but you ARE here to learn). I also get in two days before the conference and leave two days after. The most important part is leaving two days after because then I can go to any friday night activities and not worry about trying to pack that night or in the morning to check out of my hotel and then go catch a flight. I can sleep in, rest, pack leisurely, and then check out with ease the following day.
  • Last but not least, and this should go without saying, even if you want to meet/talk with someone if they are clearly sick (sneezing, coughing, etc.) say hi but from a distance and don’t put their business cards in with the rest of the business cards/objects you’ll touch. If you need to snap a photo on your phone or write down the info and then toss it (and then wash your hands). :>

Tip #20: Check the big signs/banners at the conference to double check session info. Plans change and so as much as possible GDC will slap big “CANCELED” signs over the sessions that aren’t happening anymore. The best thing you can do is check out those signs when you first start your day and compare them to your chosen sessions. That way you won’t waste some time heading to a session room to find out something’s canceled and can go to your backup first. You DO have your backups now, yes? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tip #21: Eating is not just for energy. Trying to schedule meals with people you don’t see very often or are just meeting for the first time can be a great way to bond and network. If you’re going to spend your lunch eating at Moscone grab your food and go find a table for four that only has 2 or 3 people there and ask if you can join them (this takes a lot of courage for us introverts) and strike up a conversation “So what do you do? What brought you to GDC? etc.”. You never know who you just might sit down and chat with!

Tip #22: Block out your schedule post-conference for follow-ups and Vault time. Make sure you have time set aside after the conference to do at least three things:

  1. Take a look through all your notes, capture any ideas, to dos, etc. and if you have a note-taking system put it in the proper place.
  2. Go through all the business cards and other material you got and do follow-up emails to anyone you need to follow-up with (see a previous tip on what to do there).
  3. Use the Vault. Your All Access pass means you will get access to GDC Vault where they are recording most of the lectures/panels/etc. (but not roundtables – hence my earlier tip!). You’ll inevitably miss a session or two you planned on seeing, or have a couple talks at the same time and don’t have a clone so plan on blocking off time to go into the vault and listen/watch the recordings. You’ll be glad you did!

Tip #23: Prepare your elevator pitch. What’s an elevator pitch? It’s basically a semi-prepared statement to describe you, your product, your company, etc. and is nicknamed the ‘elevator pitch’ because you’re supposed to be able to get through it in the time it takes for the elevator to go up or down a few floors when you’re with the person. See for more details. Essentially this is one of the ways to answer the “so what do you do?”/who are you questions.

For example when I had someone my business card, or they see my company name on my badge holder I’ll get “So what is Design Direct Deliver?”. The elevator pitch ensures that I can respond easily and fluidly to that question without sounding unprepared or like I don’t know the answer.

Example response: DDD is a consultancy that focuses on improving the customer experience using common sense methods. Think of a chain like Starbucks where no matter which location you go to you get essentially the same experience from start to finish. I help companies achieve that through project management, quality assurance, marketing, and branding evaluations and implementation.

Example response to what do I do: I consult and freelance in the video game industry and with nonprofits to help them achieve a great user experience through managing projects, evaluation products, or creating a cohesive brand through websites, print work, and social media offerings.

Tip #24: Know what session titles/info mean. For example, “presented by X” means its a sponsored session so either gdc asked them to create the content (like with the IGDA) or they paid to get a slot (e.g. some Microsoft, Google, etc. sessions). In some cases the sponsored sessions are great, e.g. your game is being developed with Unity so a session from Unity talking about best tips will be helpful, but it won’t be a generic ‘how to work in an engine’ session so not useful if you have no plans to use unity.

Sessions that are marked as part of the “Game Career Seminar” means it’ll be packed with students and most useful if your concern is how to get a job in the industry versus all the normal learning. It, like the corresponding expo pass, are the cheap passes and so it means they might also fill up quickly.

There are usually only 5 sessions available to expo pass holders so if one of the sessions you want to go to is available to those holding an expo pass then make sure you show up early as that room will fill up fast as its one of the few sessions someone with an expo pass can get into.

Tip #25: If you’re going to the career pavillion and visiting recruitment booths try and go at least once before Friday. A lot of students will get just the Friday student pass and the game career stuff fills up that day so it’ll be a lot more packed. If you show up on Wed/Thursday you can stand out more and it gives you Friday as a backup. For example you go to a booth on Wednesday and the person who normally reviews your discipline is out to lunch you can have Friday to go back and follow-up.

Tip #26: There’s Power In Power. Make sure you have all your power needs in order. Doubly make sure you’ve packed all chargers/power cords for your phone, tablet, laptops, shavers, handhelds/consoles, etc.

Coming from outside the country? Make sure that you research what kind of power converters you need and if you need to be wary of any amp/wattage/voltage/etc. limits. I once had the right converter but ended up with a dead piece of electronics because the juice it needed was too strong for the electrical wiring in my hotel in Sydney. :>

Tip #27: Schedule Backups. Make sure once you’ve got your schedule sorted out (as much as it can be in a fast changing event) make sure you’ve got backups of it in other places – print out a paper copy of your calendar, take the info and also store it in Evernote or Dropbox or whatever you prefer. This way if something goes wrong (I’m looking at all of you who rely on iCloud!) you can have it accessible somewhere else.

Tip #28: Beware of Time Zones! Make sure you’re keeping in mind time zone changes when coming to the event, especially if you’re not already based in the event’s time zone. Here’s some things to be aware of and things to try:

  1. Know how your calendar handles time zones. If you use iCal/Gcal/etc. will it automatically change the time zones on you or do you have to do it manually? There have been many whose schedules got all screwed up when their computer/phone tried to – or didn’t try to – convert the times for them.
  2. Put the local time in the event description – e.g. Tools Roundtable (2 PM PT) for GDC in SF – that way even if things go wonky you’ll know what time it’s supposed to be in that time zone.
  3. Daylight Savings Time – America is still stuck in the WWII days a bit and so twice a year we change our clocks. We “spring ahead” on March 8th (the week before GDC 2014), meaning 12:00 becomes 13:00 – so make sure you take that into account when putting things in your calendar correctly – especially non-US folks going to US events.

Tip #29: Create a prioritized, clean, full-event schedule. There is always going to be more events than you can physically get to and many that overlap (e.g. one mixer goes from 5-8 and another from 6-9). Create a system (analog or digital) that lets you see all that you want/need to get to quickly and easily. Each year besides putting in calendar appointments in my online calendar I also create a spreadsheet and print out a paper copy. On the paper version (this can be done with some online calendars) I go through and mark off the different events, sessions, etc. that I want to attend and color code and stylize the events based on priorities, projects, etc.

For example, I am very active in the IGDA and so any events I need to go to as an IGDA board member will get bolded and filled in with an orange background. If there are sessions I’m speaking at or organizing I will bold the title and fill in with green. Just a session I’m thinking of going to? That’s just put in as plain text. Etc. If two events overlap I put the first one in the first set of time rows and mark the full time and then change the color for the next event so it’s obvious. This allows me to quickly and easily see what is going on, what I >HAVE< to be at, what I >WANT< to be at, what I >COULD< be at and my backups – e.g. if session A gets canceled I already noted what my next session choice would be.

If you decide to fill up your online calendar with appointments see if your system will allow you to create a special separate calendar. For example, in Google Calendar you can create multiple types of calendars and turn on/off the visibility for each in the settings. This can allow you the opportunity to create a calendar just for that event, fill it up, and hide your other calendars during the event so it’s not clogged up.


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