Real programmers don’t see code, they see trees.

I wasn’t always a games programmer. When I first graduated from Nanyang Technological University, I joined a small company called Coaster Computer Services. We made custom applications including invoicing, accounting, inventory and customer management software for companies in various industries. This could range form insurance to jewelry sales to shipping.

After a year and a half of that, I moved up to the banking sector. Clinching a job at a joint venture between ANZ and OCBC banks, I was introduced to the world of MQSI and IWB. After a mere 3 months there, the parent banks decided to cancel the project, citing the difficulty in arranging a banking license for the new startup. I got 6 months retrenchment compensation for that. Sweet deal!

After that fiasco ended, I was picked up by PwC Consulting, which was the principal consultant used by my former now-defunct company. We then went on to implement much of American Express Bank’s worldwide banking backbone in countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Philippines, Canada, and many more. I also briefly worked on a side project for Prudential, developing their asset tracking front-end for their fund managers. Somewhere during this time, PwC Consulting got subsumed into IBM, so I was an IBM employee.

Then I stopped.

True, my career was progressing along just peachily. I was a relatively well paid employee, with no place to go but up. My boss, who was a potential role model (he was an excellent project manager, the best I ever had), was probably filthy rich and highly successful. I would probably rise in ranks, find a wife, have 2.6 children, a house, and a car. Maybe even a dog. The world would be my oyster.

How utterly meaningless and hollow that would be. Decades later, when my hair turns white and my vision goes all blurry, I would look back on life. Maybe I would be proud of my achievements. But would I have truly lived? We only get one shot of life. We have to live it to the fullest, rather than trying to enact some soap-opera perfect life scenario.

So I quit my job at IBM (much to my family’s chagrin), and went to join Nexgen Studio, a startup game development company. This was a business I always wanted to be involved in. The pay was miserable. We had $1000 a month, split between four of us, as an allowance. I had stock options, though I wasn’t putting too much stock into that. (It did pan out well in the end, but who would have known?) We made games. Lots of them. Mobile phone games. Budget PC games. Web-based games. Anything we could scrape together with our meager budget. The learning experience was priceless.

We didn’t make much money in that one and a half years, though we did make a name for ourselves, and the company is only now starting to see the rewards. But armed with the experience gained, and the contacts made through many networking sessions, I entered the freelance business with my eyes fully open. I have never looked back since. Now I teach game development, and do contract/freelance work. The fruit may be smaller, but it is oh so much sweeter.