Thursday, April 11, 2013

Soft Skills for Digital Artists - Part 1

Last quarter SCAD-Atlanta hosted the inaugural ATV-Fest, a "festival of broadcast". I attended several panels, and to my surprise I found that my favorite was a panel about reality television, one I had not expected to have much to relate to. I admit to being a big fan of Duck Dynasty - that show is really funny - and watching my share of Pawn Stars, but the topic was far removed from the field I have experience in, or so I thought. So I didn't expect to relate to much of it. Turned out I was wrong. Not only were the panelists funny, and seemed to have a friendly rapport with each other (most of them had worked together) which spread to the audience, but it was clear under all the humor they really knew their stuff. They knew their business and they knew what it took to succeed in it - they had been around long enough to learn this well and to watch others not learn it and therefor not do as well. It was clear too they kept in mind they were talking to students wanting to get in. They told them what it took to succeed - and they talked about soft skills, though they never called them that.

Soft skills are the intangibles which make you successful at your job. This is what I learned first hand as a technical director. Things like work ethic, communication skills, and the like. I've found in the past few years of being a professor that soft skills ("the intangibles" as I like to call them) are the hardest thing to teach - and yet I believe they are the real determining factor in success. Lots of people can learn software or certain techniques. What separates the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, are the intangibles. And hearing the reality TV panelists talk about them I heard a lot of really great advice. For example, they talked about going the extra mile - because if you aren't willing to do it, the person next to you is - and they are the one who will get the job or the call back for the next job.

There are a bunch of soft skills that are absolutely essential to thriving as a CG artist, and that is why this blog entry is "Part 1". At the risk of sounding preachy (which is why I haven't blogged on them before), I thought to write about some, mostly because i think they are so very important but not ever really taught. You just have to pick them up when you are out there and hopefully you bring enough of them to the table so you don't get eliminated before you can glean the rest.

One soft skill, which seems as good of a place to start as any, is going the extra mile. Basically "If you put in the minimum, you will get out the minimum." Just fulfilling the job requirement is not enough. Seeing how little you can do and get away with it will get you fired. If you get let go because you did the minimum they may never tell you why. It just means come time for layoff, you go and the guy next to you stays. And then when it comes time to ramp up again, your phone does not ring. Perhaps it was those long lunches... during crunch time. Doing the minimum will definitely NOT get you promoted. To get recognized you usually need to do more than the next guy. And that can be very hard to do the higher you rise in the ranks, because then you are surrounded by people who all are willing to go the extra mile. Standing out in a bunch of hard-working, talented people can be difficult. I wish I could say "Do the maximum, and you will get out the maximum" but that isn't always true. Sometimes doing the maximum just keeps you in the game. But you can be sure doing the minimum won't, so one of the many essential ingredients for success is truly giving it your best. Because if you don't the other guy will, and you will for sure get beat out. So it helps to love what you do, because you are going to be spending alot of hours doing it. If you love doing it, then going the extra mile is something you want to do. And that is another essential ingredient  - passion for what you do ("ganas" or desire - the fire in the belly), but that is a topic for another day.

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