Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

What’s really holding you back?

This is personal-development, motivational (kinda!) stuff. If you read my blog for code tips, move on :D

I read a great article in the Sunday papers (yup, real dead tree reader here), basically bemoaning the contrast between immigrants arriving to the UK, and some (not all) people in the UK. The article centered around a Romanian immigrant who had come to the UKĀ  ‘hoping to get a job washing cars’. It was basically a pro-immigration and a ‘what’s wrong with British kids these days’ article, and I found myself agreeing with it strongly.

I’m not going to pretend that I am a kid from a gangster-strewn housing project who had to battle drug addiction and homelessness yet still managed to make indie games. My background is probably average for a kid born in the late 60s/early 70s in London. I went to an ordinary state school, then college, then university (neither parent had gone to university). My local state school was good, but not without problems. At the time, I thought my life was pretty ordinary, perched halfway between the less well-off kids on local state-owned estates, and the children of TV scriptwriters and actors who made up the other half of the class.

Now, living where I do, I get to meet the people who would never have sent their kids to the school I went to. They have more money, it’s as simple as that. They have incredibly nice polite children who have the best possible start in life. I’m not criticizing them one bit, but it makes me realize that actually, by some standards, I started my life at a relative disadvantage.


(If you want a more extreme version of this story, read ‘anyone can do it’ by Duncan Bannatyne. His background was way harsher than mine (poverty as a kid, no real education, military prison…) and his success is way greater (he’s older than me though so… :D). I bet if Duncan Bannatyne heard me describe my teenage years he’d think I was a spolit brat. And of course, if we go to certain countries in the developing world, we would find a lot of kids who cannot believe that all of us here can rely on food and shelter *every day*.)

In short, there is always someone worse off than you, and better off than you. Some people may have an advantage over you. The games industry is centered around certain physical hubs. San Francisco is one, Seattle is now one, London is one, and Guildford certainly was. If you are an English-speaking kid in San Francisco you already have huge advantages over a lot of other people, you just don’t realize it. You take those advantages for granted.

My parents taught me to read and write young, and encouraged me to work hard at school and get good grades. that was invaluable. A guy I met when I was a musician gave me a lot of confidence, and working as a musician always boosts your confidence. The two most valuable gifts I’ve had that have helped me get where I am are an early start on reading, and confidence. That’s it.

We had no computers in my school, we were taught nothing about them. There was no internet. if you wanted to learn about stuff not from school, you walked or cycled to the library. Somehow, it was still possible for me to learn how to code. All I needed was motivation, and confidence, and I had those already.

These days every kid has a super-computer in their pocket, and the internet lets you learn about ANYTHING at the touch of a button. Yet this does not happen. kids could learn quantum physics for free using wikipedia, but they play angry birds or watch youtube. Access to knowledge has never been cheaper, easier, more convenient or more democratic. I seriously doubt you learn *that much* in an oxbridge university classroom that cannot be learned online.

The new dividing line between the talented, the capable, and the employable will not be related to their background, their school, or their parents wealth. This is becoming *less* relevant. The difference is going to be motivation, confidence, and a willingness to work. The reason you don’t understand quantum physics, is you haven’t bothered to investigate it. There is simply no other answer. I have no excuse for any gap in my knowledge, and I know it. I don’t blame anyone but me. And tools? if you are a software developer or artist there are a crazy amount of free tools. In short, a lot of the excuses I might have thrown around as a kid for not achieving what i wanted to just do not apply, at least in the IT world.

Summary: If you have kids, teach them to read young, and give them confidence, everything else is probably trivial by comparison And remember that if they have healthy food and a roof over their head, you are already giving them a better start in life that most. If you spend your days as an adult blaming your situation on X or Y, take a second a look and ask yourself what really holds you back.

It’s probably just you.

Am I wrong? If so, say so.