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Yellow Brick Road

A transparent and honest analysis on the struggle to go back to a job that I left.

Simone Silvestroni's avatar

This is not my first foray into the unintended consequences of a past decision that’s affecting my present. I’m not again onto why I left the UK to “temporarily stay in Italy” until COVID is over — I’m thinking of a specific chain of events caused by a life choice from several years ago.

I take pride in considering myself a digital polymath. I know it’s not a rare occurrence in modern life — it doesn’t take a savant to become one these days — yet, I’ve always put a lot of effort trying to excel in my eclectic interests. I fuelled career leaps (music, video games sound design, with print design and web development as intermittent side hustles) by channelling the pleasure of feeling proficient in something that I enjoy doing.

I spent decades fighting tooth and nail against whomever labelled me a jack of all trades, master of none. The fact that — besides my encyclopedic knowledge of Pink Floyd, or a quirky talent in recognising typefaces by just looking at them — I struggle to consider myself a proper expert feels problematic at this moment in life. I like not being alone in this though.

Leaping from one career to the next, while helping build personality and bring a wider range of high level experiences, had one slighlty unsavoury consequence. I’ve always needed to counterbalance creative activities with something deeply technical. To function at my best, I need both freedom of expression and a solid set of rules — something that’s not easy to find within a single gig. Except for the one that I’d decided to leave in 2006: video games.

I’ve been ruminating for days on what could have been, had I not left. It’s a job that entails what I love the most: sound, storytelling, intelligent escapism, positive stimuli, exciting technical challenges, problem solving. I actually pioneered modern game audio — at least in my more or less backward home country — juggling team leader duties with intense audio work. I learned the process of integrating an adaptive soundtrack within a custom in-house 3D engine, in 2001. I created sound effects using field recording and libraries, implementing them in rudimental audio middleware, whether that be the in-house editor or the first Xbox and PlayStation 2 SDKs. Optimise sounds within the reach of each platform limitations was no joke. All the while dealing with meetings, and managing a team in a dysfunctional work environment. No webinars back then: only thick printed manuals, and the annual Game Developer Conference.

Of course, that caused burnout, and a desire to leave. Understandable, but naive. I could have had two decades of major experience in the field, which would have likely meant being able to work anywhere I wanted. Instead of basking in the glory of being present on the day that Valve unveiled Steam at the 2002 GDC, I now could have been teaching Audiokinetic Wwise instead of learning it.

I guess it all boils down to this: while I might be struggling to go back to game audio after such a hiatus, my plan B as a web developer is not ironclad. With my dislike of Javascript and the current trend of bloated websites, I could be edging irrelevancy. Similarly, I should promote the shit out of my music producer skills in a terribly saturated sector, where the path to succeed is intertwined with an uncanny ability to be a noisy and relentless social media marketing brand machine — something that I really cannot and don’t want to be. If I’m being honest, I’d rather devote my music producer capacity to side projects.

If we walk far enough, we shall sometime come to someplace. Dorothy Gale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Post revision: Silvia Maggi.

Edit: two replies

I love receiving replies in the form of posts on personal websites. Wouter argues about the downsides of being a generalist in a specialist world, which of course touched on many points I share with him. Matthew is facing my issue from an opposite perspective, and outlines the frustrations of being stuck in a thankless job by using the fitting metaphor of building cathedrals on quicksand.

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