ACM - Computers in Entertainment

How to Start a Career in Entertainment Technology

By Brian Spero

Is the time finally right to chase your dream career in entertainment technology? While the overall job market still remains cloudy, the technology sector has been a positive force in leading a slow recovery. As the entertaining arts continue to effectively merge with modern methods of production and technology—whether it's in making feature films or staging live productions—the sector continues to grow as a viable option for creative individuals with technical prowess to find a sustainable, rewarding career path.

If you have an interest in (or have an aptitude for) technology and have always had visions of running away to try your luck in show business, consider these strategies for launching a successful entertainment tech career:

1.  Know Where You're Going Before you dive down the first career path that catches your idea, put the prerequisite thought and research into the types of jobs that best suit you. Be honest in assessing what you genuinely like to do, what you are good at, and what you want most out of life. Ask yourself if you are better suited working independently or as part of a team, if you have the makeup to be a leader, if you are willing to travel or relocate, and whether your primary focus is making money or making art. 

Technology plays an increasing roll in all manner of entertainment areas, and ideally you'd be best served to not only target a niche that inspires, but consider the type of educational background and work history that qualifies your candidacy. If you have the resources, course work in theatrical stagecraft would be ideal; however, a combined background in math and science, electronics, computer networking, or electrical power distribution might serve you even better. Consider the attributes and experience you already possess, in addition to the amount of preparation you can reasonably accomplish, when setting your sights on the perfect job.

2.  Identify Promising Paths Myriad job descriptions fall beneath the blanket of entertainment technology, from sound and recording, to set building and design, to scenery fabrication, lighting, and show control. There are a growing number of highly technical career paths, from computer simulation to interactive environments, as well as strictly IT work that is needed as much in the entertainment industry as in any other modern business. Seek a thorough perspective of the current market by utilizing resources ranging from big job sites such as Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com, to more industry-specific sources such as BackstageJobs.com or EntertainmentCareers.net, in addition to the most current job market reports, to become informed on promising fields, trends in hiring, salary expectations, and regional placement availability.

Other factors that should play a role in identifying a good fit is whether a job offers stability, the potential for growth, and day-to-day variety, as well as the opportunities to learn and create new things or receive additional training. It's smart to speak to people who are already working in the industry or to visit job events, gathering insight as to the realities of the workplace, successful education choices, and the type of commitment and preparation required to succeed.

3.  Get a Head Start Whether you've been working toward this goal since high school or only recently set your sights on entertainment tech, it's important to be proactive in finding ways to jump-start your career. While pursuing a degree at one of the growing number of colleges and universities offering programs in entertainment technology can provide the structure and guidance to get ahead, a combination of theater arts with a heavy diet of sciences courses or technical certifications in areas such as computer technology, electrical engineering, or network systems may further enhance your prospects. No matter what stage of the education process you are in, it's of great value to get your feet wet in the industry, even if it means volunteering with a local theater group or on a small business project.

A popular entry point to the world of entertainment technology is often through internships, apprenticeships, or mentoring programs, as paying dues and proving yourself is often part of the process. Inquire with schools or programs you are or have been affiliated with, seeking opportunities to learn while potentially earning credits. There are countless benefits to sacrificing monetary compensation in order to gain experience, as you receive the opportunity to learn from experts in the field, gain a perspective on the types of jobs available, and forge valuable business relationships that will assist in developing your career.

4.  Continue Education Entertainment technology is an ever-changing landscape where the more skills, experience, and ingenuity you can muster, the better chance you have of succeeding. No matter if you hold a specialized degree or are already actively working in a tech position, it's always of benefit to continue your education while you are looking for work and after you've found it. A rewarding method to sharpening skills is to take part in a side project in which you can showcase your talents while attempting challenging new techniques. Another valuable way to spend your time is being active on industry focused blogs, forums, and peer groups for keeping abreast of the latest trends, exploring new concepts, and expanding your network.

Beyond seeking additional certifications when applicable, look into online education courses that fit your schedule, as well as free or low-cost seminars or webinars. Major universities including MIT, Cal Berkeley, and Stanford offer free online technology courses (some are even available on iTunes), while there are numerous series and conferences on topics ranging from digital media to sound design available online and in your community.

Final Thoughts As an era of innovation and broad capabilities in entertainment combine with a burgeoning tech job market; there has never been a more exciting time for inspired individuals to pursue a career in entertainment technology. By establishing goals, identifying promising paths, and bolstering your skills, experience, and education, you can effectively focus your efforts on turning your dream job into a reality.

 What other tips can you suggest to help launch a career in entertainment technology?

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