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60 Second Interview: Senior Games Product Manager

Computer games can be used to educate, build skills and entertain.

Games continually push the boundaries of creativity and innovation in technology, so whatever job you choose to do, it’s an exciting and constantly evolving industry to work in.

If a career in the games industry sounds like your perfect job, you might also want to check out our Retail and Merchandising career zone.

Lots of different skills are needed to produce games, from storyboarding and animation to programming and graphic design. Some independent games designers are all these things rolled into one!

A product manager oversees the various aspects of games production, from design and development to managing teams and making sure the finished product fits the brief.

We caught up with Si Lumb, a senior product manager at the BBC to find out how his passion for gaming has helped to shape his career.

Name: Si Lumb

Company: BBC

Industry: Future Media & Broadcasting Industry

What is your job? Senior Product Manager, working on games

How long have you been doing this job? I have worked for the BBC since summer 2005, and have been a product manager since 2010

University: University of Warwick

Degree: Computer Science

A-Levels: Maths, Physics & Chemistry

Interests: Games, DJing, NFL, coffee & Internet culture

What was your very first job?
I was probably out doing bob-a-job for the scout group – giving the money to charity, or washing cars / mowing lawns for neighbours when I was very young. It progressed into working for temping agencies around age 16, loading trucks or manufacturing palettes. My friends and I worked packing games into boxes at one point, which was exciting as all we cared about was games anyhow. When I could drive I worked for Tesco – we had to afford those Tommy Hilfiger shirts somehow!

What made you want to do your current job?
I worked for a few years in business computing, as an engineer, after uni, but I didn’t find it very stimulating. I wanted to do something creative and interesting, so I decided to try and work in what was then known as “New Media” – the Internet. One night I decided to list all my favourite companies who worked in that space, then I looked up their job sites and applied to them all. The BBC invited me in and I took a job working on interactive TV – in the “New Media” team. Once I was in the BBC, then whole worlds of new and inspiring people and projects opened up. I met some brilliant people, like Alice Taylor (of @makielab), Louisa Heinrich, Tom Loosemore and Dan Heaf. They snuck me into a secret event to see the Xbox 360 before it launched and we spent ages looking at ways to get games to be a priority within the organisation. I’ve never really stopped wanting that; and over time it’s become my job. I’ve been a developer, team leader, and product manager.

How did you get there?
There’s a lot of talk about getting a job doing what you love, but it can be hard to understand how to plan out the steps you need to take to make your desired career happen. What I’ve found is that you actually just need to spend some time exploring your hobbies and all the things you enjoy doing and experiencing. Find the things you’ve seen success in, or that people look to you for knowledge in. Look at them, think about the skills and passions that underpin those successes and then find ways to link them into your work. Find people who inspire you (and sometimes are smarter than you). Help them, join in their projects and find a way to tie your skills and interests together.For me it happened because I was always doing games stuff and making it known at work. So, when a manager needed a person to look after a games project, they turned to the one person who played video games every day!

What is a typical day at work like?
Typically I’m overseeing projects in various states of progress, from things in the planning or ‘think’ stage, to learning lessons from things that actually got made. It’s meetings and email and lots of coffee and conversation. I try and find ways to improve all the stages from think to done – shortening them, learning from them, putting new ways of doing things into practice. I get out and about to visit other sites and companies (most of our games are made by UK indies) and I’m always looking for new projects and people I can put together to try and make things better. Right now we’re focused on how to make interactive entertainment as well understood and practiced as the rest of the BBC’s content (like TV, radio and journalism) and that means new tools and software, new processes and lots and lots of experiments in content. And when I say content… I mean games!

What’s the best thing about your job?
Games! And people. I work hard to bring good people together to make great stuff and to challenge and create new ways of thinking when it comes to interactive entertainment. Every day I play games with the team and we work hard to bring great games and entertainment to audiences.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Managing lots of different things at once and making sure others understand how and why games and interactive entertainment make an excellent, unique way of reaching audiences. My mantra is that the Internet is “interactive by default”, so if you’re working with the web then you must make interactive things. Interactive is hard, new and exciting, but if it were simple, it wouldn’t be worth doing, because you just wouldn’t learn anything.

What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
You’re holding a device or sat at one right now that is a ticket to a million amazing creative endeavours, but I get how hard it is to know where to start. If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s that you just have to start. Do something, anything – and finish it. Then do it again. Do it better. Learn, repeat, and improve. Share it with others, let them teach you and you will discover so much. Just make sure that you look back and reflect honestly on how far you come with every project. Make a YouTube video about something. Create a track. Make a game. Write something. Sew something. Plant something. Say something. Ask for feedback. And just keep doing it. You’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of.

What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?
That the most amazing people who do the most amazing things and make it all look so easy all got that amazing the same way: practice.

Who inspires you?
On the tech scene I’m still a huge fan of my ex-BBC colleagues like Alice Taylor and Louisa Heinrich plus in the Silicon Valley scene I think Ev Williams and Elon Musk are ace. I also have so much respect for those pushing for greater equality and campaigning to bring more of the best of humanity to the Internet, calling out and protesting against destructive behaviours. On the games scene I always enjoy hearing from Cliff Bleszinski – the former design director of Epic Games and Kiki Wolfkill – the exec producer of Halo.

How have things changed since you first started working in this industry?
The Internet, well, that got pretty popular… and it just serves to connect more and more people together to share, play and build fantastic things. I’ve seen transformative trends in mobile technologies and to be honest – Twitter and Reddit are the best thing ever. Both make a huge difference to networking, creativity and inspiration for me. I can’t wait to have some more inspiring conversations!

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Find Si on twitter @si_lumb

Photo by Gordon Wrigley CC attribution