Digital Careers: 2015 TasICT Conference, James Riggall transcript

What sparked your interest in ICT?
So I was a fairly introverted kid, I read a lot of books and really wanted to be an author and that was the thing that I was kind of focusing on and then I discovered film and television and I was like stuff this author stuff books rubbish I’m going to do television, I’m going to do film, and then I played video games and I thought right the future I found it! Because I thought you could tell different kinds of stories in video games than you could tell with film and that they could tell with a story and in particular I really liked those ideas of interaction. So narratives that could branch or having people actually exist in a world and discover their own stories in that world rather than having a story prescribed for them. So these were the things that I was passionate about.

What next?
It might seem a little bit old but what I did is I enrolled in a philosophy degree at UTAS, now that might seem unusual because I wanted to get into technology I wanted to get into games design, but what I did is I looked at all of my heroes in the industry, I looked at the people who made the games that I was really passionate about and I looked at what they did in their careers and I found out that the designers the people who were creating these worlds and creating these stories the majority of them had humanities degrees they studied English and history and literature and philosophy and they were using all the things that they’ve learned in those disciplines to inform what they were doing with their games and you’ll find that authors and people who make films often have this in their background as well, that they’re actually really passionate and really curious about the world and that they bring that to their craft.

How did that help you start out in ICT?
Now I was very lucky because the timing of me enrolling in that degree was around the same time that the university was launching a new lab that was going to be part of the School of Computing and I was walking down the corridor in the School of Philosophy one day and there was these crappy photocopied flyer up on the notice board in school hallway and I would have walked right past it but a couple of key words caught my eye I saw interactive entertainment and I saw virtual reality and I thought, right, I’ve got to read the rest of this and I found out about this new laboratory called the HIT LAB, so this was something that was starting in my hometown, up in Launceston. I thought right, I’m going to make the most of this I’m going to go down and find out about it. So I took a couple of classes and I had a really fantastic time but they were just starting the Lab and so they were rolling out these couple of courses and then there was nothing and so went down to the reception desk and there was a lovely lady who used to work there called Julia I went down I said “Hi Julia I had such a fantastic time with these summer courses at the HIT LAB, what’s next?” You know what’s happening? She said “we’ve got to design a whole bunch of new courses and we’ve got to hire staff it’s going to be months, come back in three months and I’ll tell you what you can do next”. So the next week I went back again, I said “Hey Julia, I know you said three months but I just thought I’d stop in and say what’s happening. Can I help?” I did this over and over again until finally she gave up and she said “Ok I’m going to introduce this guy Christian, he’s one of our technical support people, just follow him around for a while, you can be his problem now.”

How did your skill set evolve?
And Christian didn’t really know what to make of me, he’s like, here’s this guy coming down from the School of Philosophy, he’s self-taught when it comes to this computing technology stuff he doesn’t really, I don’t know what he knows, I don’t know if he’s going to stick around for very long.  So the first job he gave me, was moving furniture from one room to another room and it was a little bit like digging a hole and filling it back in again, you know one room would get empty another room would get full and then the furniture would go back in the other direction it was kind of a crappy job but I was doing it in the HIT LAB so you can see i’ve got a smile on my face. Because I was closer to where I wanted to be. The next job I got given little bit more responsibility but not that much, there was some computers in the Masters lab and someone had to pull some hard drives out of them so that they could be wiped and then put them back into the machines so a new bunch of students could start. It wasn’t really interactive entertainment, it wasn’t really virtual reality, but I was doing it in the HIT LAB, I was having a good time. But then I’d built some trust and I demonstrated some skills and some aptitude and the next job on the list of jobs that needed to be done was building a virtual reality visualization facility we had to build a 3D cinema with three screens, two projectors for each screen so that we could project in 3D, a gesture system so that you could walk in and interact with this machine by moving your hands around not touching a keyboard and mouse and all of a sudden I was having a really good time, but I had to go through a few fairly ordinary jobs to get where I wanted to go, so this was very exciting and one of the things that was very exciting about it was that I was able to do any my hometown in Launceston. It wasn’t something that I had to fly to the other side of the planet to do. So I stuck around at the HIT Lab for a few more years. Because I’d built some trust and because I had some aptitude a little bit like faking having a degree to get into a job I sort of faked knowing what I was doing and all of a sudden I was teaching some stuff I was teaching game design, and I was teaching virtual reality and didn’t really have that experience but I could read a book pretty quickly, you know remember I wanted to be an author. So reading books that’s easy, so I could pick things up I was passionate about it and I could inspire students, I could get them excited about it as well so I was using the things that I was excited about the things that I had some skills in to try and create a new job for myself.

What about networking?
I also got to meet some really great people and this comes back to this theme of being able to do things from Launceston or being able to do things from Hobart a lot of my collaborators were actually outside of Tasmania I worked closely with people in Seattle and New Zealand and other places around the world and I met a whole bunch of people who are doing the sorts of things that I really wanted to be doing one of my favourite people that I met with a guy called Ricardo Ariza who works at Valve which is the company that made Half-Life and Steam and a whole bunch of other gaming products. So I was starting to interact with people on the other side of the planet, who were in fields that I was really excited about.

How did Bitlink come about?
Eventually though I decided to move on to something new. So I’d been in the University for about 5 years and I still didn’t want to jump on a plane and go somewhere else. Much like Savage Interactive, I felt like there were a lot of reasons to try and do something here rather than do something elsewhere on the planet and so I started a new company and that was called Bitlink and we started that in Launceston, I hired a number of my students and we started building our own products now we were doing some game design, we were doing some of the things that I was hoping to do it but we were also working in related fields so rather than doing pure game design which might have been one of the things that I was interested in I was using those same skills to build things like technology for helping people to be healthier, technology for getting people who work desk jobs to jump up and walk around a little bit and so what I found was that the skills and the things that I was interested in the things that I’ve learned along the way were actually transferable I could use them in different areas.

Any tips?
Sometimes you’ll get a no first time but look for other avenues, look for other angles, look for side doors into the opportunity that you are looking for rather than going through the front and also don’t be afraid of those crappy little jobs that you encounter along the way because they can actually be really important as well.