These 3 Vets Turned Their Love Of Video Games Into Careers With Activision

Photo courtesy of Activision Blizzard

Editor’s Note: The following article highlights job listings from Hirepurpose clients that are committed to filling its ranks with talented members of the military community. Learn more here.

Finding a job that you enjoy is no easy task. First, you have to know what it is that you want to do. Then, you have to find a way to earn a living doing it. And while finding your dream job can seem like a daunting task, a number of recently transitioned vets have proven that it’s possible.

Hirepurpose spoke with three vets who work at Activision Blizzard — the company behind some of the biggest video games of the past decade, and one of Fortune magazine’s top 100 companies to work for — to find out how they did it and what advice they could offer to those hoping to follow in their footsteps.

Find out what you’re passionate about and go for it.

Army vet Katie Sabin now works as an associate artist at Activision.

Growing up, Katie Sabin, an associate artist with Raven Software on the Call of Duty franchise, fell in love with video games and knew she wanted to work on them one day. But she decided to put game art on the backburner to join the Army.

“My job as a [Black Hawk helicopter] mechanic was super awesome,” Sabin says. “It was physical, I got to do problem-solving work, but there was no room for creativity.” To fill that void, she signed up for some online art and game design classes.

“[But] I knew I wasn’t going to get all the skills I needed only in online courses,” Sabin says. “So I decided to get out and go to school for game [art and] design.”

Her first step after separating from the Army was getting accepted to Southern Methodist University’s exclusive game creation program, the Guildhall. Between assignments, she made an effort to connect with artists already in the industry. “You don’t want to wait before you start reaching out,” she advises. “You want to build an open relationship now.”

Sabin also recommends asking people in your network if they would be able to look at your art and ask for feedback. Then, incorporate their suggestions and send it back to show them that you’re improving and can take direction.

Now, Sabin uses the knowledge she picked up in the military — including her mechanical skills — to design and model drones, weapons, and vehicles for the popular Call of Duty games. “I was geared for success because of my mindset,” she says. “I knew I could do it, but I had to give myself every advantage.”

Put your military training to work.

Navy vet David Johnson says the military taught him how to harness his focus and drive even in his civilian career.Photo courtesy of Activision

David Johnson, 31, an associate product manager for the Call of Duty franchise, always knew he’d end up in the military. “My whole focus was on joining the Navy,” Johnson says. “I studied political science as an undergrad specifically so that I could go into the Navy as an officer.”

Johnson ended up in Navy intelligence, where he learned how to manage a team, coordinate with people of varied skills and backgrounds, and developed an even greater drive to be a leader.

After six years of service, Johnson knew his next step couldn’t be a step down. Rather than rest on his laurels, he applied and was accepted to an MBA program at Cambridge. “I had developed some really great skills that I thought would be valuable in the civilian world,” he says, “[and] I thought an MBA would be a good way to enhance those skills.” When Johnson completed the program, he was ready to join the civilian workforce.

“I was very familiar with the Call of Duty brand, having played a ton of that growing up, but it never really crossed my mind that it could be a job,” Johnson says. “But when I came across an opening, I did my research on the company and the history of their games and thought, ‘This would be a really fun place to work.’” Once he started, he found that his new job closely resembled his role as an intelligence officer in the Navy.

“You learn to build self-reliance and accountability in the military,” he explains. “It really forces you to look at if you’re really the best or if you could be better. That drive and focus never go away, even in a civilian job. You’re still holding yourself to a higher standard.”

Be willing to take your own path.

Kurt Niederloh says his Army service helped him mature and prepare for a successful career.

As the general manager and vice president of Activision’s Minnesota business unit, Kurt Niederloh, 49, may seem like he has it all together, but he didn’t always feel that way. “I had two years of college under my belt, but I didn’t really have a good sense of what I wanted to do,” he says. “So I joined the Army. It seemed like a good opportunity, and I figured I could use the G.I. Bill when I got out to finish my college education.”

Niederloh left college as a pre-med student in 1986 and enlisted in the Army. When he finished his active-duty service four years later, he immediately went back to school to get his degree — this time as an accounting major. While going back to college wasn’t the easiest thing — he was several years older than his classmates, and was switching from one intense major to another — he felt more prepared to face the challenge after having served in the military.

“I was about five years older than the other students when I went back, and the discipline I had after serving in the Army made a huge difference,” Niederloh says. “The Army helped me grow up quite a bit.”

That same drive and conditioning also helped him once he found his way into the workforce, and he says there’s “no doubt” that his service helped him with his career success — including landing his job with Activision, where he says the leadership skills he learned in the Army have served him quite well.

A lot of vets, he says, try to hide their military experience, or downplay it. “Don’t run from your military experience,” Niederloh advises. “Companies like Activision are looking for those very skills.” Instead, he suggests vets play up the relevant skills they’ve gained in the military and add to them by getting a college degree, to really ensure success in the workforce.

Equally important, though, Niederloh says, is finding a job that makes you happy. His job has made him the “cool dad” in the neighborhood, always up on the latest gaming trends, and he’s “playing more video games at 49 than at 19” — not that he’s complaining.

“I work with people who have creativity and drive to succeed, and people who are happy to come to work every day,” Niederloh says. “It can’t get much more fun than this.”

Visit Hirepurpose to learn more about career opportunities with Activision Blizzard. 

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