30 June 2010

Starting Life as a Multimedia Engineer

Stranger in a Strange Land


Twelve years ago I was unemployed and living in Holland, having been made redundant from a fine job editing online biomedical journals for a well known multinational science publisher. I'd worked for 16 years in advertising and publishing, in London and in Amsterdam, but my real love had always been mucking around with computers, making music, videos, graphics, games, and writing for magazines such as MicroMusic. Twelve years ago I was clinically depressed.

Then one day my wife Genie pointed out an advertisement in a computer magazine for courses at the new College of Multimedia (CMM) in Amsterdam, to which I was unresponsive at first. Then I started to think about it and looked at the advertisement more carefully. The technology had reached a stage where even video could be digitally captured and edited. The World Wide Web was coming of age, and here was something I could actually enthuse about: Multimedia. So that's what they were calling what I'd been playing around with since the early 1980s!

I went to a CMM open day and spoke to some of the students. There was a real buzz going. Although I'd been advised that with my background in science and experience with sound engineering I could probably skip Multimedia Level 1, talking to Level 1 students convinced me that if I was going to get into this I'd want to start at the beginning. There were clearly gaps in my knowledge that Level 1 would sort out, and although my Dutch was fluent the fact that the courses were going to be in Dutch suggested that I might need the extra 6 months to get a better understanding of the technical language that would be involved.

It was hard work but my tutors and fellow students were always helpful. The Macs we were using then would take hours to render a movie of just a couple of minutes' duration, and there was a lot of practical work on which we were assessed as well as regular theory tests, but we were all enthusiastic and the results were most satisfying. I had a ball. Eighteen months later I got my diploma.

New Media and all that


Since qualifying as a Multimedia Engineer I've seen a lot of so-called New Media firms come and go. Many of these were run by accountants and salesmen, with little knowledge of the job of producing multimedia, and there was an attitude amongst them that all you needed was a copy of Dreamweaver, for example, and you could "do web design". We weren't allowed to use such drag-and-drop programs at CMM – they produced bloated (and often contradictory) code and weren't to be trusted. You'd have to know how to program first, then you could look at pages generated by Dreamweaver and be able to correct them. Many firms fooled themselves and their clients for some time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time...

Some people are simply too lazy to "do multimedia engineering". It's hard work and you really have to be "into it". You constantly have to study to keep your skills up to date. Some people have played at it and been out of their depth, at their clients' expense, which has ultimately reflected on the good guys who tend to get tarred with the same brush. Many are stuck in a niche, designing websites, for instance, only in Flash, which I would not recommend to my clients, despite the fact that it's fun to do.

So if you're thinking about a career in multimedia and you don't mind hard work, go for it. But please be honest with yourself. And with your clients!

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