Leonard Paul, MSc (Director of the School of Video Game Audio) and Rachel Dziezynski (Audio Coordinator at Riot Games) were matched as mentor and mentee through the Audio Mentoring Project last year. They had such a great time with the mentorship that they wanted to share their experiences – so without further ado, here’s Leonard and Rachel:
Adriane Kuzminski: Why did you decide to become a mentor/mentee?
Leonard Paul (LP): I’ve been doing mentorship and education with my school for years but wanted to have the opportunity to switch things up a bit. I heard about AMP when it launched and saw it as a new way to help out the game audio community. I also remember what it was like earlier in my career and wanted to help make the process easier for someone if I could.
Rachel Dziezynski (RD): While I had already been doing some freelance sound design and composition for games, I wanted to get more into audio implementation with the hopes of finding a full-time job at a game company. I had tried doing some studying on my own, doing things like learning Unity and C++, but I wasn’t sure if I was focusing on the skills I would actually need for a technical sound design position. I wanted to find a mentor so I that I would have someone to help point me in the right direction and make sure that I was working on personal projects that were actually practical.
AK: Once the mentorship started, what expectations did you both have going in?
LP: I approached the mentorship with an open mind and saw my role as a mentor to help support Rachel work effectively towards her goals at her own pace. I think Rachel had a similar mindset and we were really happy to see that her interests lined up well with my own interests and skills.
RD: I think the biggest expectation I had going in was that we would work together to figure out what some of my weaknesses were and decide on an action plan for improving. I knew that it was on me to make the most of the mentorship and that most of the work I’d be doing would be between phone calls/emails, so I thought that our actual phone calls would be more for asking questions and getting clarification on whatever I wasn’t able to find out on my own. This is exactly how it ended up working out, which was great!
AK: What goals did you set in place for the mentorship?
LP: I have a background in coding so it was cool that this was a topic she was interested in as well. She set her own goals by working on coding projects, music and making her own demo reel. She also helped coordinate events at Game Audio Boston as well as doing her own presentations. We worked together to figure out ways for her to apply her current knowledge and skills towards the jobs she was applying to. I think it’s quite important to be flexible so we adjusted the priority of her goals as things changed over time.
RD: Our goals evolved over the course of the mentorship as I had different things come up in my personal and professional life, but we broke things into two phases. During the first phase, we focused on getting me up to speed with C# and basic audio coding principles by implementing and replacing all of the audio in a small Unity project. Our second phase was focused on job applications, including practice interview questions and feedback on a few sound design tests that I had done.
AK: How many calls did you conduct, and what sorts of things did you discuss during your calls?
LP: I think we had around 8 or 9 calls in total and we talked about everything! We made sure to keep things focused so that we were effective in our time online together. After each call, I would often send an email to summarize our key conversation points to make it easier for her to follow up. We’d also be in email contact until the next call and Rachel would often send me updates on her projects a few days before our next call so that I had time to review them.
RD: Our first call was really for us to get to know each other better and figure what we wanted to focus on. Afterwards, during the first phase, we talked about Leonard’s experience in the industry, how to approach learning to code as a sound designer, resources that I should look at, and any problems/questions I had between calls. For the second phase, we talked about how to find companies to apply to, putting together a good cover letter and demo reel, and about specific challenges that came up with each individual job application.
AK: What kind of projects did you work on?
LP: Our main project in Phase A was Rachel doing implementation, sound and interactive music for her demo reel using the Unity Tanks project. Scripting in C# can be tricky so I was able to help out a bit there as well as give some interactive music ideas. Phase B was helping Rachel with the process of her job search.
RD: Our Phase A actually included a project where I replaced and implemented all the audio in a small Unity game, and Phase B was finding a full-time job in the industry. This meant cutting a reel that included more of my sound design and implementation work, getting feedback and doing revisions on sound design tests, and doing practice interviews. I think that all of the preparation we did was a big part of why I was able to get my current job, so I’m really grateful that I had the chance to work with Leonard!
AK: What personal strengths and weaknesses did you discover throughout the mentorship?
LP: I enjoyed growing as a mentor and will work to make my knowledge clearer and more accessible in the future. Rachel is a talented and driven learner so she was really fun to work with. I know that Riot has found a great addition to their team.
RD: Strengths that I discovered were that I’m a fairly quick learner and can pick up new concepts easily. It was nice to realize that learning C# and coding in general wasn’t nearly as scary as it first appeared. For weaknesses, I realized that my math skills need a bit of help, and that I have a tendency to commit to too many things at times.
AK: Did you face any unexpected challenges?
LP: It wasn’t entirely unexpected but preparing for the interview for Riot was definitely a challenge on both the technical as well as the interview process side. We did some role-playing with me asking her a lot of interview questions and then we’d do a review afterwards to tune any answers that she had given. She did really great during prep for the interview and obviously did great on the interview as well!
RD: Time management was a bit of a challenge at times. Balancing (at the time) a busy day job, freelancing, classes and still making sure that I was making adequate progress on the goals we had set for our mentorship was tough. There was definitely a time or two where I didn’t make as much progress on our goals as I had wanted and wished that I had done a better job of prioritizing what I had to get done.
AK: Do you have any advice for other potential mentors/mentees?
LP: I would definitely recommend more people should try being a mentor! Even someone with a few years of experience can really help someone just starting out. Being a mentor isn’t just a one-way experience either, there’s so much for both the mentor and the mentee to learn in the process.
I’m really happy for Rachel and look forward to hearing about how her career continues to grow in the future!
RD: For mentees, make sure that you have the time to really commit to mentoring! It’s sort of cliché, but you really do get what you put into it, and the more you’re able to complete between calls, the more topics you’ll be able to cover and advance with. Also remember to ask your mentor about what kind of cool stuff they’re working on! It can be really inspiring to hear about their projects and can also help you tailor the questions you have to really take advantage of your mentor’s strengths.
AK: Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences! If you’d like to follow Rachel and Leonard on social media, check out their Twitter accounts at @racheldsound, @VideoGameAudio and @SchoolGameAudio.
Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the Audio Mentoring Project, please visit our AMP website. We are currently looking for more mentors who are composers and audio programmers, so if you are interested in guiding a fellow creative in their game audio career, please check out the Be a Mentor page.