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#LeadingLadies: Ange Lin

Ange Lin refers to herself as a professional delegator; but we prefer to call her a philosopher.

“I’m more of a doer than a talker”, Ange explains over brunch in Fitzroy, a little inquisitive as to why we’re meeting to discuss her career.

A massive understatement. Ange’s incredible story of being paid to play games at university, to landing senior digital roles at the top agencies in Australia, to taking a hiatus to live at a Buddhist Monastery had us on the edge of our seats.

In this Leading Ladies profile, Ange shares some fascinating insights into the psychology of work, how to create a life more meaningful and tips for managing boundaries in your career.

Were you really paid to play games at university? How do you even get a job like that?

“I landed a part time job testing localised games when I started at uni. So, I’d take the English speaking games and play them in Chinese to make sure the translations were on point.

“I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do something like that.”

How did you go from being a paid gamer to a game designer?

“I’d always been interested in figuring out how things worked. I came across this theory early on about how everything in the world is mathematically perfect – from ripples in the ocean to the formation birds nests. This sparked my curiosity – how exactly does the law of nature correspond to how we are inspired? That’s why I wanted to get into game design – to try and figure out the inspiration of our curiosities in humans.

“Practically, going from testing to game design was natural progression in the industry. Play enough games, understand and master the mechanics that intrigue and capture the attention of the audience!”

You went from testing, moving into design and eventually production. You mentioned you were frequently the only woman in your division and at one stage, in the entire business. What was that like?

“Yeah. In one instance, I was the first female [outside of finance] in a 100+ organisation. When I first started working there, the guys stared at me. Like ‘wow, an actual human woman’.

“They were excited to have women in the workforce in a way that was curious (and not creepy). It was great to be part of that process where the perspective from which the organisation worked, from the bottom up, was broadening.”

Was that experience specific to the gaming industry, or your work across the board in digital?

“The gender demographic in games is completely different to the gender demographic in digital. In my experience, traditional gender stereotypes play a much bigger role in the digital space.”

For many women in digital, and well, for anyone who isn’t white basically, there’s a massive visibility issue around people who are in a senior role in our industry. Have you had experiences with sexism? Racism? Homophobia?

“Definitely. Often it can also show itself in really subtle ways. Things which reinforce what a woman, a manager or a leader should be or should look like; how they should behave or carry themselves. All of the ‘-isms’ exist everywhere and I’ve experienced many of them, I don’t think they’re specific to the digital space.

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“The trick is to work towards knowing who you are – the confidence you gain in this process means that when you’re faced with all of the ‘-isms’, the collateral damage is reduced significantly. Then you transition from needing to prove yourself to just knowing that you are capable.”

There’s a huge stereotype that women are ‘emotional’ and that seeps into their work and decision making. The NY Times recently suggested work itself is emotional [regardless of gender] and to suggest otherwise was implying that we all robots at work. Do you have an answer to this? Or perhaps a philosophy?

“The definition of work is exchanging skills and services for money. This exchange in my experience isn’t just ‘here’s the timeline and resourcing plan’. It usually consists of a process. A process of problem solving, which more often than not involves clashing personalities and lots of opposing agendas – it is emotional work. And, let’s not forget that emotions can inspire great things! To suggest that work can be carried out by humans without emotions is impossible!

“I think you need to be aware of your emotions – and have that be a part of your experience rather than your entire experience.

“For me, merely having the awareness when emotions arise can be tremendously helpful. It’s only then that you can decide how to let that influence your decisions. It can completely change your interactions in every aspect of your life.”

Can you give an example of this?

“A very tangible example is managing your emotions around working overtime.

“Often we think, ‘I’ll do what I need to do to get the job done’ or ‘It’ll be easier for me tomorrow if I stay late tonight.’ But after a point of continually giving more than what’s been agreed, the trade off isn’t enough anymore. We develop resentment and feel under appreciated, and emotions can take over.

“My philosophy to every problem is ask ‘why’ you’re doing what you’re doing, or feeling what you’re feeling, until you properly understand it.

“In this case, why would it be easier tomorrow? Because there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do my job. Why? Because I haven’t asked for additional support. Why? Because I need to keep a healthy budget for my project. Why isn’t there enough budget? Because no one accounted for contingency. Why didn’t anyone account for contingency? Because we were scared of losing the pitch if we didn’t come in under the client’s budget. Why didn’t we explain the effort and the value of our product to the client to justify this cost? Because the business development team doesn’t really understand our offering or couldn’t communicate it in a way that was valuable to the client.

“And then you understand that you’re resentful because you’re the one who’s ended up bearing the impact of all this, which allows you to ask yourself practical questions, like, ‘How can this be improved moving forward’.

“Having this awareness, even if you choose the same actions over and over, will have a positive impact within yourself and give you a greater sense of control.”

The NY Times was right. Work is emotional.

“Work has such as massive impact on our well being. For some people, they can get to a point where they become paralysed. I’ve seen it in so many workplaces.

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“I think it brings a bigger question of validation to the table. Why do we seek emotional validation from our work/manager/employers? If we take the definition of work to be true (exchanging skills and services for money), why is it that we allow what happens at work to define who we are, or for work to creep into our personal lives? Why aren’t our feelings and emotions valid? Why do we believe that our point of view is less valid than that of your employer?

“If you don’t ask ‘why’ you will become an emotional mess. Which doesn’t bode well for the stereotypes out against us [laughs].”

Workplace culture is often referred to as ‘one big family’. You mentioned that this is an ‘emotional cue’ used to breed loyalty amongst workers. Can you elaborate on that?

“Frequently – and this is across any organisation – owners or managers will use phrases which are familiar to encourage loyalty amongst their staff. Phrases like ‘we’re one big family’ or ‘this is your home’. They’re meant to suggest people should feel at home while at work but the by product of this, is that people start to feel emotionally attached to work in a way that is not appropriate for a workplace.

“To imply work is a ‘family’ is ridiculous. You go home at 6pm. What that ‘home’ looks like to you is completely your choice and should be completely separate to work. That’s called having healthy boundaries.”

It’s a really frequent topic with the job seekers we work with. Many feel like their home and work life blur into one after a while – especially in an industry that’s so deadline (and client) driven. What are your thoughts on that?

“People don’t realise how much of an impact work can have on every other element of your life.

“Some agencies can unknowingly set people up to fail with unrealistic expectations about what is ‘needed’ to be successful. In digital agencies, particularly smaller ones, it’s really common for people to wear lots of different hats. Couple that with the need to achieve and progress in your career, all of a sudden there’s not enough hours in the day to do what you need to do. Then before you know it, you’re checking your emails before going to sleep at night, and at brunch on a Saturday, all contributing to the notion that work needs you. Without you, it will fall apart.  Then, what home life do you have left? If a client did this we would call it scope creep and charge accordingly!

“The by-product of that is staff become completely resentful and disengaged and bosses throw money at the problem. The result? Work late, drink late, sleep less, see family or friends less and then go into work the next day totally exhausted. It’s a vicious cycle.

“That’s not real life. That’s not a way to live life. It’s up to organisations to establish realistic expectations and for individuals to know and exert their own boundaries.”

It sounds like you’re speaking from experience a little here?

[Laughs] “Yeah, definitely.

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“In terms of the industry being client driven, it really frustrates me when clients are made out to be these “god-like” beings. Clients are people. Just like you and me. They have lives, families, social lives. They’re also striving for work-life balance.

“We need to establish a connection with them as people instead of a transaction.”

Have you ever been in a position which has really tested your values?

“I’ve walked out of a tier 1 agency after four days on the job. That was less about my values and more about my personal working style.

“It’s not a criticism of the agency; it just came down to recognising that someone else would be a better fit for this particular role.”

That takes a lot of guts to be able to say ‘you know what, this isn’t for me’. What made you leave within the first week?

“Being able to exert personal boundaries takes time, experience and an awareness of how you work best. I’m at the point now where I know pretty quickly if a situation isn’t right for me.

“For me it’s really important to have that line. Whether it’s a job or a career, do the absolute best you can – but don’t be fooled – it does not define who are you so don’t follow it blindly.”

I hear that. Would you say the issue of boundaries is specific to agencies? Or both client and agency side?

“I would say that where there are multiple humans who are grouped together to achieve a common goal, the issue of boundaries exist, the form in which they take is different.

“In [some] agencies, you’re told to do whatever it takes to deliver for the client.”

Which has a ton of subtext, right.

“Exactly. Also, does anyone actually know what ‘whatever it takes’ translates into? In terms of a job role and the responsibilities associated with that role?

“So this is the problem, right? No one defines what this is. So, naturally, we look around for examples of what this might look like, and what do we see? A fully stocked bar, people sending emails on the weekend, the fatigued faces of our colleagues who work practically 24/7, the dissatisfaction of our stakeholders, etc. And then we continue this cycle because this is what ‘whatever it takes’ looks like.

“We promise things that we think the client wants. The client thinks they know what they’re getting. At some point someone realises that these two thoughts are different – that’s when we need to do ‘whatever it takes’. It’s a misalignment of expectations.”

You’ve spent a significant amount of time volunteering to a Buddhist Monastery and even spent a few months living there. Would you say the Buddhist philosophy has influenced the way you look at work?

“A few years ago, I felt that there was a gap. It felt like no matter how much more money I earned, or how many words there are in my title, or how many people I managed, or how many projects I delivered, there lacked a sense of purpose. There was something missing. I was craving some kind of existentialist meaning.

“Once I started getting more involved [at the Monastery], I had this moment where I was like, ‘wow, this is so far removed from 10 people in a room, each billing at on average $250 per hour, discussing how to invoice clients for two hours’ [laughs].

“What I’ve learnt from Buddhist philosophy is that interdependence is at the heart of everything, and life is constant change. If you strive to cement your self worth through something as impermanent as your title during business hours, you’ll spend all of your time trying to out-achieve yourself. Then, no matter what you achieve, there won’t be a true sense of accomplishment because there’s always something more you could be.

“You could say that this philosophy informs all aspects of my life including my work. You just have to do the best that you can. Know who you are and be a good person. That’s it, really.”

How’d Ange get to the top?

2015 Executive Producer, WeAreDigital

2014 Digital Director, fatfish creative

2013 Digital Projects Director, TBRI

2013 Head of Digital Operations, Wunderman

2011 Head of Digital Production, CHE Proximity

2011 Senior Producer, M&C Saatchi

2010 Digital Producer, Draftfcb

2010 Interactive Producer, Clemenger BBDO

2007 – 2010 Development Manager – IronMonkey Studios, Electronic Arts

“This was my first games production job. My boss said ‘we’ve never had one of you before so tell me how this works’. It was pretty cool to be able to make the role my own. The biz got bought out by EA after three years. I had been in the industry closing in on 10 years so was keen for a change.”

2005 – 2007 Junior Game Designer – Team Bondi (Sydney)

2005 QA – Jumbuck Entertainment, QA Lead – Blue Tongue Entertainment

2001 – 2004 QA / Localisation – Atari Melbourne House

“I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to play games. It was a sweet job.”

Connect with Ange on LinkedIn.

Images by Breeana Dunbar Photography.