In this episode of Video Games Real Talk, our host Alexander Fernandez chats with Sapna Sudhakaran, Head of Production at All Pixels, a division of Streamline Media Group.
Project management is more than checking items off a list and delegating tasks. It’s about leading a team with emotional intelligence. Sapna Sudhakaran, Head Of Production at All Pixels by Streamline Studios, dives into her career path and shares valuable insight for anyone in project management and those who want to get into the video games industry.
Adjusting to a new environment
Tips for an aspiring project manager
From project manager to head of production
Managing projects during a pandemic
Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors may be present.
Alexander Fernandez 00:05
Hi, everyone. It's Alexander Fernandez Video Games Real Talk. We have an amazing guest for you today. Someone who I have had the tremendous opportunity of working with for the past, I think five years now. It's been about five years, hasn't it? It's got to be seven. Has it been seven years?
Sapna Sudhakaran 00:23
Yeah, it's close to seven now.
Alexander Fernandez 00:28
Clearly, I've been drinking and it's not even 8pm. So now everyone, honestly, all jokes aside, my good friend Sapna, how are you doing?
Sapna Sudhakaran 00:39
I'm good. How are you?
Alexander Fernandez 00:41
I'm doing all right. You know, Sapna here's the thing. I'm going to try to pronounce your last name. So why don't you do for me?
Sapna Sudhakaran 00:47
It's okay. Yeah, I'm Sapna Sudhakaran. That's me and my dad's name together. That's, that's my name. Yeah, I'm Head of Production for All Pixels by Streamline, which is one of the brands and Streamline Media Group, of course, and, yeah,
Alexander Fernandez 01:08
Seven years on this journey. And clearly, we've been walking through a lot of things together. And basically, I got to let the audience know out there that I'm really happy that you're here. Because in the end, you actually have the most viewed video on the Starveup channel, which is a side channel that we have that really was the forerunner to Video Games Real Talk, where you came on and talked about what it takes to be a video games Project Manager, which was also a producer, because let's be honest, it's pretty much the same thing. But the thing is, that thing has just raked up the views. What do you think about that? Why do you think it was so popular?
Sapna Sudhakaran 01:42
Yeah, it was very interesting. I think that the comments on there as well was super encouraging, because a lot of people who were, who were interested in becoming a project manager, you know, they found it probably quite insightful. You know, like, because being a project manager, there's so many different things to think about, you know, preparing for the interview, not really necessarily know what you're going to get into. So having some maybe being able to listen to someone talk about it, and, you know, figure out okay, this is probably some of the things that I could expect becoming a project manager, maybe that was something that was very helpful to some people. So at least that's what I got from the comments, which was very nice to see.
Alexander Fernandez 02:25
No, I mean, honestly, I even got email sent over asking about it, you very succinctly laid out what it takes to be a project manager, and really how to get into this business. And I think this is important that, you know, at that moment in time when you gave that presentation, which actually would have been five years, so you would have been on your fifth anniversary, because that was, two years ago. Yeah. Yeah. So do you like how it was stuck in? Yeah, I just got. I'm like, Yeah, so like, here we go. So not now. I realized it's not so the viewers out there. I'm like, wow, this guy doesn't know who works. Oh, God, like no. I'm just old. This is basically 20 years of video games. It rots your mind children be careful. No, really, what it comes down to is basically this is that you were literally five years in and honestly the comments that came in, out of all of them, it's just like a not only did you connect with the audience, but you really gave some very insightful feedback, real feedback, real talk, the type of talk that we like on this podcast, but more importantly, that helps people really make decisions on whether or not they're going to get into the industry. And if they are, what they can actually do. so, I'm very honored for you to come back. You didn't have to, but you decided to, which makes me super happy, because then it's not me saying, hey, Sapna, can you please do me a favor? But yes, thank you. Can you do me a favor?
Sapna Sudhakaran 03:43
Thank you for having me. I'm so privileged to be here. And I'm actually very privileged to be in this industry as well. Yeah, it's a great experience.
Alexander Fernandez 03:52
You earned it though SAP Now honestly, like, you know, out of the out of a lot of the people I've seen their journey into video games, you literally took the craziest journey into video games. And we're gonna get into this because honestly, I want people to understand it's like, you know, how you turn the left turn and Albuquerque instead of going right to New York. I'll never understand that. You know what that brought you over here to us at Streamline, which I'm very happy about. But you know, before we get into that, why don't you tell people what you do and what it means then we're gonna go through how did you get here?
Sapna Sudhakaran 04:25
Yeah, okay. Yeah. So as I mentioned earlier, I'm Head of Production for All Pixels is in it's a brand that works with partners, external partners, to, you know, service them for the games, even making art for the game. So 3d engine implementation, those kinds of things. So as Head of Production, I lead a team of project managers myself, and I also on occasion, handle my own projects and under project with the project managers, we also have art leads as well as all the artists in our team so Yeah, that's pretty much in a nutshell. When we do manage projects, we manage our teams to be better, you know, to help them be better artists or to support them in their journey in game development. Yeah, that's, that's what we do.
Alexander Fernandez 05:15
So let me get this straight You go from Project Manager to the head of production. So you went from basically running a couple of projects to then running a bunch of project managers and then working with a general manager. Is that how that works? Or what does that look like?
Sapna Sudhakaran 05:27
No, actually, my journey is a little bit different than that. So So I just want I guess I'll start from the beginning. You know,
Alexander Fernandez 05:39
Hold on a second. Musica way back music. You ready? Let's do this. All right. Take us back. What year is it? So I know what song to play
Sapna Sudhakaran 05:48
Alexander Fernandez 05:52
So where are you bumping at that time?
Sapna Sudhakaran 05:55
Man? What was it? Man? I don't even remember the songs I used to listen to back then. You know what, if you can pay someone over there'll be great.
Alexander Fernandez 06:08
Okay, you know, you don't want a little beeper in there for you. Everybody understands just so you know, just how exquisite tastes Sapna has. She is a bit of a music snob. I'll be straight up. We rock. I literally rock it all the time. I think everyone out there should subscribe to her playlist. We're gonna have to link that below because her playlist on Spotify is legit. It actually is very good.
Sapna Sudhakaran 06:37
I need to update that one. Actually, we started that during the lockdown. Right that we're doing the first couple of months along
Alexander Fernandez 06:42
I'm telling you that it's phenomenal. You have great, you got great time. So, you know, clearly she wasn't a Bieber fan, but it is 2015. So what are you doing in 2015?
Sapna Sudhakaran 06:53
So yeah, I just came back from Korea from a volunteer program an exchange program. I was just, you know, bumming around at home. And I was like, You know what, let me try and look for a job. You know, I wasn't really ready if I was like, you know, looking around and I saw this company, you know, this company with a bunch of you guys just a picture of you guys there. And I was like, Ah, this looks very interesting. It's in KL Let me try apply because I was in finance. I was studying finance actually, by they want to do it. And then I saw this company. I was like, Oh, how can I get into this company? Because it looks really cool. And then I saw this HR assistant position I applied for it. I got it within a week, which was very surprise. And yeah, that's that's, that's pretty much how I started and my entire career. My working life has been with streamline. And you know, when I would say I pretty much grew up here, although I spend my 20s I turned 30 a week or so. You know, that's insane. But yeah, I think it's, it's really a defining moment, you know,
Alexander Fernandez 08:02
Wait a second. So hold on a second. You basically you're studying finance and then you tell your parents I'm working in a video games company. I can hear the needle scratching on the record. Like how do you convince them Be like, Thank you parents for supporting me, but now I'm going to go make games. You thought I was going to be in finance? Yeah. Wait, what? No, honestly, how do you do that?
Sapna Sudhakaran 08:26
Well, I applied first got the job. Then I told my parents.
Alexander Fernandez 08:36
How do they take the news that they're, they're like, you know, their child who was going to be the banker, the financier, the investor ends up working in basically video games. Like, honestly, how did they take it?
Sapna Sudhakaran 08:46
I mean, to explain what video games are what it was in the in what it was like to work in this company. I think that that was a challenge. You know, like my dad says, I work in IP still a software more like I mean,
Alexander Fernandez 09:03
A much more respectful crowd right? Soon. He'll be saying you're working in the metaverse. Yeah. Tell him his friends that very Yeah. Oh, yeah. And I mean, you know what, it's fun. It's funny to basically realize that I wasn't crazy all these years. That's out of everything that's happened here. I'm so happy that this has happened. So it doesn't look like I was just obsessed on like some crazy journey that only I could say. It's very good to basically find out that you're just living in the future. Yeah, not just insane.
Sapna Sudhakaran 09:10
No, we were talking about it actually. It's crazy. Yeah. You know that he knows. Or he knows what Metaverse is. And it's, you know, being mass adopted now, and you knew his you know, thinking about it. You have been talking about it for years. And I'm being in it. Yeah. It's nice to be called a visionary, not an insane person.
Alexander Fernandez 09:53
Well, no, I get other let's move on. So you come in, you come into Streamline you come in through HR, at, you know, how do you end up becoming a project manager, and why project management of all the things.
Sapna Sudhakaran 10:10
Um, so I guess from being HR, we were at this point where we were small, small enough to have people wear multiple hats. And then that allowed for a lot of movement internally, right. So from HR, doing ops, because we needed people to handle, you know, making sure the coffee is there, and everything. And then moving on to recruitment, because we were in a period of very rapid growth, I think we grew from, like, 80 people to like, 200 100, something I can't remember. But it was a very quick, quick period of growth during that, and it was very exciting. That was around 2016 2017. And then move to finance. That was fun accounting, during the accounting, bookkeeping actually learned a lot. You know, being in these different, different backend roles, really gives you a lot of insight to how the business runs, you know? Yeah, so it was more of like, taking the mindset that you know, I'm not going upwards, I'm going wide. You're getting that kind of different experiences, right, dipping my toes in everything. And then you guys decided, like, okay, you know, what, we're going to split and have different brands, because we need to focus, right, we didn't mean to focus on different aspects of the game development pipeline. And yeah, I think you guys actually gave me the opportunity to take on the Head of Production role, just like that. I'm like, Oh, wow, you guys really trusted me.
Alexander Fernandez 11:46
This is Streamline we saw this side of you ever, like, you know what, either it's the greatest thing ever, it's the stupidest thing you could ever do. Some real strategy there.
Sapna Sudhakaran 11:58
Let's just throw people. Yeah, you take the head of production. Let's see how you handle it.
Alexander Fernandez 12:06
You know, I'll just decide those. I remember when we had that conversation, because basically, what it came down to is that we had seen you go through the organization come in from, you know, studying finance, to doing HR to then helping us grow tremendously fast. And every which way, you just, you nailed it every time went into the finance team basically then discovered why fan and finances probably not basically continued moving forward. And I think that opportunity right there when we had it to say, Hey, listen, we need somebody who can just get stuff done, and who's daring enough. You had all of the other requisites to do this. You were curious, you're smart, you knew how to get stuff, done it more than anything else, you understood the business. And I think that is something that really, when I put myself back in those shoes, and I think about it, I mean, it was probably one of the best decisions we ever made. Because in the end, look at you now. And I think this is something where, you know, for us, it's been phenomenal to watch you grow, and to see you get to where you are now and obviously, where you're going is even beyond but you know, I'm curious about that journey to get to the point where project management, do you feel that you had all the skills ahead of time? Or what was it like? And what are those skills that were necessary to learn in order to do the job better.
Sapna Sudhakaran 13:18
So, um, I would say there's two sides to it, I was learning to be a head of production, as well as being a project manager at the same time. Because I was, you know, trying to figure out directly how art was being made for games, you know, being in this position. So I think having all the other aspects down, like recruitment, or HR, you know, learning the p&l and stuff that helped in the management aspect of the position. But being a more like being involved in the actual game development pipeline in the art side, I had to learn kind of from scratch how, what it meant, what all the terms meant in the first place, and how each one kind of affected each other. More than that, I think it's just building relationships with the team members, because what I lacked in information, I have to get it from people in order to do my job because I have to convey information to the clients to internal stakeholders, like my own boss, or my own team members and stuff. So it's kind of like I kind of related to even now, because technology, I can never catch up to it. We all can never catch up to it. So where I was back then is still where I am now in terms of the knowledge gap of technology and how games are being made. So I made I have set my goal, you know, it will be things will get better, I would know better, but actually No. Still in that, in that phase where technology has moved forward, the way we are doing things have changed so much that even now I still have to make use of that ability to get information from different people put it together in a way that makes sense. For everyone else. Like I said, clients or whatever it is, yeah. So that will be the most important thing.
Alexander Fernandez 15:31
So let's unpack this for a second. First off, were you a gamer before you came in to Streamline?
Sapna Sudhakaran 15:37
No, no, I wasn't really.
Alexander Fernandez 15:39
Do you think it's necessary to be a gamer?
Sapna Sudhakaran 15:41
No, I don't think so. Not at all. And I really come from the standpoint, or I'm more like, if you're not even if you're not a gamer, just know that this industry can be for you.
Alexander Fernandez 15:59
So then you go from this is perfect. Because a lot of people think that you need to be a gamer, you need to know something about games in order to make games, which is kind of the biggest oxymoron possible, because you're like, How is this possible? Yeah. So what you didn't have in games, you clearly made up in terms of interpersonal skills, because one thing that comes across and one thing that has always been clear about you is that you know how to communicate. So the job and like what you just talked about was communication, you knew you didn't know the technical aspect of things. But you know, the relationships matter. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sapna Sudhakaran 16:32
Yeah, a lot of people think that you need to be an extrovert in order to do this job as well. But in actual fact, I think you just need to think about your, how you want to be treated, if let's say you put yourself in any kind of job in any kind of situation, and you were doing your job and someone comes to you and tells is like, you know, give me some information about your job. So I can convey it to other people. Just like that, how you would want to be communicated to you take those values, and you use it to talk to other people. And isn't that difficult? Because you are, you're being really yourself? You're trying to talk to people
Alexander Fernandez 17:12
Wait hold on. You just covered something called Emotional Intelligence, like my mind, just exploded you, you have a thing called empathy. You have a thing called rational and we're being rational and then understanding when to turn both on and off at will. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Okay, wait a second. Okay. So you basically realized as you come in that emotional intelligence, empathy, soft skills are keys to success? Yeah. In any moment. Yeah, no, absolutely. Well, so here's the thing. It's like, you know, really, I'm sure there are people listening to this being like, Wait a second. You mean, I don't need to be a technical person? No. You mean, I need to be someone who can just communicate? Yeah. But how do you basically then go about doing the realm of the job, especially in the early days, when your team is telling you maybe a bunch of acronyms? It's alphabet soup, they're talking about like high poly low poly? You know, they're basically going left and right on this, like, what I mean, were you just like, I trust you, or were you like, okay, I better learn this too?
Sapna Sudhakaran 18:20
Yeah, it's a mix of both. Actually. I really put a lot of trust in my team to know what they're doing. Because I'm not I'm not the expert. They are. They spent so much time honing their skills. The least I can do is respect that. You know? Honor and trust like, okay, yeah, you guys know what you're doing when you're saying, you know,
Alexander Fernandez 18:43
Mind blown here. honor, respect and trust? Yeah. Are we in the same? I sometimes wonder. It's like, yeah, you're right. It's like, they're the experts. Yeah. Wow. Please do keep continue. Keep going.
Sapna Sudhakaran 18:58
Yeah, so all I'm here, all I'm here to do is make sure that we we provide the clients with quality work, which you guys are doing, you guys are working on the artists, the leads, and we just take the information, like I mentioned, I guess rewrite it or make it sound more succinct or more, let's say appropriate, but you know, is easily readable, more communicable to whoever it is that needs to read it, like I mentioned. So. Yeah, I do have to learn of course, we do have to learn some of the basic stuff in game development. It's always going to be like, Yeah, I should know some of the stuff but it's not really something that you know, you have to go to school for. Or we have to, you know, really sit down and study maybe learning the engine for your own for our own knowledge or whatever. That's that's fine, you know, but it's not like we have to it's not a prerequisite in order to do it and actually speaking of which our team in BD4 far especially, I'm really proud of the team because none of us are from project management, or more like none of us are from games, either we have an aeronautical engineer who just joined us and people from events. And of course, me from finance on GM is from biomedical sciences. So it's really, super, really a lot of different experiences. And that's what makes it even more interesting, because as project managers, we rely on each other, you know, to help us out and you also have a need to help us up to, if you don't understand.
Alexander Fernandez 20:41
Absolutely, well, let me ask you something, because you just, you went into a place that I think is very fascinating here. And it's the mix of diverse backgrounds, the fact that none of you guys are from games, none of you, none of your project managers have project management experience, you really came in with an understanding of how to put something together by having emotional intelligence, empathy, listening skills, and you understood quite clearly that the job is how to translate technical and creative talk into a human readable language that everyday people can understand. When did you come to that realization that that interface is exactly why you succeed at this job? Was it instantly? Or did it take time for you to realize like, wait a second, you pay me just to be a human being.
Sapna Sudhakaran 21:30
I think it's more of learning from observing how other people do it people who were you know, more experienced in project management, you have Yea Ji, you have Richard what GMs have their own brands here in Streamline. And they have very good emotional intelligence, you know, and I look up to them, and I look up to you guys, as well, because all of your communication skills are amazing, right? And, you know, we learn by observing and knowing like, okay, yeah, that's, that's what, that's what I really like about it. And those are the values that I want to uphold in the way I do things. You know, and for us in the team, especially as we grow in project management, sorry, that we have, as we grow our project managers, we pretty much root our team in specific values, we actually have conversations with our team individually, what are your values as a manager as a human being actually not as managers as human being and we pinpoint the key identifiers like so we pinpoint the similarity. So similar values that we have, and then we want to do is create an identity around those values, you know, so that's something that we really do care about, because that's it, what we lack in video game knowledge is, is replaced by this.
Alexander Fernandez 23:02
It's interesting, because basically, what you're doing at that moment in time is you're leveraging a lack of knowledge with a whole incredible amount of empathy, and humanity, which is then basically weighted with all of your experts that you represent. Yeah. So the reality is, is basically you're doing what you're strong in which they may not necessarily be the strongest. Yeah. And in this case, you create balance. Yin and Yang. Exactly, you know,
Sapna Sudhakaran 23:27
Alexander Fernandez 23:28
I mean, it's like, you know, again, I'm sure there are people out there being like, What do you mean, it's like, well, isn't it funny how, in the end of the day, you can leverage people's capabilities, weaknesses become strengths, and vice versa, in order to create these opportunities, and this is something that I think is really important for the audience out there that is listening or watching us, it really does come down to understanding how in the team that you're a part of what your strength is, how to take what is you believe to be a weakness and pair that with someone else's strength, and together, you can overcome things? So as project managers, specifically with a culture and set what is that culture what do you think is the culture of a great project management team of a project manager in general
Sapna Sudhakaran 24:15
It's going to go back to the same the same thing that we keep talking about, you know, like just having a lot of empathy understanding the entire the company's core values and culture. You know, we like I can say we want to give opportunities to gamers, non-gamers, fans, you know, whoever it is wants to join the video games industry and that's exactly what we embody. And as as people who are passionate about it, we do care about you know, bringing in interns bringing in people who are non experienced in the industry, and then it's, we see them grow, we help we grow together and then some of the biggest difference Finding factors of our brand, you know, everyday communication. Yeah, those were the those are the main things. Yes. Yeah. Those are that's the culture,
Alexander Fernandez 25:14
Yeah, no and that's a great culture because a lot of people basically, if you go on to message boards you ask you, but like, I don't know how to get into the industry. It's so elite. It's so who, you know, do you find that weird that basically people find it so difficult to get into the games industry into something that is touches so many people's lives, but it can seem so insular and so almost like, I don't know, elite for the hell of being elite without actually understanding that it's actually it's a job, man. Yeah, it's like, you know, we need talent. So I mean, how do you feel about that?
Sapna Sudhakaran 25:43
Yeah, it's, it is interesting. But I what I've, what I've noticed is that, especially for the project management team, or project managers who want to join in the industry, it's, it feels like there's a barrier, but actually, people are open to helping, like, individually, I think people are very open to helping each other out as well. Like, if you just go up to someone in LinkedIn, and talk to them about the industry and stuff, I think a lot more often than not, you always get someone to say like, yeah, let me help you. Let me give you some tips and stuff. But as a group, yes, I've seen I've seen that. Yeah, it's interesting.
Alexander Fernandez 26:28
Well, let me ask you, then what tips would you give an aspiring project manager somebody wants to get in? What do you what are Sapna's top five reasons like business insider? Ways that you can be a project manager and video game? Are you ready? I'm going to be this will be the bullet points, right. This will define a generation of project managers.
Sapna Sudhakaran 26:47
And that's a long time. Yeah. So. So like I mentioned, just Well, I think it's more of like, if you were not in the industry in the first place, and you want to be a project manager, something would have caught your eyes, something would have made you want to join the industry as a project manager, or on the flip side, even if you if you didn't have any experience at all, and you wanted to set foot into the industry, probably project management could be one of the ways to join it. So there's there's two sides to this, right. But either way, I think again, reaching out to people in the industry, project managers or producers in the industry, a lot of indie studios as well. Producers or project managers in indie studios would be very helpful, helpful. Watching podcasts like this, I think to get get more insight about the video games industry. I think there's also a lot of communities that producer communities on Discord. You know, if you reach out to people, I think they can always let you know like, okay, there are some communities out there that are very open to people who are interested in joining the games industry, and they will share insights. You know, if you guys add me on LinkedIn, I can I can invite you to those, yeah, it's funny.
Alexander Fernandez 28:21
And she's actually serious if you reach out to her.
Sapna Sudhakaran 28:24
Alexander Fernandez 28:27
Well, I mean, there goes your LinkedIn network. It's probably about, you know, quadruple now, but I mean, well, honestly, listen, I mean, here's the thing. I mean, you hit a good reason on something. And I think this is important that, in the end, is that it comes down the person's desire to be in this industry. If you want to be in it, you're going to cross the barrier. At this point, you just have to cross in the digital divide, reach out to someone and say, Hey, listen, I'm curious about this. Can you tell me more? And they respond to they don't, but you can't be afraid to do that. So actually, on that standpoint, I'm curious, like, as you look towards basically say, being a project manager, would you say that there's a lot of doubt that someone has to come over in order to be good at the job?
Sapna Sudhakaran 29:11
Alexander Fernandez 29:14
What? What is what is the Rubicon look like?
Sapna Sudhakaran 29:19
And yeah, so I think obviously, everyone's experiences would be different. Just from the, from the surface level, of course, from the easiest example the fact that you don't even know the games industry, you're not necessarily a great gamer, but you are the face of the projects that company when it comes to, you know, interfacing with our clients, our partners. Partners will be the better, but yeah, like you, you kind of have to get over all those insecurities like, Oh my God, I don't know. I don't know what the hell I'm doing sometimes. So I don't know what these guys are saying and some technical, you know, like, you just have to kind of manage it or kind of just trust that with experience, you'll be able to handle that insecurity because, again, you'll never be able to understand 100% What information is being handed over to you? You know, of course, there's also the other underlying self of sorry, doubts, that one will face like imposter syndrome, you know, the fact that maybe you're a POC, a woman in the industry, you know, all those different kinds of factors at play, and as a manager, as a leader of your team, because project management is a leadership role. You know, it's as simple as that, like, um, you know, whether or not you directly do appraisals, or when, or anything like that, that a manager would do, you are managing or leading a team to execute in the best way possible, right. And you know, to do that, you have to kind of have a sense of self and who you are and understand what your own insecurities are. Observe it, because then at least you won't project it on your team.
Alexander Fernandez 31:18
Well, the thing is, you must be very good at it. Because if you look at it from this perspective, and obviously, you know, I've known you and I've had the fortunate ability of working with you working together, I mean, the thing is, from whatever doubt you had, from day one, to what you are right now and how you have effectively accelerated through here, you've only demonstrated a mastery of knowledge and a capability of learning quickly and leveraging your knowledge in order to create greater opportunities, that kind of compounding knowledge effect that you've done. Do you feel as though when you look back today, day zero, day, one of your journey to the woman, you are now in the position, you're in the leadership role you have? Do you see that difference in yourself? Is do you see? You know, Sapna, of, you know, five to two years ago? to Sapna today? Or Sam? No, yeah. Can you tell? Tell us a little bit about that?
Sapna Sudhakaran 32:14
Yeah, of course, like, I think before I was very much internal facing, and now, my role is kind of external facing as well, you know, managing clients, partners from, like, international clients, you know, like, we're working on a global scale here. And that's, that's something that is so insane when you think about it, or when we look back, you know, as even as a junior project manager, if you were to join us in our team, you're not you're going to be working at a world level world-class level of game development. Serious, it's not a small thing. It's something that you will, I think I would, I have experienced that kind of growth in character, as a manager as someone like not even five years even as when I first started in this position. When I think back I cringe at some of the things I've said or done, you know, always think about is like, Oh, my God, what was I thinking? But, you know, it's, it's such a privilege to actually be able to take that and know, okay, yeah, I'll never do that again. And I've grown as a person. So that's there's two sides to it, the amount of growth that someone would have been in this position, because it's only natural, as a project manager, you deal with so many different kinds of people, that you have no choice but to experience that kind of growth, right. But to also understand that we're in the middle of a whole revolution, of how things are how the world works pretty much like we were at the beginning of this, although it already started, but it's just the beginning. And to understand that, and to be part of it, is like, yeah, just be ready for that kind of growth as well. That's insane.
Alexander Fernandez 34:02
Do you think it's important to reflect Oh, yeah. And do you do a lot of reflecting?
Sapna Sudhakaran 34:05
Um, yes, I think I do a lot of reflecting. I don't necessarily think a lot about the past. Like, if you think if you asked me to do think about what you do remember this event or that event, the past? I don't really do that. But I do remember feeling. You know, like, I do remember how I felt in a specific time or how I probably made someone feel and think about that. As soon as I know, like, I didn't like it. I would kind of you know, just move away. You know, some people do journaling. I know people who do journaling every day, they really take some time to sit down and write down what they've learned in the day. And so I'm not really like that. But I do want to make sure that I don't repeat mistakes that I've made before.
Alexander Fernandez 34:53
Yeah, no, absolutely. And when you were speaking, I actually just was thinking about just how absolutely true, what you're saying is that you work on a global level. All project managers, at least people who work with us at streamline, you're exposed to the world from day one, there is no local market. So you're dealing with people in different parts of the world, different cultures, different backgrounds, different understandings. And your ability to get comfortable with that real quick is probably one of the defining factors of success. So Sapna basically all this experience, basically being a project manager, and basically moving up to the ranks in the organization brought you to becoming the Head of Production. Tell us about that job, what you do now? And basically, what did you bring for being a project manager over into that position?
Sapna Sudhakaran 35:43
Um, yeah, so what I do now is I manage a team of project managers, some juniors, some more seniors, and we deliver projects, we deliver our assets to partners. Yeah, and so what I mainly do is make sure that I oversee all the projects that our project managers are working on, I also set the tone, make sure that everyone's kind of hitting the quality. So project managers also have quality bars that we set for ourselves, and we need to have check and balance. And then of course, our GM Yea Ji, she acts as our best check and balance, of course, so it kind of works. Like we put all these different systems in place to make sure that we can, in fact, deliver on time with the quality that we say we're going to deliver. Yeah, that's pretty much what I do. It's the same thing. It's just adding another layer of project managers in between.
Alexander Fernandez 36:44
Yeah. Yeah. So actually, I wanted to talk about that, do you find running project managers harder, easier, are about the same as running engineers and artists,
Sapna Sudhakaran 36:53
it's a little bit different, I would say. But it requires the same, the same skills, if that makes sense. But another thing to think about is that, you know, managing project managers are managing managers. And that requires a different kind of skill set as well. Because you know, different needs different support that you would need to give the team. You know, the mindset that everyone comes from very diverse backgrounds, so making sure that everyone feels like they have a place within the team. That's important, because what I've noticed is that, at least in my team, we are all people who are still trying to figure out where we are, where we stand in, you know, our careers, you know, like, I wouldn't have moved so much in my own career if I knew exactly what my North Star is. But, you know, I noticed that a lot of my team members as well have that same kind of thought process. You know, I know who I am. But I don't know where I'm going. And that's very interesting, because streamline being in streamlined, it allows us that kind of movement, that flexibility that change, which suits people like us, you know, who don't really have that Northstar. But, so having a team like that also has its challenges. Because we have to be able to give people a sense of belonging. And we do want people to feel like they belong in the team. And yeah, the same thing goes with artists, actually, it's no different.
Alexander Fernandez 38:27
So let me ask you managing managers, because I mean, you said to me, I think is really a very insightful that, you know, managing people who manage other people have different needs from managing people who do a hard skill or a specific skill very directly that are executing on the project. If we unpack managing managers, what tips would you have for people who find themselves in a position where, just like you, you're now running a team of people who run multiple teams? How do you go about that? And what should people keep in mind?
Sapna Sudhakaran 38:57
So first thing, one tip is you need to think about your role differently now, as in what you were doing before, you cannot do anymore delegate. Because before when you used to be able to do little administrative stuff. You know, you could handle everything by himself. But now you have to think about I also small things are going to take away time from me ensuring that all the systems all the processes in place that make my team my own team better. No one's going to do that I have to be the one doing it. Right. So you need to free up time to, you know, to get your brain space, one step up. I think that's, that's the first thing. And second thing is being always being available for your team. Because you know, everyone has personal struggles. And in order for them to be effective managers, they need an outlet, someone that they trust, who understands what they are going through. So like me as well, as I need, I always go to like my own manager and be able to have that person. I mean, not just my managers, I mean, you guys as well, Stefan or yourself, like you're very open to, you know, to be like when we would come to you and talk to you about stuff like you listen, and you give your own perspective, right. So being able to be that outlet for your team would help them process some stuff and help them free of mind space to be better managers for their own team to handle their own teams issues or stuff like that. I think those two main tips help me and I try to coach my own managers or managers as well to do the same. But I think we all have that same philosophy.
Alexander Fernandez 40:46
So now, you know, we can't have this conversation without, you know, talking about the, the virus in the room, so to speak. How did you how did you manage project managers and teams during COVID? Because I mean, this is it's still happening, and we're not out of the woods yet. I mean, we're still trying to get through this, but how'd you do it? I mean, can you share that with us? Oh,
Sapna Sudhakaran 41:10
yeah, um, first thing is, we had a team of our own managers like, again, the GMs, you guys coming together and taking a load of moving or thinking, thinking about shifting us from office to home, like that whole load that all planning that burden, so to speak, was taken away from us. So to that, I'll be very thankful, because then we, as managers of projects could continue keeping things running. like nothing's changed. Because we, we are digital natives. So that helped. Of course, we had our GM, of course, we had a few days of disruptions, you know, like I said, I don't really remember what happened during that, because it was very quick, very fast that we started working from home again, and, you know, continue working from normal as normal. But we also had the team with an innate understanding that this is going to be a difficult time for a lot of people. You know, family dynamics are going to change financial situations are changed, like as much as we are in a privileged position of privilege industry as well, to continue working from home as normal. You know, the human aspect of it is going to be very unpredictable. So we had our team constantly in touch, like touch base basis with each other almost every day checking in with each other one on ones, just to make sure that everyone's okay, at the same time, with understanding that we still need to deliver on projects. So that was interesting. I think the fact that we had our own managers that the whole management team to handle, make that decision, make all those tough calls. On behalf of us while everything else was running smooth. I think that kind of layer was very important and led to that kind of success of us moving.
Alexander Fernandez 43:09
Do you believe that the emotional intelligence that you have displayed with your team and yourself helped you navigate through this process as well as to deal with the overwhelming amount of emotions that were coming back through your team?
Sapna Sudhakaran 43:21
I yeah, I think so. Like being able to being able to parse through and not let things affect you, because you, you yourself, as a manager will have your own struggles working from home, right. And in order to handle that does take a little bit of understanding, like processing your own emotions, and relying on your own team members, like, you know, making sure that everyone is okay, like that kind of stuff. I can't do it by yourself, like, as much as you have emotional intelligence, if you don't have a team behind you, to support you through this, through this period. You know, no amount of emotional intelligence is going to make you feel better about what's going on. So,
Alexander Fernandez 44:04
No, that's very true. Well, and that's the thing that I think you hit on is basically having a team and that sense of team which goes back to culture. You know, when you look at your, your, your team and the culture that you've you've built, do you get strength and energy from that is that you know, how much of that is a reminder to you daily? Is it something that kind of fades in the background? Or is that just always on display for you?
Sapna Sudhakaran 44:26
No, yeah, for me. I can't express how proud I am of my team, the leads, the project managers who have, you know, especially the juniors, the new ones who have grown so much from being not having any knowledge at all in the games industry to managing multi-million-dollar projects in total. You know, through the pandemic, through working from home all these different stuff. that's going on all very young people, we are all friends to be young in the games industry is relatively young as well. And to be able to handle on go through all these different things. I can't state enough how much I've seen the team grow and how proud I am often. And of course, everyone else in the company as well. It's crazy.
Alexander Fernandez 45:26
You know, it's funny, because basically, I've always said that, you know, necessity is one of the greatest motivators, but starvation is probably the greatest one, you will learn, you will figure it out super fast, when it's on the line. And I think that's something that honestly, hearing your story and just thinking about all of the things that you've all gone through, and how you guys were able to pull this together. I mean, clearly, it didn't matter if basically, you had all the experience in the world, or none of the experience in the world. It was what you chose to do with it to make it happen. That basically brought it together. And I gotta tell you, I'm super proud of seeing all of you, and what you have been able to do the resilience, the agility, as individuals and as an organization to know that you guys stood shoulder to shoulder and you made it happen, you all delivered. That is something that I find phenomenal about this. And something that honestly, for me, it's the greatest achievement I think I've ever seen, and that I've ever been a part of. So, you know, it's, here's, it's right back at you, I'm always amazed at what you've been able to do as well, and what your team did, it's phenomenal.
Sapna Sudhakaran 46:32
It's so interesting to see growth as well, like, you know, just individually, if you look at your own teams, and you see their own journeys, all the stuff that all the mistakes that we make together, and what we learn from it, and then seeing people rise from junior project managers, to managers, to senior project managers, managing their own team of managers that kind of brought this. So interesting to see so quickly in I think in this industry is very quick compared to others. I don't know, my whole career has remained I can speak for other industries. But to see here, we have a lot of young managers who kind of have to, I was about to pull, pull up their bootstraps. That's what that's the phrase from this.
Alexander Fernandez 47:17
I mean, that is true. You literally grow by your bootstraps. That's very true.
Sapna Sudhakaran 47:22
It's very interesting to see.
Alexander Fernandez 47:25
So Sapna, let me ask you as we're getting towards the end of this discussion. If you had to just summarize it. And I guess well, before we summarize, let me ask you, Is there room for more people in games? Diverse people, people of color women, like open up the door? What can we do we want more women more diversity? More people of color? What is it that we can do to make this?
Sapna Sudhakaran 47:51
Um, I think, yeah, that's an interesting question, because we need this industry is infinite at this point? I would say, because the growth, like, like I mentioned before, before, I think people have said this a lot like this is the just the beginning, there's so much more growth, or the path of where this industry is going is just way wide, way deep. So there's so much room for POCs for women of women, you know, minorities, like there's so much room for these kinds of types of people. As employers, we need to do better, you know, DNI kind of policies and stuff like those needs to be put in place. But for guys, well, people want to join the industry, I think you just need to reach out and make yourselves heard as well. Because the only way we can, you know, get or encourage people to join in is when both sides are open and collaborating with each other you know, join the industry join communities talk about your experiences as POCs as minorities.
Alexander Fernandez 49:02
Well, I mean, I think that's some sage advice right there. And I know Layla is cringing being like, Alexander, why are you asking a woman? What roles the video games industry needs to have to fix it? Yes, Layla. Honestly, what it comes down to is, you know, obviously, as a minority, as someone who's been in this business, I will tell you right now, it's like, we can't wait for people to invite us kick the damn door open and get in. Because honestly, that's how you get into the video games industry. No one invites you. You show up, you just don't leave. Yeah, that's really what it came down to. And I think about Streamline and the history of all the people from POCs to basically minorities to obviously all the differences of people that we have, you know, 45 nationalities and 25 different languages. It just comes down to one simple thing and I think we talked about at the very beginning before we started taping, the secret of being in video games work, the secret of success, work you want to be anything in life work. The bottom line is we work. I mean, I don't know how else to say it. But it sounds like working is what you're going to be doing. Yeah. And then you'll die, which is pretty much life engine? Yes.
Sapna Sudhakaran 50:12
You just summed up the entire thing. And just like, you know, just a few words. That's great.
Alexander Fernandez 50:22
I don't know, Sapna. What do you think you think? Is that? Is that a little bit too dark? Or is that just kind of.
Sapna Sudhakaran 50:25
Clear? Oh, it's clear. I like it. I think it's it makes a lot of sense. I mean, what do you want like that? Is it right?
Alexander Fernandez 50:37
Know what it's like, we're gonna end this on a high note. Obviously, life isn't just about working. It's also about enjoying, but Sapna it has been absolutely a pleasure. Watching you grow, working with you, seeing you climb new heights, and basically watch you lead new teams. And honestly, you know, how can people reach out to you people that are listening, thinking like, man, Sapna she's got it down. I'd like to follow her. What can they do? How can people find you?
Sapna Sudhakaran 51:02
Yeah, LinkedIn would be the best place. You know, you just send me a message anytime if you're interested in project management, and you know how to how to join in the games industry. And like I mentioned earlier, there are some producers, producer committees on Discord, which you know, people do share knowledge, experiences, I think that is valuable for people who just want to observe what it's like and who the people that cool is in this community. You know, I can always send you an invite to that. Yeah, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram. Wherever, I'm cool.
Alexander Fernandez 51:46
She is very cool I can attest to that coolest person in video games. I'll tell you that right now. No, it's true, man. Well, no, I mean, I really appreciate you being on there. But what you got to do is definitely update that playlist and get that on an open public one so people can listen to Sapna's, too. Yes. I'm telling you, everyone. You got to hear her playlist. It's phenomenal. Honestly, always a pleasure. Thank you for coming on to video games.
Sapna Sudhakaran 52:10
Thank you so much for having me.
Alexander Fernandez 52:14
No problem. Now everyone. We are going to be going super quick this year. It's almost the end of the year. Can you believe it? Turkey days coming up for the Americans out there for those that are not Americans but have to live with our holidays. It is Thanksgiving coming up. We're super excited about that. But that does not end Video Games Real Talk we are going to be pushing through with brand new episodes. As we continue this journey on the business of video games. We appreciate you for listening to us. Please shout out. Comment, share like tell us you love it tell us you hate it. But do so on Apple Music, Spotify or wherever you get your Find. Find podcasts. Check us out on VGRT.com. Or you can tweet me @starveup or @VG_RealTalk on Twitter. Please give us your comments. And as always, thank you for listening and being a part of this with us. We'll see you guys next time.