Michael Hoag: Madden NFL Producer, EA (Electronic Arts)
WFU Class of 2011
Double Minor: Journalism & Entrepreneurship
DeacLink: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Please walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?
Michael Hoag: My path to my current role was quite unusual. I started out trying to play in the NFL, had a few opportunities to show my stuff for NFL teams, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out. From there, my network at Wake Forest really kicked in. Stan Cotten and Dave Goren were kind enough to offer me a part-time gig calling Wake Football games on IMG Radio. I jumped right into the mix and thought, “Hey, I’m on my way to a career in sports broadcasting. This is cool.”
Turns out my Wake network had other plans. While making ends meet waiting tables back home in Knoxville, TN, I received an email from the student athlete services department making me aware of an EA Sports NCAA Fellowship opportunity. It was a fully paid opportunity to go make video games for the NCAA Football franchise. I knew nothing about video games, but I definitely played them...so I applied. Interestingly enough, my time as a sideline reporter piqued their interest and they selected me for the fellowship program. I was off to Orlando.
Fast forward six years and a whole lot of self teaching, learning, and help along the way, you will find me still making video games. I’m a producer on our Madden NFL franchise and I’m incredibly blessed to work for such an incredibly company that took a chance on a 23-year-old kid with no video game background.
DL: What led you to pursue a Masters at UT, and how did you select that program in particular?
MH: After three and a half years as a video game designer on the Madden Franchise I started to get the itch for a some career change. I wasn’t ready to leave video games or the tech sector, but I wanted to get a little closer to the business side of our product. Understanding more about what goes into making a game and driving revenue.
Some internet searching (and ignoring advice to get a traditional MBA) lead me to the Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization (MSTC) program at UT, Austin. This program was the perfect fit for me. Plenty of business coursework (accounting, finance, marketing) mixed with a healthy dose of entrepreneurship and startup training. While I’m not working in a startup, the program offered great insight into building a business from the ground up and identifying successful habits and practices to not only build a business, but sustain and grow one.
DL: How did you balance working and going back to school?
MH: Lack of sleep. Luckily, I had a great support staff cheering me on. My wife (also a Deac) was my number one supporter and my management and work fully supported the initiative. I traveled to Austin once/month and attended virtually for the other class sessions. Many late nights and early mornings, but it was totally worth it!
DL: Your role sits at the intersection of entertainment and technology, and sounds like many people’s dream job. What advice do you have for readers interested in pursuing a similar path, or for breaking into the industry more broadly?
MH: Pursue avenues that allow you to be close to your field of interest. For me, I was lucky to get into video games, and the industry has a firm hold on the advancement of technology. So I get to experience cutting edge technology, but I am constantly exploring what other companies are doing (inside the games industry & outside of it). Keeping an ear to the ground with the latest in your passion sector is critical to getting an opportunity and making a lasting impression on the people you meet. You never know when the next opportunity might come knocking.
The last bit of advice is this; Don’t be afraid that you’re unqualified because you didn’t get a degree in a certain field. If you’re passionate about something and are willing to learn you can do just about anything. It’s all about getting an opportunity to jump in. I think you’ll find that your lack of traditional knowledge can be a burst of outside the box thinking that people need in their organization.
DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held (online, networking, WFU resources, other)?
MH: As mentioned above, I was alerted to the position from Student Athlete Services. The relationship I build with the folks in that department became the link to finding my job. Relationships can be so critical to finding success in the business world.
DL: What do you think Wake could have done better to prepare you for life after graduation?
MH: For me, the biggest opportunity that I missed out on was having an internship. Football prevented me from doing that at the same scale as my classmates, and sometimes I wonder if that was a detriment, but I’ll never know. The University did a really nice job of preparing me for life after sports in my opinion.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
MH: Create meaningful relationships and work to maintain them. I’ve been blessed to meet many great folks along my path through Wake Forest and while it might have seemed insignificant at the time, making the effort to spend time with folks and treat them with respect has certainly helped me.
It starts there, but keeping in touch and returning the favor where applicable is something that is invaluable in business and in life.