Education and Training: College
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Traditionally individuals interested in working for the "media" settled on one medium as a career—print, broadcast, or film. The advent of computer technology and digital communication has given rise to an entirely new class of communications that combines elements of traditional media with "interactivity"—the ability of the reader, viewer, or player to have a hand in guiding how they experience a given communication. "Multimedia" is the catch-all title given to these new digital forms of communication.
Multimedia covers a variety of communications delivered in a number of ways. It includes electronic kiosks in museums and trade shows; CD-ROM games and "edutainment" programs; interactive presentations used in business settings; interactive Web sites on the Internet; and more. These disparate forms of communication have several features in common: they all use print, video, and audio; they allow users to choose how to navigate through the information presented; and they are developed and delivered using computer hardware and software.
Individuals who combine artistic ability with technical proficiency design and create multimedia products. Most multimedia developers work for independent studios hired by clients to develop multimedia products. Multimedia projects are usually realized by teams of individuals with different areas of expertise collaborating to develop a finished product.
On a typical project, a team leader will meet with clients to determine what they hope to accomplish with their interactive multimedia communication—whether it is a Web site for consumers, an electronic "sales kit" for marketers, or a computer game with the latest in realistic special effects and graphics. Team leaders then work with designers who help to lay out the "storyline" of the multimedia presentation using flowcharts; art directors who design the look of the presentation; and programmers who write the computer code to translate the ideas into a workable computer program. Although each member of the team plays a different role on the project, they must each understand and appreciate the work done by the others.
In general, multimedia developers must be very people oriented. To succeed in the field, it is necessary to be able to listen well to clients and coworkers, to communicate ideas and instructions accurately, and to work well as a team member. Technological skill is just as important as people skills. Multimedia developers must stay up-to-date with the rapidly changing field of computer/digital technology, new developments in programming languages, and tools that can make standard operating procedures obsolete virtually overnight. Finally, multimedia developers must be adept at project management, including budgeting and scheduling.
Education and Training Requirements
Many colleges are now offering degree programs in multimedia studies. These programs provide fundamental education in aesthetics and in computer science, both of which are needed to work in the field.
Multimedia developers must understand the computer programs used to create multimedia products. Potential multimedia developers should also study graphic arts and film. Because individuals in this field must be able to communicate clearly in writing, course work in language arts is recommended. Programmers should study advanced mathematics, including analytical geometry.
Getting the Job
People interested in a multimedia career should make every effort to learn the most popular programming tools. Individuals who are experts at such programs are in great demand throughout the multimedia industry. They will often find work regardless of formal training.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Many workers in multimedia start out in low-level jobs as production assistants, where they are given tasks such as photocopying and proofreading. As they demonstrate a range of abilities, the workers are promoted to positions of greater responsibility. One common path into the field is to land a position as an unpaid intern, demonstrate skills and good work habits, get hired as a paid assistant, then rise within the organization.
Multimedia is a rapidly growing industry with high demand for skilled workers. Competition for those jobs will be keen, and individuals in the field must be dedicated to keeping their skills as current as possible.
Multimedia developers work in atypical office environments. Dress is often casual and workers' hours are flexible. Yet, as in just about all project-driven businesses, multimedia developers often must put in long hours to meet deadlines.
Successful multimedia developers will work on any element of a project until it is done to their satisfaction, not just until they have logged a set number of hours. The nature of their work requires them to be self-disciplined and able to balance a variety of tasks over the course of a given day. Individuals with upbeat, optimistic personalities do well in this field. The stress involved in multimedia production can be overwhelming, and workers need to focus their energies on identifying and solving problems.
Where to Go for More Information
Association for Applied Interactive Media
P.O. Box 182
Charleston, SC 29402-0182
Association for Multimedia Communications
P.O. Box 10645
Chicago, IL 60610
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary according to a worker's experience and training. Entry-level positions will be low-paying. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, experienced multimedia developers earn median annual salaries of $50,360 or more. Skilled designers who operate their own businesses can easily surpass that amount.