"Think about the industry you want to be in, care about it, research it, understand it. Be passionate about what you want to do. Don’t be afraid."
Gibran Zaman ’17 has always wanted to work in the gaming industry. “I’ve been gaming my whole life, since I was a little kid,” he says. Now, as a program strategist within the dynamic omni-channel messaging (DOM) team at Electronic Arts (EA) in Redwood City, California, he gets to be a part of one of the biggest and most ambitious video game companies in the world.
Zaman has been certain of his career goals for a long time, but he didn’t know exactly how he’d get to where he wanted to be. After high school, he started at Sacramento State (California State University, Sacramento), in his hometown, then transferred to American River College, a community college also located in Sacramento. Zaman ran track at American River, and one of his friends on the team was offered a scholarship to come to Saint Martin’s. Zaman’s friend told the Saint Martin’s track team about him, and soon afterwards he received a partial scholarship to come to the University to continue his track career.
When he arrived here, he found a learning environment that differed from the ones he was used to. “I knew what it was like to go to a school with 40,000 students—even my community college had 40,000 students. My high school had 3,000 students,” he says. “[Saint Martin’s] slowed things down and let me focus. On a personal level, it was a chance for me to realize what it’s like to not be at home, and it was a good environment for me to mature. I think it forced me to consider the next part of my life.”
At Saint Martin’s, Zaman majored in business administration with a concentration in finance. He was a track and field student-athlete and he worked at Best Buy, too, a responsibility he balanced with school work, athletics and other activities. Zaman says these experiences prepared him for his career. “I learned life lessons, and the flexibility at Saint Martin’s and the one-on-one teaching allowed me to explore outside the classroom.”
He also credits Lisa Power, Ph.D., MBA, assistant professor of business, and Wendy Fraser, Ph.D., adjunct professor of business, for giving him good insight and helping him jumpstart his career. “Dr. Power was someone I could connect with. I think she saw I was interested in my career, I knew what I wanted to do, I knew the tech industry,” he says. “And Wendy Fraser was an amazing teacher—she taught outside the box. She did exercises that didn’t just involve sitting in the classroom.”
During his senior year, Zaman attended the Seattle Interactive conference—which showcases business innovations, creative marketing solutions and new technology—along with Power and members of the Business Club. There, he attended a presentation by Centric Consulting and Microsoft about marketing automation. He was intrigued by the presentation and later sought out representatives from Centric Consulting to learn more about the company. That summer, after graduating, Zaman began working at Centric in a temporary role as a marketing automation engineer. After a year, he was promoted to a full-time position as a project manager and supervised four marketing automation engineers.
During this time, Zaman kept an eye on job listings in the game industry. He saw a marketing position at EA, though the job description asked for 5-10 years of experience and Zaman had a little under two years. He decided to apply anyway. EA interviewed him for the job, and Zaman impressed the hiring team with his passion. “The thing that set me apart was that I understood the gaming industry,” he says. “I think I got hired at EA because I was passionate not only about video games but about the industry as a whole.”
The DOM team at EA is a marketing team, but it doesn’t operate within marketing—it’s part of the Global Analytics and Insights organization within EA. Zaman explained that DOM offers services that EA’s constituent game studios, like BioWare or Criterion Games, can request to use. “Our service is dynamic messaging,” he says. “It can operate within the game, as well as with other channels like email, or we can deploy notifications in a game’s companion app too. Within DOM, there are different sub-teams, and my sub-team is programming strategy, so we come up with use cases and the objectives for DOM.”
Zaman provided an example of the kind of work DOM does within EA. EA Sports, which is based in Orlando, develops the Madden NFL game franchise, and for Madden 20, the studio wanted to integrate dynamic messaging into the game. Once the EA Sports team had built the architecture necessary to include dynamic messaging in the game and supplied their business objectives (e.g. increasing player engagement with certain game modes), DOM and Zaman went to work. “As a program strategist, I need to figure out how DOM is going to maximize their [EA Sports’] business objective,” he says. “So I list out where our messages will go, how we’re going to conduct AB tests, and this is alongside my partners in data science and data analysis, who have a model that will display content based on artificial intelligence. Once I’ve created a blueprint, that goes to the content team, and they build the content accordingly.”
Zaman explained that the DOM team's overall goals are centered on personalization. "DOM serves as a collection of people and processes that unify ecosystem (our games, apps, etc.) data, new tools/technologies, and game content, to enable cross-network personalization of a player's experience," he said. "While that is the official terminology, in more broad terms, we are the central means of messaging a player throughout various media (email, in-game, companion app, and more), while doing it in a personalized manner. In delivering personalization at-scale, we work to drive various business objectives, be it keeping you engaged with the EA game you are currently playing, or perhaps moving you forward in your "player journey" on to the next exciting EA game."
The DOM team’s work is intense, but it’s also rewarding. “[Team members] mentioned in passing that our names would show up in the credits, they said, ‘Oh, don't forget to write your name so it can show up in the credits for Madden.’ They don’t even think twice about it, but I thought it was so cool.”
When asked about his future in the gaming industry, Zaman gives a straightforward answer: “I’ll never leave,” he says. “My end goal has always been becoming a studio head or director of publishing. I like to keep rigorous goals.”
Zaman has a great career and works at one of the preeminent technology companies in the country, but he emphasizes that his position is the result of good fortune and timing. “I had a little bit of luck and maximized the opportunity,” he says. This outlook also informs the advice he has for current and prospective Saint Martin’s students. “Don’t do something because you think it’s going to make you a lot of money. Think about the industry you want to be in, care about it, research it, understand it. Be passionate about what you want to do. Tell people about what you want to do. Research what you want to do. Don’t be afraid.”