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VT Guard servicemember Dylan Tanner fuels his passion with game-design boot camp
Dylan Tanner of Newport is a father of two (soon to be three) young children, ages 7, 4, and a new baby due in a couple of weeks. He served his state and his country for seven years in the Vermont National Guard, and this winter, he’s delivering fuel to his neighbors in the Northeast Kingdom. Both of those jobs have taken him away from his wife and children – for 10-hour days during the heating season, and for months at a time during deployments, most recently to Kosovo in 2021.
Now, he’s ready for a career that taps into his digital design passions and allows him to spend more time with his growing family. A unique scholarship from VSAC is helping him skill up for the transition.
“I’m a jack of most trades,” says Dylan. “I’ve done electrical work, plumbing, roofing, carpentry, and woodworking. I’ve worked on cars. I’ve been a fueler in the Army. I’ve built four computers myself. But I love game design, and I love doing 3-D art.”
Dylan, who grew up in Barre and moved to Newport two years ago, first got interested in digital design during a photography class at Spaulding High School. “We did photo manipulation in that class, and that was my introduction to Photoshop,” he recalls. From there, he taught himself additional skills so he could create his own graphics from scratch. Then he taught himself Adobe Illustrator, a more advanced design program, as well as After Effects for animation and Premiere Pro for video editing.
Dylan’s longtime hobby has been “streaming,” or making videos of himself playing video games. He’s made his own transition graphics and edited his own videos. Now, he sees opportunity for himself and his family in turning his passion into a career.
He discovered a class called Upright, a 24-week boot camp in user-experience (UI/UX) design, offered through CCV and the Burlington Code Academy. Dylan saw right away that this program would be a great complement to his prior education and existing skills.
“User experience, or UX, is less about the design and more about the person themselves, the user. You have to form an idea of who they are and what they want, and then use your skills to make the design appeal to them,” Dylan explains.
However, the cost of the class was beyond his reach. When Dylan’s own savings and other educational grants didn’t fully cover his expenses, his contact at Burlington Code Academy suggested he get in touch with a VSAC counselor.
“It turns out there’s another grant out there, that you can’t apply for – a counselor has to recommend you for it. If you’re short, like I was, it helps pay the rest of what you need. So I found Marti Kingsley and talked to her about it,” Dylan says, referring to a longtime VSAC adult education counselor who has spent her career helping Vermonters, mostly in the Northeast Kingdom, continue their education.
“Marti was really helpful, and she got that grant for me. It gave me the rest of the tuition money I needed to get into the class,” Dylan says. “And I got it right before the class started, so I wouldn’t have had any more time to save up for the rest of the tuition.”
Excited and relieved that VSAC came through in the nick of time, Dylan is now on the fast track. “My adviser actually asked me to slow down – he said I’m working too far ahead,” he laughs.
Dylan’s success in the program has indeed been a matter of timing, in more ways than the grant. While he completed three years of game-design school in a different, out-of-state, online program several years ago, he said he often had difficulty completing assignments on time because of his weekend drill commitments. So, unfortunately, he never got his degree.
Now that he’s stepped back from the Guard and can focus on school, he’s well on his way. When he finishes the class in late May, he’ll have a professional certificate from CCV, as well as several pieces for a portfolio.
“The game industry is a very competitive field, and you need a strong portfolio to even get your foot in the door. And if you haven’t yet had a job in the field, it’s hard to have that portfolio to show,” he explains.
Students will complete three portfolio projects during the 6-month class. For their third and final project, they must consult with an actual business and build an application for them. “It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s great training.”
Dylan says that when he graduates this summer, he’ll be qualified to enter the gaming industry as a Junior Designer. “That’s a pretty good title for me right now,” he says. Plus, most of the jobs in the gaming industry are remote, which is a great fit for his young family.
“I want to be home more. With the Army, I had a lot of time away. And with my job right now, making fuel deliveries through the winter, I’m on the road 10 and 12 hours a day,” Dylan says.
“This will help fulfill a dream of mine. And we’ve also been a single-income family for quite a while, and that’s very hard right now in Vermont.”
For additional information on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops and events. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at email@example.com.