When he was looking for another job, he touched base with some of those developers he worked with at Matrox. "I emailed around to my industry contacts," he says. "Chris Hecker passed that email on to his girlfriend, Jennifer Pahlka (now they're married), saying, 'Hey, Jason knows the industry, maybe he'd be a good fit for the IGDA.' As it turns out, the IGDA was looking to hire a program director. I spoke to Jennifer and was intrigued by the opportunity and challenge of getting involved in this IGDA thing. The diversity of the work was very appealing as was the idea of having purely altruistic intentions. The gig was in [San Francisco], where the IGDA was based, but I convinced them to let me work remotely from Montreal."
Tuning the Choir
Since its inception in 1994, the IGDA has grown from an initial membership of approximately 350 to over 12,000. So what is it that Della Rocca does in the service of this now gigantic membership?
"The textbook definition for an Executive Director is that I execute on the policy set by the board. The board governs and directs the [organization]; I make sure things actually get done. Though, the line is blurry as I'm on the board as well (i.e., I govern too), and board members also get involved in volunteering on other aspects of the org (i.e., they 'do' stuff too). That said, working with the board is an ongoing challenge. It is a group of super smart and talented and passionate people. And, I don't have 'executive' power like, say, a CEO/president has at a normal corporation. Instead, I have 'legislative' power, and have to work hard to influence the decisions of board members.
"My job is also about building institutional memory. In the early years, each new board member would want to re-craft the purpose/mission of the org based on their personal priorities/perceptions. Though, we quickly moved away from that and have done our best to hold to a single vision. The challenge was that we never articulated," Della Rocca says.
Its initial vision of a unified defense against regulation and censorship still lives on in the IGDA's anti-censorship committee, but its interests and initiatives have greatly diversified. The organization manages the Game Developers Choice Awards, and its volunteer-run Special Interest Groups span an even wider variety of topics.
To Infinity ...
As with any professional organization, there is always work to do, and Della Rocca believes the IGDA's mandate is clearer now than ever. "Now we need to line up that [vision] and get it all written down. This will help guide my work and the directions the board sets. And it will allow developers at large to better understand what the core purpose of the IGDA actually is [and] what our core values are.
"To this day, I'm amazed [by] how fast we've grown. ... And I'm amazed at the extent by which developers have gambled on the IGDA - as much as we do, there really is still so much more we could/should be doing.
"The faith that developers have in the IGDA (or more precisely in themselves using the IGDA as a tool) to improve the industry and themselves is truly phenomenal. Hopefully we won't squander that faith, and we'll continue to grow and mature and evolve as needed. But, given the nature of our work and the game industry's rate of change, I simply cannot see the day when we get to kick up our feet and say, 'OK, now we're done.'"