I got an E-mail this morning from a former co-worker at Access Software and Microsoft Game Studios who is now working for Terminal Reality here in the Dallas area. Turns out some of the people there read my blog and were wondering if he knew me, but he wasn't immediately able to associate "Michael Russell" with me. I don't blame him, but I should explain. I've already told this story a couple of times here, but it bears repeating.
Back at Microsoft Game Studios in Salt Lake City, we had Michael's and Russell's coming out of every orifice. First names, last names, they all ended up getting muddled, so my name got confused on a regular basis.
One day, I was called up to Dave Curtin's office and he started ripping into me for some items and I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. I told him so and he started going into some more detail and I realized that he wasn't talking about me, he was talking about Michael Burge. He seemed shocked that he was ripping into the wrong Michael, but he then transitioned over to some other negative items that he had heard about. Again, I didn't understand what he was talking about, but after listening for a few more minutes, I realized that he was talking about Russell Jenkins. Another rant followed, but then it became clear he was talking about Russell Hunter.
At that point, I figured I better come up with some way to differentiate myself in his eyes. Now back then, every day at lunchtime was either "Age of Empires II" or "Rainbow Six," and my character name was always "Rom." Likewise, everyone else who participated on a regular basis went by their alias: Ron was Drogo, Russ was Jinx, Sandeep was El Toro, Chris was Wedgemaster, Seth was Madhatterguy, Kevin H. was Remoh, Kevin C. was Banzai, Mike B. couldn't settle on just one and so on. Our aliases were interchangable with our names during regular conversations around the office.
I told Dave that since he was confusing me with other people, and since everyone in my department already called me Rom, he should just call me Rom. A lightbulb went off in his head as I think he had heard other people talking about Rom and just not put two and two together.
The practical upshot of this was that I was instantly memorable and was no longer being confused with other people. The downside, though, is that people have to mentally shift gears to remember me by my real name. I've had people who do reference checks tell me that they would ask about me by name and the person on the other end would go, "Michael....OH! You mean Rom...yeah, he..."
So over the last few years, I've made a conscious effort to keep my real name at the forefront and use my alias only as a backup and it did make a difference. In a little under two years after returning to the industry, I'm now recognized by name when I talk with other game developers which is almost unheard of for someone in QA.
Eventually, RomSteady may be as well-known as a moniker as CliffyB, but for now, I'm happy having my name be known. It may take some time to remerge my past with my name, but I'm building a history I can be proud of.