Folks I Admire: Sean Nittner & Jessica Price
It’s been twelve months since I last did a Folks I Admire post, so let’s fix that. This month, I plan on doing a Folks I Admire post every Friday.
The two people I’m going to talk about today are two project managers in the RPG world: Sean Nittner and Jessica Price.
Man, Sean Nittner. Dude does everything, dips his toes in many different arenas. When I met him, he was one of the guys who ran the SF Bay Area GM troupe known as Good Omens (which, at one point, I was in). He ran one of the four yearly EndGame Oakland mini-cons, the July “Good Omens con.” And that’s the start of this story.
See, Sean’s dealt with logistics and planning around gamers for a long time. A few years ago, he decided to take that to the next level by planning his own regional hotel con, Big Bad Con — a fantastic Oakland-based convention that offers a nice alternative to the older and somewhat calcified conventions in the area. Sean saw something he didn’t like (that these older conventions didn’t have room for new blood and new games), and he threw his energy into making something new. However, unlike others who do the same thing, Sean is a planner. Sean calculates, plots, charts, and other verbs that can mean “plan.”
There’s a lot I admire and respect about Sean, but foremost is that very combination of zeal and calculation. Dude gets passionate about something, but doesn’t blindly throw himself into it. And that makes him able to be successful where others who have the same passion and throw themselves at the same problems fail.
Today, Sean’s the Project Manager over at Evil Hat Productions, and he’s doing a great, bang up job there, just as he does with so many things in life. I’m happy that he’s doing that, and happy that Evil Hat is thriving with him.
Happy enough that, in fact, I can share with you a story: see, I’m sort of Evil Hat’s first attempt at a project manager. Sort of. I got brought into Dresden at a moment of crisis. I handled the crisis by telling everyone what to do, and Dresden got done. But it turns out that when we’re planning for stuff that isn’t a “get it done yesterday” crisis, I have no real skill for that — especially when I’m also one of the creatives involved in making a project happen. So watching Sean succeed at the job I failed at has been humbling, but more importantly it’s been an education. I watch what he’s doing studiously.
But Sean isn’t the project manager I deal with every day. That “honor” goes to Paizo’s Project Manager, Jessica Price. You might have seen her Tumblr post on convention harassment and how to help, since friend-to-woodland-creatures Wil Wheaton reblogged it.
Part of why I have respect for Jessica’s job is because, as I mentioned with Sean, I’ve tried it and I know that I’m not good at it. I know how important it is, though, because I see a whiteboard every day that foretells the future. It tells us when a project’s going to be late, when we’re in a weird point where one part of the chain either is getting hit with everything (like everyone sending the art team files at once) or a weird slowdown (like the editors waiting on other people because there are weird hold-ups). And as much as this seems like some sort of oracular mystery, in truth, Jessica is able to predict the future simply by being able to see all the pieces — pieces the rest of us individually don’t see in the same way, because we live in our separate worlds.
But as many sci-fi stories tell us, being able to predict or see the future doesn’t mean shit if you can’t do something about it. And that’s where Jessica shines: she foresees problems and works to fix them before they become critical. And when they’re about to become critical, she gets folks involved to make bargains as to which project they’re willing to let slip or what limited resources can be tapped to make something happen. Sometimes, these bargains feel like dark blood-pacts — it’s not secret that we sometimes have to take work home in order to catch up because of some weird hiccup in the schedule, but for all I’ve been told, it was much worse, and routine, in past years.
In my time working as a government IT guy, we rarely had project managers, and when we did they had no power, so I know what work looks like without one. So to state as I have above that Jessica has some sort of mystical demonic-bargaining powers is, sure, a bit much (since I’m sure demon-binding is how she unwinds after a day of work), but it’s as close as I can come to conveying my respect for what she does.
And that’s nothing to say of her work in dealing with sexism and other bigotry in the gaming community. She’s a strong advocate, and she’s pretty awesome at it. She’s a feminist tank. Check out her tumblr for more.
 I am also not ashamed to admit I have a mancrush on him. He’s goddamn pretty.[1a]
[1a] Wait, is that creepy?[1b]
[1b] Probably. I’ll let Sean be the judge.