Crystal Silva - Geek Girl Rising
Crystal Silva

Crystal Silva

Art Director

Big Fish Games

“Find a workplace that appreciates a reasonable work-life balance. Should I leave my company for another, I would require the same balance. I wouldn’t find any increase in pay worth the loss of my free time.”

Years in the Industry? 7

Who or what inspired your career in tech? 
My mother pushed me to be in the sciences my entire youth– science summer camps, college community courses during my junior high years, and lots of science fiction to read and watch. She pursued a Master’s degree after 2 marriages and 2 children. She came from a family where you were lucky if you made it through high school and more often then not fell into the lower income bracket doing manual labor or working in the food service industry. She wanted her daughters to do what she felt cheated of– receive a quality education and pursue a prestigious science degree.  Her influence resulted in me going to UC Berkeley for a BA in Molecular & Cell Biology, but I left the hard sciences for medical school after realizing that I wasn’t suited for research. I was exposed to a games studio when I took a summer job as a game tester while I was in medical school at USC. It showed me a career that was art-oriented (a large aspect of my skill set that I was unable to utilize in medical school) but involved an area (games) that was a passion of mine but never seemed like a career option. I had never been exposed to computer science and its applications because my education was so focused on the biological sciences. So my mother laid the foundation and provided the framework that eventually led to me finding true happiness in the games industry, although it wasn’t what she’d envisioned for me.

What’s been your best hack ever?
Finding a work place that appreciates a reasonable work-life balance. Should I leave my company for another, I would require the same balance. I wouldn’t find any increase in pay worth the loss of my free time. My current job is basically 40 hours per week. I’m so happy to have dodged the bullet of becoming a doctor since I still make a great salary but without working insane hours.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how have you handled it?
My greatest career challenge has been taking a leap with the startup Self Aware Games at a time when the economy had put a lot of game studios out of business. I agreed to work that I wasn’t trained in (pixel 2D art and User Interface) for a company that was just starting in the new area of smart phone gaming. I had school debt and my dreams working for a AAA console game studio were still alive and kicking. I went with the uncomfortable and scary choice, which in the end was the best decision of my career.

What is your biggest career success to date?
My choice to go with Self Aware Games six years ago has led me to the position of Director of Art and influence in a studio that I could never have imagined. I set a goal for myself 5 years ago to become an Art Director and to be established enough to step away for awhile to have a child. That’s exactly where I find myself now. My husband and I are expecting our first child, and I am confident in my career and place in the company to know that even if I leave for part of the year,  I can come back and still be a major force at the company.

Who are your role models?
I admire many people in the creative field, especially people who achieve greatness when they start out with nothing.

If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
Look into computer science. If I hadn’t seen my career options through the narrow lens of the biological sciences, who knows where I could have ended up? We need more female engineers and I know I could have been a great one.

What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
Most of my free time is spent working out (I’m big into combat training), practicing classical guitar and reading comics. I’m pretty social and am always motivating my friends to join me for film festivals, comedy shows and other group outings.

Flats, heels or kicks? 
Sneakers. You should always wear shoes that you can run or climb a fence in.  When I do wear dress shoes, they are usually dressy boots that I know I could still kick ass in if I need to.

Best career advice book?
I was always more of a fiction reader.

Who are the women in tech that you most admire and why?
Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos. She went her own way,  was sure of herself, and is now a leading figure in new biotech.