DSS Alumni Stories – Meet Nata Agafonova

We present the alumni Natalia, a producer in the video game industry. Discover her career and professional journey!

Where are you now?
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Where do you work?
I work at Bohemia Interactive, a studio most known for such games as Arma 3 and DayZ.

Tell us about your career path.
I studied graphic design in Moscow and, after graduating, worked in a large design bureau. Working in a big studio with little personal agency didn’t feel right for me, so I focused on my design passion instead: book design. The move to the Netherlands, the country of Irma Boom and Experimental Jetset, followed soon after. I made a living as a freelancer called “Talking Paper”. 

As a young freelancer with next to no connections in the country, I was looking for opportunities to join the Dutch printing industry. Luckily, I found an “Augmented Printing“ project at DSS in Fall 2019. Researching for the topic felt bittersweet, because it showed me the state of the printing industry and how almost impossible it would be for me to get in. At the same time, together with fellow trainees, we made my all-time dream come true. We wrote, designed, and printed a book about the semester’s research results from scratch. Read more about the book and download it for free here

My project at DSS finished in January 2020, so you can only imagine how hard my job hunting was with the pandemic hitting the world in the following months. I will forever be grateful for the support of my fellow DSS alumni who stuck together throughout those jobless months. In June 2020, I applied for a new position in my career: video game producer. Surprisingly, all the skills in the job opening were the competencies I had learned as an aspiring digital transformation designer. 

Thanks to my time at DSS, I knew product ownership, agile development, SCRUM, project management techniques, and team development methodologies. But what helped me the most, was the innovator attitude and proactive mindset.

Currently, my role focuses on creative problem solving, strategy, and team management. It is a very young industry, where everything is rapidly evolving, so we continually adapt. We work on multi-year projects (2-5 years), therefore, figuring out how to effectively plan for the long term and adjust for ever-changing conditions is key. What I love about my profession is working with a team. It is a great honor and fortune to work alongside incredible professionals. My passion is to support them in creating games and technologies that nobody has done before.

What are your sources of inspiration?
Books — New knowledge drives me. Lately, I highly recommend the School of Life books as an amazing source for personal growth.

People — I enjoy human connection very much. I strive to look beyond the surface, get to know others, find what motivates them and support them on the journey. 

Exploration of everything — ranging from mixology to adventures in new places big or small. 

Art & design — these disciplines of self-expression speak to me, I can connect with the visual language easily and enjoy speculating about the anthropological part of it. 

And if nothing from the above worked, go for a kiss. The kissing never fails to be inspiring.

How would you describe your time at DSS?
DSS gave me the freedom I was looking for. I wasn’t given any particular rules or predefined structure, so I could enjoy discovering my professional self in openness. From the first day, I had the liberty to be authentic in a professional context. This experiment together with the sprint-like attitude of speedballing crazy ideas and trying them out hours later opened my eyes to a new career path I would never have thought of, but I am very happy to pursue now.

In my current role, I get to design human processes and experiences, everything I wanted to try at work combined in one job. DSS provided the space to learn, and a room for people who were more educated than me in various areas to exchange knowledge. Like in most modern higher education and work environments, your attitude should be very proactive, you’ll get as much as you invest. 

DSS was also the place where I battled my fear of public speaking about professional matters. Giving presentations to partners, facilitating co-creation sessions, and holding spaces for honest and gentle feedback sessions was an invaluable albeit scary practice. I would encourage any introvert like me to let themselves be transformed by feeling the fear and doing it anyway. 

Last but not least, I learned the attitude of dealing with seemingly impossibly complex issues. At DSS we worked with SDGs. These goals are formulated most globally and daringly, for instance ‘end world hunger by 2030’. I used to be easily overwhelmed and depressed by the ecological crisis and other world-sized problems. But here, I learned the mindset of ‘Local to Global’. Now I know that big change is created one step at a time, and I keep moving no matter what problem life challenges me with. And if you are interested, my heart is the most compassionate with SDG No 4: Quality Education.

Is there something in particular that impacted you?
The people around me. I was super lucky with both my coaches and fellow trainees. Mick, Zlatina and Jeroen were a blessing, I had more than one conversation with them that I would consider life-changing. They put so much attention and care to help me find answers to the questions that I was struggling with for a long time. The trainees around me supported me and helped me reveal my professional personality. I discovered I enjoy leading people through mentorship, coaching, supporting and guiding. At the same time, I refuse a life where I cannot lift spirits and be a bit of a jester.

What does digital transformation mean to you?
With power comes responsibility. If you have the power to transform, you must consider the consequences that come with it. Like any great tool, it can be used for good or evil. Once you understand this power, you’ll act more cautiously.

The digitalisation of the world is a source of hope and worry for me. Humans are made of chaos, we need structure. Digitalisation should help us overcome the challenges humanity is facing, but not turn society into a perfect machine, some chaos lets people remain human.

Any advice to share?
I recently learned the power of creating a community of people that inspire me and make sure they are not too like-minded. For the past 2 years of the pandemic, we’ve been too isolated. Whereas I believe, we as humans are defined by the people we are surrounded with. So my advice to past and future self would be: don’t forget to be caring, pay attention, call your friends and mama. But don’t lose yourself in others either, look for the balance and take care of yourself, don’t cross your boundaries (As they say in the airplanes, put your oxygen mask first, then tend to your child).

And most importantly, don’t forget to love each other.

What’s next for you?
I have exciting years ahead in my career, my 2nd anniversary in my current role is coming up, and I’m enjoying my present and prospects. I’m also taking steps towards my dream job: Chief Happiness Officer.

Connect with Natalia

See her design work