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MSc Computer Sciences conversion course and career query


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#1 achkas   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 11:31 AM

I'm writing to ask for advice about breaking into the industry with my current qualifications, and whether my plans for future qualifications/projects sound good. I have completed an undergraduate degree and Master's degree in English literature at the University of Cambridge and have gone on to do a PhD in literature at King's College London, and am in my second year (of three years, as most PhD courses in the UK are concentrated into three or four years).

 

Despite my strong arts-focus so far, my PhD involves a large games component, analysing the mechanisms through which we identify with and reconstruct characters as both readers of novels and players of games, particularly the ethics of making choices in games that allow ethical choices. I will be speaking on this at several conferences, will potentially be running a summer course on this for undergraduate students next summer, and will hopefully publish some of this by the end of my PhD.

 

In the process of this work, I could not help but think of games design and writing ideas (I am aware they are distinct roles, but have written out both design summaries and small script samples in my spare time) and am beginning to turn these into full games, which I am greatly enjoying. 

 

It has also occurred to me that job prospects are fairly awful in academia (the path that my PhD is leading me towards, a position at a university teaching/researching literature and potentially games studies classes) and so trying to explore whether games development could be a career. I am aware that this field is -also- fairly difficult to break into, but if I am qualified and developing my own titles at the same time that I am looking for jobs in academia, I have two options available to me. This work will also boost my chances of a career in academia, and my academic work might also boost my chances of getting a games position. 

 

Even if nothing comes of it, I am very interested in learning more about programming in a formal environment and working on my own titles, even if it remains at an amateur level -- I just want to do it in such a way that minimizes time if I later did do it at a professional level.

 

I am intending to apply for this evenings-based Master's Course at Birkbeck, University of London, designed for graduates of non-computing degrees: http://www.dcs.bbk.ac.uk/courses/msccs/ 

 

I would start this course the month after I complete my PhD and become a doctor, and it would last 1-2 years. In advance of this, I would improve my mathematics skills and learn Java (this was recommended to me by the head of this course, with whom I have been in contact)

 

A modules list is available here to show the course content: http://www.dcs.bbk.ac.uk/courses/msccs/outline.php and I've pasted the list of modules below:

 

- Computer Systems

- Data and Knowledge Management

- Fundamentals of Computing

- Information Retrieval and Organisation OR - Internet and Web Technologies (you choose one of them)

- Information Systems

- Object-Orientated Design and Programming

- Programming in Java

- Personal Project

 

It's heavily Java based throughout the year, with the following aspects of Java taught in that course -- I believe it's used as a sample language to teach computing concepts/programming:

 

 

Syllabus
• Basics: variables, types, initialization, comments
• Flow control: branches, loops
• Source code version control
• Simple and complex data types: primitive types, strings, (multi-dimensional) arrays
• Introduction to classes and objects: initialization, methods, and constructors
• Data structures: lists, stacks, trees, maps (and iterators)
• Software testing and testing-driven development
• Introduction to generics and annotations in Java
• More on object orientation: inheritance, polymorphism, overloading
• Recursion
• Exception Handling
• I/O in Java
• Network programming
• Concurrent programming
 
For the big project at the end of the year, "This includes planning and executing a major piece of programming work appropriate to the MSc programme and presenting existing approaches in the problem area (placing the student’s own approach in the wider context)."
 
I was wondering whether this course would be a good thing for my CV for games development; I am aware that games designers often gain entry to companies through non-design positions and are often expected to have additional skills, so programming and literary writing would be my way of providing extra value. Is it worthwhile to take this course? Considering what I have said and my prior history, what would people advise I should be doing over the next year or two? I live extremely close to a number of games development companies (the south of the UK in Guildford) with good commutes available to other locations. I am 24 and these are my current qualifications:
 

2011 -                          PhD in English Literature at King’s College London
                                  

2010 - 2011                 M.Phil in American Literature at University of Cambridge

 

2007-2010                                      BA(Hons) in English at University of Cambridge

(Part I: 1st Class; Part II: 2-1)

 
Is my plan a sound one, and how can I improve it? How do I become the right kind of candidate for a games design role?


Sponsor:

#2 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 9690

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 03:10 PM

I am 24 and these are my current qualifications:
2011 - PhD in English Literature at King’s College London
2010 - 2011 M.Phil in American Literature at University of Cambridge
2007-2010 BA(Hons) in English at University of Cambridge
(Part I: 1st Class; Part II: 2-1)
Is my plan a sound one, and how can I improve it? How do I become the right kind of candidate for a games design role?

You need to stop getting degrees and start making games.
Build a portfolio.
But even with the best portfolio, I imagine most hirers will see you as over-educated, which implies a poor employment risk outside of academia.

I envy your degrees, since I'm teaching at university now.


-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.

#3 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 20501

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 07:23 PM

The educational world is an interesting place.

Students and faculty frequently (but not always) act as though education is king. Completing coursework is key, gaining knowledge is the goal, and getting a degree certification is the apex.

In the business environment, the recent graduate with a 4-year degree is treated as a beginner. They have just barely enough education to be trusted. With a 6-year master's degree that person usually has the analogue of a year or so of experience if their research topics were industry related. Frequently a masters degree is a good thing, it means the person has studied some topics in depth but still has a generalist world view. Sadly a PhD usually means they have picked up a myopic view of a specific topic.

To my knowledge, I only had one coworker developer who had a PhD. He was very vocal about how he once researched a single advanced topic and published a paper on it. He was fired about four months later for poor performance, and looking over his source control submissions I could see he had done practically no work.

When I was in graduate school for my master's degree, at the time I felt like I had completed an epic work. My advisors and peers encouraged this viewpoint. Now that I have much more experience, I routinely do more actual work in a month than I did in my entire six-month master's project.



You have your degrees. You may have picked up too many academic habits at the jeopardy of real world work habits. It is time to move on. If you want to make games, start doing it.
Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#4 achkas   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 22 May 2013 - 11:28 PM

In this case, with my current heavily arts-dominated background, what kinds of roles could I realistically expect to apply for in games development companies? Would the ability to program well not assist me in getting a job, or in developing my own titles? And wouldn't a formalised computer science course, regardless of the qualification gained, assist me to learn some relevant principles much faster and more rigorously than I would by myself, and in a way where employers can see proof of this? And if I -did- decide such a course was a fast way of doing this, does this Birkbeck course sound good?

 

I also think the topics of my studies have hardly been irrelevant -- I've just been spending two years thinking in-depth about the methods games can use to compel/invite close emotional bonds with characters. Even if this is a highly specific topic, it's one presumably highly relevant to this field, as opposed to many other potential PhD topics I could have worked on.



#5 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 20501

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 12:55 AM

The only reliable long-term job openings for people who want to break in are the roles of programmer, animator, modeler, or artist.

Games need writers. Openings are very rare, perhaps an individual studio may hire one every few years. It isn't a job opening I would gamble a career on.

There are many jobs like that. Game studios need writers and designers and producers and composers and audio engineers and lawyers and accountants and IT and janitors. They just need so few of them that it is an unreliable career path.
Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#6 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 20501

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 01:12 AM

Also...

You chose to get a master's in American Literature and a PhD in English Literature. Not the language, but literature.

Why? What career path were you planning on following?

There are jobs for people with literature degrees. Maybe in journalistic editing or teaching there could be ways to make it work out. But applying a literature PhD to games development? Not so much.
Check out my personal indie blog at bryanwagstaff.com.

#7 Buster2000   Members   -  Reputation: 1639

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 02:00 AM

You have a Masters degree in English Lit from Cambridge so why not follow the same career path as everybody else who does english at cambridge:

 

Stand up comedy or Politics.

 

 

On a serious note if you want to get into the games industry then make some games.  Not sure why you think job prospects are any better than in academia though because they are not.

 

 

If you were asking about the Birkbeck degree then yes Birkbeck is a very good university that provides a way for people working in london to study part time so that they can change career path.   Will it get you a job as a games designer ?   Yes / No / Maybe.



#8 Tom Sloper   Moderators   -  Reputation: 9690

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Posted 23 May 2013 - 08:49 AM

1. with my current heavily arts-dominated background, what kinds of roles could I realistically expect to apply for in games development companies?
2. Would the ability to program well not assist me in getting a job,
3. or in developing my own titles?
4. And wouldn't a formalised computer science course, regardless of the qualification gained, assist me to learn some relevant principles much faster and more rigorously than I would by myself,
5. and in a way where employers can see proof of this?
6. I also think the topics of my studies have hardly been irrelevant --
7. I've just been spending two years thinking in-depth

1. Without a portfolio, a body of actual games, "none."
2. No. Ability needs to be demonstrated. You need a portfolio.
3. Of course it would.
4. Perhaps. Take courses, not more full degree programs. 
5. Employers need to see a portfolio. Not more Ph.D. and M.F.A. degrees.
6. Not irrelevant to game design. But irrelevant to game programming.
7. Thinking is not as good as doing.


-- Tom Sloper
Sloperama Productions
Making games fun and getting them done.
www.sloperama.com

Please do not PM me. My email address is easy to find, but note that I do not give private advice.




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