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Getting into the industry...

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Hi, I was hoping to get a little feedback from anyone, particularly in the biz, on how I should approch getting into game programming. Yep, I've read a bunch of articles addressing just this question and I have tried to pull it all together such that it relates to me. Now I'm hoping to get something a little more personal ;) I've done a bunch of things at university but none of it was explicitly computer science. For the record: a bachelor of engineering, master of science (zoology), doctorate in mathematics. Throughout my studies I has always been programming to solve problems. Two projects that I worked on might be useful in breaking into the industry. The first was a project on how fish detect and locate prey using artifical neural networks. The other was code to simulate wave-generated interactions between ice-floes (flat chunks of ice) in antarctica. The number of floes involved in these simulations was 2,000 - 10,000 and require a fair bit on optimization for it to run fast enough on my little pentium II ;) I guess there are other projects like that that I feel I should be able to use to help get an interview, but I'm not really sure how to get that info out there; I mean is it the sort of thing that you put in a cover letter or should it go into a resume/cv? I can program in fortran, c/c++, and now a bit of java. The problem is that I have no documentation of these skills, they are things that i have taught myself along the way. So i'm trying to figure out how to sell myself. I'd really appreicate any advice on things I should consider or try to do in order to make myself more marketable. I know that one thing I have to do it get a portfolio of work together and that's what I'm doing at the moment, but I wondered if anyone would mind sharing a little of their insight or experience with me :) -Josh

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Frankly, with three degrees (including a doctorate in mathematics, wow!) I'd have thought you'd at least get an interview at most game developers. Your skill in programming and algorithm design should win you through a decently run job interview. Definitely put all your experience in the CV.

For the record, I was hired as a game programmer once (before I moved back into getting post graduate degrees myself [smile]), and I didn't have as nearly as impressive a portfolio as yourself. However I did have a degree in software engineering, which might be a bit more applicable.

What type of engineering did you do?

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Of what it sounds, you have a very strong theoretical background. The game industry is very pragmatic on the other hand. Non the less there are a lot of hard problems to solve. Of the little I’ve seen there is a layer of programmers that do the higher level game play and a layer that solves lower level and often more complex and theoretical problems. Both need to know how to program C++ just as trivially as reading and writing.

Some of the lower level problems are: physics, collision, AI navigation, AI behavior and graphics. Lets assume that you can pass a programming test, it not a trivial thing but it a must. I’d work on a paper that looks into a modern problem in games and find a solution for it. Then have a demo that shows that solution. There are a ton of people that can code, those who can actually think are few and far between.

I’ve got an example that sounds as if it fits your projects. Have you seen the GCDTV presentation about AOE3? They wanted to do a water simulation but had a problem when the player clicked on the mini-map and then clicked back to the same location. If you solve that, I'm sure the guys at Ensemble will get back to you ;)

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Write to companies. Tell them what you are good at, not what you don't know. Phone them a little while after you have sent them your details and if they aren't interested, ask them why. Sound enthusiastic and listen to what they say. Follow any advice they give you and contact them again when you think you've covered what they have told you.

I think you need to concentrate on pushing your maths and physics skills. Sell yourself as a physics programmer. Write some simple games, especially if they can demonstrate your physics skills. Maybe join an amateur team working on a public domain game. Can you take a part-time programming course that would at least give you a certificate at the end to show you have done something.

Contact a recruitment agancy that specialises in games and listen to what they say. They will want you to get a job as they will make money out of it.

Mostly, be enthusiastic. Tell people how much you want to be in the industry. You may get a lot of rejections but ignore them and try to learn from what they say, it's not an easy job to get in to. Don't give up.

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I've not worked in the industry, but I was offered a job in it, so my advice is at least not worthless. ;) The key is - make your portfolio relevant to games. Can your two examples run in real-time and be practical in a game? If so, make sure you can demonstrate that. They're going to ask what you can do for them, so you should have something relevant to show, which hopefully applies to their product line and the type of position you want. Look into different types of game programmer (eg. rendering, tools, AI, networking) and consider either specialising heavily to make yourself the best person for that position, or showing your versatility across all areas so that you will be useful to any company.

As for cv/resumé/cover letter etc, the same rules apply here as anywhere else really - the CV/resumé has to succinctly say what you've done and what you're good at, and the cover letter ties in those skills directly to what they need from an applicant. You then back that up with a cd of demos or at least a web link to where they can be downloaded.

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Thanks a lot for the feedback! I appreciate it.

Trapper Zoid: I did something called "engineering science", which is not very descriptive. Previously it was called "theoretical and applied mechanics", however, which is :) The degree focuses on continuum mechanics (solid and fluid mechanics) and operations research (optimization).

OrenGL: Thanks for passing on that problem to me. Unfortunately I haven't seen the presentation so I'm not entirely sure what you mean, but solving a problem like that would certainly be good to present to a potential employer!

Anonymous Poster: Thank you for the encouragement and sound advice. I have managed to get involved in a public project. It is in the design phase at the moment and I'm not sure how long it'll be until we can get a basic demo together... I'm guessing that it won't be any sooner than 6 months. And I think you're right that I should play to my strengths.

Kylotan: That's good advice and something I could easily have overlooked! Those projects are not directly relevant to games and although they may be suggestive I don't think it's a good idea to rely on an interviewer having to "connect the dots".


Thank you all for taking the time to share your advice with me. I really appreciate it.


-Josh


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I wouldn't worry too much about your resume. I've probably a much less impressive resume and have had a few gamedev nibbles. Just list C++ [and other appropiate skills] in a non-specific 'skills matrix' or similar section on the resume.

Most game companies will require code examples up front, or shortly after a phone review. That is probably the best place to present the Fish and Ice Simulations. Most people industry are fairly intelligent, and will see the applicability between those and more entertaining uses.

Though realistically, the best way to get any job is to know people. 'Hey, this is my buddy. You should pay attention to their application.' goes a long, long way.

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