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Breaking into a Video game Programming career

I had some thoughts on video game programming jobs, but an important question – “if every game studio required 2 years of experience, where would a new graduate get it?”, was not clearly answered. Ilya Grigorik followed up with a link to an interesting article by Matt Gilgenbach, a video game developer. There Matt talks about what he thinks it would take to break into the game development right out of college.

“For quite some time, the game industry was an exclusive club that didn’t allow any new blood because every opening required applicants to have 2+ years of experience and 1 shipped title. I don’t think there has ever been a better time to get into the games industry right out of college than now. Because next gen team sizes are increasing drastically, people with experience are harder to find, so more and more companies are recruiting right from colleges. Regardless, of what college you go to, you can still get a job in the games industry provided you have a certain proficiency in the following areas.”

  • Math
  • Physics
  • Extensive knowledge of C++
  • AI Programming
  • Graphics (3D Geometry and such)
  • Tools Development
  • Operating Systems
  • Compilers

I want to take this a step further and show what it would take to score a real video game development position before you even graduate!

I attend University of Waterloo, and they offer a world-class co-op program, especially for Computer Science. I know that many other Universities (or Colleges for the U.S. readers) are also starting to recognize the benifits of such an education system, and help their students to find real-world, paying interships and positions. Those job positions range everywhere from QA Testing to Enterprise Software development, and yes – there are video game programming openings available to students as well. Here’s an example: The company will remain anonymous for privacy, but I guarantee it is a recognizable name in the industry.

“Our development studio is characterized by producing extremely high quality, unique and innovative games with a small, tight-knit development team. We are looking for a skilled programmer to assist us in the development of a wide variety of games we plan to release in the near future. Applicants will work alongside industry experts in a creative and fun environment.” 2 openings for intermediate level Computer Science students.

A successful candidate will require:

  • Strong programming skills in C/C++ and Java
  • A passion for gaming and a keen understanding of games throughout history
  • Good communication skills

So there you have it – practical experience in the industry and a shipped game title. All before you even graduate. Pretty nifty, though to be honest such job openings are not frequent, so it is not reasonable to expect a game development position every term. A much more likely scenario are two years worth of various programming experience, but that could be related to concepts present in game programming (or points listed above). Actual video game development positions are bonus points that place your name on a shipping title, and fulfill the “at least one title that has already shipped” part of the requirement.

Just imagine – working for Blizzard Entertainment, or the like, right after graduation! It is possible.

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  1. Posted by Montoya | January 14, 2007, 2:25 am

    You should check out the Game Design Initiative at Cornell (http://gdiac.cis.cornell.edu/). They are an interdisciplinary group that seeks to encourage musicians, artists and programmers to take game design courses, all of which involve working with a team to make a real game. I took the first course myself and though I didn’t get much of the programming it was a great experience. There’s a handful of students who have landed internships and full-time offers with companies like EA since the GDIAC started.

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  2. Posted by Tony | January 14, 2007, 8:58 pm

    This is rather interesting, thx!

    Here at the University of Waterloo we have a Game Development club, but Cornell’s minor in Game Design tops that!

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  3. Posted by John | January 26, 2007, 4:06 pm

    Heh, Matt G. is a good friend of mine. We both worked together at Heavy Iron Studios and he knows what he’s talking about.

    Very passionate about creating games and a great programmer. It’s cool to see some of his experiences on other sites. :)

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  4. Posted by john m | March 19, 2007, 4:16 pm

    Hi, I’ve been interested in video games my whole life. I have many exellent ideas for games, and have found many bugs in games. If someone could help guide me in the right direction, either to become a tester or just to give my ideas to a programmer that can make them work.

    Reply to comment

  5. Posted by Harper | March 9, 2008, 10:41 pm

    Hiya! I’ve also been interested in video games for a while now. I’m looking for a college that will let me create video games. I have an active imagination and have created many ideas and stories that I would like to make. I looked at GDIAC, but I want to find a college just as good, only closer to where I live (North Carolina). Would someone be kind enough to point me in a direction that may be to my favor?

    Reply to comment

    Subzidion replied on: February 24th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Well, I live in NC to, if you DO happen to find a school, let me know, but as for a place to work in North Carolina, check out Epic Games -_0

    - Hopefully I can get a job there as well, lol

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  6. Posted by Rahul | April 25, 2008, 10:33 am

    HI I am Rahul I have keen Interest to develope the games …
    But our college university syllabus never concerned with related to games ..
    Off course I have studied C,C ,Java etc in college but nothing Related to games or
    Game engine….

    What should I do ?
    To start my Career

    Reply to comment

  7. Posted by Tony | April 26, 2008, 9:45 pm

    There seems to be a lot more discussion focused around the other video game careers post. Look through the comments, maybe there’s something more applicable there.

    Though a quick reply would be pointing out the fact that video game development is just a specialized area of application. You would still be applying the same C/C-plus-plus/whatever-technology-of-choice, so your education is still quite applicable. It might be a good idea to start some small personal game projects that you can show off as demos, and to demonstrate the knowledge of the field. It would be best to complete a small game and make it look really good, rather than take up on something ambitious but not finish.

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  8. Posted by Ankur | April 30, 2008, 2:52 am

    Hi, I aspire to work in the game industry. I have an admit from Cornell University for Computer Science, and would be going through the GDIAC thing as mentioned by montoya in the first response post. I want to be a game designer, but I want to be safe in getting jobs so I also wish to study game programming. Is it okay to switch from game programming to game designing jobs. What should my course currculum consist of?


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  9. Posted by Jen & Tom | November 19, 2009, 8:25 pm

    Thank You for giving us a better idea of how to break into my boy’s dream career.

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