When DigiPen Institute of Technology student Robert Gervais applied for and landed an internship last summer at Epic Games, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Originally hired to work on documentation for the company’s acclaimed Unreal Engine, he ended up contributing a lot more, thanks to his strong programming and Linux skills.
As a senior in DigiPen’s BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation degree program, Gervais has had multiple opportunities to contribute to student game projects. In particular, he cites his experience as a programmer and narrative lead on the game Relic as an important reason for why he earned the internship position at Epic Games.
“Basically they were looking for someone who could program, had game development experience, had design experience, and had lots of writing experience,” Gervais says. After a phone interview and then a videoconference, Epic Games offered Gervais the opportunity to work over the summer for their Technical Documentation and Learning Resources team.
After the spring semester of his junior year at DigiPen, Gervais flew out to Cary, North Carolina, to intern for the makers of Unreal Tournament and Gears of War.
Gervais describes the environment at Epic Games as fast-paced and fun. “Everyone works really hard. That’s a given,” he says. “The thing is, because they put so much effort into making sure you’re the right fit, when you join the team, you work super hard but you don’t feel like you’re working hard.
“I would work all day, and I wouldn’t feel like I worked all day. Like, ‘I just got here—it’s already 6?’”
Although Gervais was hired to work with the Technical Documentation and Learning Resources team, he extended himself and eventually got to work with several teams. “[A] developer came to our team and said, ‘Hey, is there anyone who has Linux experience who could help me write this documentation and demonstrate this to our subscribers?’ Well, there I was, Linux experience from CS 180 … and I was able to assist that developer to get that documentation out there.”
Gervais’s primary responsibilities while interning at Epic Games included creating new tutorials and documentation for the Unreal Engine. “On the Technical Documentation and Learning Resources side, our mission was to demonstrate the engine,” he says. “We would produce documentation for our subscribers and our licensees, and we’d say, ‘Hey! You want to make a first-person shooter? Well here’s a tutorial.’
“The other part was the ‘learning resources’ part, which was like working on game projects but documenting everything you do along the way so you can show people, ‘This is how you do this.’”
Reflecting on his internship, Gervais wishes he knew how much his coursework applied to his internship prior to the first day. “Maybe it would have made it less of a nerve-racking first day,” he says, laughing. “It’s like having a toolkit and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Why do I have all these tools? What am I going to do with all this?’ And then you show up to the job site and all of a sudden you’re starting to use more and more tools as you’re solving more and more problems.”
Referring to the items in his toolkit, Gervais talks specifically about the idea of the T-shaped individual, which refers to a person’s breadth of common knowledge and their particular area of expertise. “I realized that [the T-shaped individual] is a valid model for describing someone who can bring value to a team in the industry,” he says.
“You have this minimum threshold of knowledge that you have to meet—skill and knowledge, whether it’s in programming or art or design or a combination of all three—so you have a common platform to communicate with other developers in a company,” he explains.
“That depth portion of the T-pose—the torso portion going down to the feet—is the thing that makes you unique and allows you to bring value to the team.” In other words, the vertical part of the T represents a person’s depth of skill in one specific area.
“When I first learned about the T-shaped individual, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t really see how that’s applicable in the real world,’” Gervais says. “But then, while I was interning, I realized that it is true. It’s very true.”
So what advice does Gervais have for other DigiPen students looking for similar internship opportunities?
“Take everything [you] learn here very seriously,” he says. Even knowledge and techniques that seem mundane will come in handy, he says. Specifically, Gervais emphasizes the importance of learning both fundamental practices like Doxygenizing one’s code as well as deep concepts like the mathematical principles underlying data structures and algorithms taught in DigiPen’s computer science and mathematics courses. Gervais also notes that game project courses are a great environment for assimilating knowledge from other courses.
Along with a great experience working in the games industry, Gervais says the internship at Epic Games provided him the opportunity to form meaningful connections with his coworkers and fellow interns.
“The key thing that I got out of this internship and the thing that I really enjoyed the most was building those relationships and lasting friendships,” Gervais says. “It’s nice to have colleagues that really care about your growth as a professional.”