Come this spring, while many of his fellow classmates embark on the search for their first post-college employment opportunities, senior Andrew Alvarez will be resting a bit more easily.
That’s because he’s already accepted a job offer at Gearbox Software, creators of the popular Borderlands series of games. And it all came about thanks to an internship he completed this past summer — an internship that would never have happened had he not acted on a whim.
As Alvarez recalls, it all started in December 2012 during a conversation with fellow classmate Matt Sutherlin. With summer not far off, both students began talking about the need to find a student internship.
“We were just talking and somehow the game Borderlands got brought up, because I was playing it,” Alvarez says.
It was then his friend reminded him that the studio behind the loot-driven shooter was located in Plano, Texas, only 20 miles away from where Alvarez had grown up. What better place to apply for an internship, Alvarez thought, than at a beloved game studio close to home?
Alvarez went to the Gearbox website and looked under the jobs listings for any available internship positions, and while he saw none listed, he didn’t give up. Alvarez sent off an email, expressing his interest in a potential internship with links to his resume and portfolio. He also noted his strong interest and background in physics programming, a skill he demonstrated through several of his student projects (including the 2013 vehicle combat game Rekkage) in the B.S. in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program.
“I totally wasn’t expecting anything,” he says.
Months later, however, Alvarez received a reply email asking him to complete a programming test, followed by an invitation to fly down for an in-person interview. Coincidentally, Alvarez was already planning to visit family the very next week.
“I applied, heard nothing for a few months, and then suddenly everything happened in less than a week,” he says.
Alvarez interviewed alongside one other person, and after a few days of waiting, both candidates received offers to begin interning in June. For his first two weeks, Alvarez reported directly to Gearbox Technical Director Steve Jones, who showed him the ropes and helped him get situated.
Much to his good luck, Alvarez sat adjacent to the workstation belonging to Gearbox’s visual effects programmer, who — having recently returned from a leave of absence — was swamped with work.
“I told him, ‘If you ever need any help or have any bugs to fix, just kick them to me, and I’d be more than happy to help you out.’ And he ended up taking me up on that offer,” Alvarez says. “As it turns out, for next-gen consoles and games, a lot of the visual effects are physically driven, so there’s a lot of physics behind it.”
Alvarez began rewriting code for certain in-house development tools and fixing bugs in the physics programming.
“By the end of it, the intern work that I was doing initially kind of petered out, and they had me working full-time on the physics stuff,” Alvarez says.
On two occasions, Alvarez had the opportunity to conduct research and evaluation work for two pieces of brand-new technology developed by Nvidia, including an advanced physics simulation tool known as FleX.
For that job, Alvarez was tasked with evaluating and eventually presenting on the new technology for its potential use in future Gearbox products.
“It ended up being there were so many people that wanted to come, there wasn’t a room big enough,” Alvarez says. “So I had to give two presentations about what this technology was, how it worked, what it could be used for.”
Coming towards the end of his internship, while out to lunch with Jones, Alvarez expressed his interest in applying for a full-time position at Gearbox after his graduation — something Jones sounded pleased to hear. Alvarez asked about the best time to apply, as well as the hiring process involved.
“He just kind of smiles and says, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be pretty easy,’” Alvarez says.
A week later, Alvarez received a letter for a full-time job offer.
While it’s too early to know the scope of work Alvarez will be taking on in his new position, he remains hopeful it will continue to incorporate his passion for math and physics.
“It’s really fun the sort of problems that you have to solve,” Alvarez says. “It’s complicated enough that you feel smart while you’re doing it, but not so complicated that it’s like, ‘I have no clue how this is going to work!’”
Now in his final semester, Alvarez is working on an independent study project for implementing a simulation technique known as physically based animation using constraints. Depending on its success, he says, it’s something he hopes he can present to his employers this spring. Even by the end of his internship, he says, fellow employees were joking with him about the possibility of creating a custom physics engine for Gearbox games — something he would be more than happy to attempt.
“That’s my strong desire, but honestly I don’t know,” Alvarez says.
For now, landing a full-time job is more than he expected.
“And it’s a job where I get to live near my family,” he says. “It’s basically ideal.”