Student Success Stories

From Singapore to Southern California: Ryan Chew on Plugging Into Blizzard Entertainment

DigiPen graduate Ryan Chew attributes his current job at Blizzard Entertainment to a stroke of luck, but that's only partially true.

The lucky part was winning a free ticket to the 2012 Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, where he introduced himself to as many game industry veterans as he could. The rest was a combination of hard work, persistence, and dedication, all of which showed through in his student work at DigiPen.

Chew began his studies at DigiPen Institute of Technology Singapore in 2008. After completing his first year, he was awarded a full-tuition scholarship by Singapore's Media Development Authority. He also landed an internship at Ubisoft Singapore, where he helped work on the Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series. Impressed with his work, Ubisoft offered Chew a full-time game design position, an offer he turned down in order to complete his degree program (BSCS in RTIS).

“I'd been programming for a while, and I got way better when I joined the school, because DigiPen tends to teach a lot of the things that most other schools don't put too much of a focus on,” Chew says. “We had to write our own software graphics renderer — from drawing the pixels ourselves all the way up to actual texture mapping — pretty much implementing what a modern-day graphics card does now and that everybody takes for granted.”

As one of the original members on the eight-person DigiPen student game team Double++, Chew helped program the isometric stealth game Deity. While the game went through many changes and revisions, the final project was a runaway success, taking home the $25,000 grand prize at the 2012 Independent Propeller Awards and earning a spot in the PAX 10 indie game showcase.

"Having people actually play a game and enjoy it, and then tell us that they enjoyed it, it changes how you look at things and the work that you do," Chew says.

When Chew won a chance to travel to GDC during the final semester of his senior year, he brought along videos of the tools he created for Deity, which he was able to present to prospective employers on his iPad. Part of Chew's strategy, he says, was to ask booth representatives if he could speak directly to company programmers.

"I think what really helped me was I got to know the people that were hovering around the Blizzard booth," Chew says. "And that was when I showed them my stuff, and they were all really impressed with the things that I had done."

After sending in a résumé and following up with a Blizzard programmer, Chew interviewed for a programming position at the company and was eventually hired to the company's distribution team in Irvine, California. Since starting in September, Chew has worked on technical issues related to game patching and downloading.

"It's pretty challenging actually, having to learn all the stuff that they've built," Chew says. " So I've been slowly working my way up. "

While new to the company, Chew is no stranger to the company's renowned lineup of games, which he grew up playing in his home country. "I played everything from The Lost Vikings to Blackthorne, Warcraft, StarCraft — all the way up," he says.

How does it feel to now be a part of the Blizzard legacy? "Amazing," he says, and still a bit hard to comprehend. Just weeks after his start date, Chew had the opportunity to attend the official Blizzard launch party for Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion pack to the popular World of Warcraft online game. Surprisingly, he says, there were fans who approached the team specifically to offer thanks and positive feedback in regards to their game patching experience.

"The more I've been learning over the last few weeks, the more it hits me that whatever you do, it’s meant for millions of people," he says. "Your perspectives change. It reminds you that everything you do has ripples across the world — literally."

Elliott Davis: Returning to the Source

[Interview from August 2012]

DigiPen graduate Elliott Davis has an interesting metaphor to describe the path he's taken in life. As a game developer working and living in Japan, Davis says he’s like a salmon that has journeyed back from the ocean to the place it was born.

“I grew up playing the original Nintendo, and most of the games that I played were made in Japan,” Davis says. “So to be able to be a part of the game industry that specifically created the games that had a large influence on me, and made me want to create games, is very rewarding.”

Specifically, Davis works at video game studio tri-Ace — developers of the Star Ocean, Valkyrie Profile, and other series of role-playing games — as part of its research and development team. Davis helps program the in-house tools and graphics engine that powers and enables the studio’s stellar-looking titles.

But Davis's great opportunity didn’t fall out of the sky, nor did it happen overnight. In fact, his first foray into game development turned out to be a crash course in the harsh realities of the game industry. After graduating from DigiPen’s Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program in 2005, Davis quickly landed a job at California-based studio Concrete Games. Unfortunately, that studio’s project was cancelled before it was even announced, and THQ, Concrete Games' parent company, made the decision to disband the company shortly after.

Davis was disheartened. “Everybody in the studio had invested multiple years with their time, energy, passion,” he says. “So it’s natural to be disappointed when your hard work doesn’t see the light of day.”

Davis fared somewhat better at his next job. He joined another subsidiary of THQ, Incinerator Studios, and worked as a programmer on two projects, SpongeBob SquarePants featuring Nicktoons: Globs of Doom and Cars: Race-O-Rama, for which he was also credited as an additional designer. By the time the latter game was released, however, Incinerator had parted ways with THQ. As a cost-cutting measure, the studio laid off almost the entire Race-O-Rama development team.

This time, Davis had a plan. While working at Incinerator, Davis had finished approximately four college semester’s worth of Japanese language classes. He also had taken a three-week trip to Japan, all with the intention of eventually pursuing employment at a Japanese studio. After wrapping up his most recent project and receiving a severance package from Incinerator, Davis decided to make the move. He arrived in Japan, rather auspiciously, on New Year’s Eve 2009.

Although his initial goal was to enroll at a language school and become fluent in Japanese, Davis started sending out his resume and cover letters in Japanese to companies that didn’t require fluency. After only three months of study, he landed a job at tri-Ace in Tokyo.

“I really tried to use Japanese as much as possible with my coworkers, and people saw that I was making a legitimate effort and were very warm and welcoming because of that,” Davis says. “I also started a board game club at my company that meets once a month, and so that’s a great opportunity for people from different teams to socialize.”

Although he isn’t working directly on game projects, something he thought he wanted to do upon graduating from DigiPen, Davis says his perspective has changed for the better. By improving the core technology behind the games themselves, the game teams are able to make a better quality product within their allotted budgets and production schedules.

“The work I was doing at tri-Ace originally, part of that was focused on making the tools easier to use for the artists and to improve their efficiency,” Davis says. “And I’ve seen an impact with that.”

Outside of work, Davis rehearses and performs with the Tokyo International Players, an all-volunteer English-language theater troupe. A resident of the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo, a cultural and tourism hotbed, Davis also enjoys what he describes as the many “extremes” of Japan, such as the creative and diverse fashion sense his neighbors display. And, of course, Davis says he still enjoys playing video games, including those by tri-Ace.

As someone who attributes his creative impulses to the likes of Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy, working in the Japanese game industry is not only a chance to return to his roots; it’s an opportunity to inspire others.

“It’s a fulfillment of a lifelong dream of mine,” Davis says. “I’m returning to my source.”

UPDATE: In 2013, Davis and two co-workers spoke at the Computer Entertainment Developers Conference (CEDEC). They presented on their work developing smartphone graphics technology (OpenGLES 2.0) for tri-Ace's in-house game engine.

Arisa Scott: An Artist, Producer, and Problem Solver

Arisa Scott took an unusual path from academia to industry after she graduated from DigiPen's Bachelor of Fine Arts program in 2011. While many of her colleagues were seeking work as modelers and animators for video game companies, she was interning as a Producer at an e-commerce start-up. But that job was only the latest stop on a path that she began two years earlier.

"The fall of my junior year I was the art director on a game team, so I was managing a group of artists," Scott says. "And I realized that I had a natural inclination to want to deal with organizational things." Instead of polishing character models in 3ds Max, Scott found herself poring over spreadsheets in Excel and acting as the liason between the team's programmers and her artists. It wasn't long before her planning and organizational skills became indispensable to the group. "It was funny seeing this surprise and enjoyment that artists got out of me organizing things," Scott says. "They were like, 'That's magical!'"

The following semester, Scott stepped in as art director on another game team, this team for a group of Master of Science in Computer Science students. "I recruited five artists for them and set up a kind of art asset pipeline for them and did some concept work too," Scott says. By the end of her junior year, she had worked on two game teams while completing a full course load. But more importantly, she had a new goal: she wanted to be a producer.

"It was sort of a new thought for me," Scott says. "At DigiPen I had only ever seen producers who were RTIS students. So I asked [Game instructor] Rachel Rutherford, 'Can an artist be a producer?'" In Scott's case, the answer was an emphatic "yes."

During her senior year, Scott did everything she could to build her production experience. "I worked on two different game teams, and I was managing about 10 artists at a time and consulting for a bunch of other teams," she says. "Working mostly with artists and working with devs and 3D pipelines ... it was way too much fun not to keep doing that."

By the time she finished her senior year, she was creating art assets just to fill in the gaps - most of her time was spent focusing on the other artists, their tools, and how they worked with the rest of the team. "Transitioning from just doing the art to doing the production was freeing, and it felt like these were the things that I'm actually legitimately passionate about," she says.

When it came time to start applying for jobs, Scott already had a solid portfolio and a clear idea of what she wanted. "When I was looking around for jobs, there were a lot of Associate Producer jobs that were very much like 'be someone's assistant,'" she says. Then, through a colleague at her internship, she found out about an opening at Bellevue-based Expedia as a Program Manager. "It was much more 'take ownership of this and run with this program.'" It was a perfect fit. "I started working for Expedia at the end of October [2011]," Scott says, "and I love it."

The way Scott describe what she does today doesn't sound all that different from the work she did for her DigiPen game teams. "It's problem solving," she says. "A lot of it is people problem solving, and some of it is technology problem solving. It's not games, but it's untangling different communication issues and making sure different teams know about each other's issues - it's all kind of the same."

It's not exactly what she expected to be doing with her degree, but she couldn't be happier. "Coming into DigiPen, I knew I wanted to work on games, and I wanted to do art," Scott says. "And my sophomore year I was thinking about cinematics, actually, because I really liked the film classes and I really liked modeling. But I haven't been doing that stuff so much lately." Instead, she's doing what she does best: working with people and technology to solve problems.

Will Perone: A Different Kind of Company Man

For many DigiPen students, getting a job at a game company is the ultimate goal of their education. After four years of hard work and too many sleepless nights to count, students who find employment in the game industry can look forward to being part of a creative team whose projects may one day be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of players. But Will Perone, a 2004 graduate of the RTIS program, realized early on in his career that it wasn't enough to work at game companies: He wanted to start them.

From an early age, Perone knew that he wanted to work in the game industry. "I started programming games way back in 1992 when I was 11," he says. "I was playing Atari and NES games, and I was like 'I want to make these!' But everybody thought I was crazy, like 'There's no career in that. I don't know anybody that makes games! Just some crazy Japanese people somewhere.'"

Thankfully, Perone persisted. "I just kept doing it," he says. "In '95 I taught myself C. Then in '97 I taught myself assembly. And in '99 I went off to college."

Perone began his studies at what he calls "your standard university – I was just like 'I'll get a CS degree!' because I didn't think the a place like DigiPen existed." Then, midway through his freshman year, he heard about DigiPen through a forum post. "I checked it out, and I was like, 'Oh my God, this is exactly what I want to do. What am I doing wasting my time at this other college?' So I applied to DigiPen and got in."

The difference was night and day. "I thought college was difficult when I went to it," Perone says, "but then I went to DigiPen and it was like, 'Wow, college is actually trivial.'" But along with the increase in difficulty, Perone discovered new opportunities for growth. "It was just way, way, way more difficult than going to normal college, but you get so much more out of it if you actually apply yourself, and I really thrived in that kind of challenging environment."

While Perone had plenty of experience with game development, there was one technique that continued to elude him: "I could never wrap my mind around how to make a 3D game," he says. "I made plenty of 2D side-scrollers, top-down RPGs, space shooters - all kinds of different games - but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to do the math for a 3D game." Not surprisingly, he found his coursework in 3D graphics the most valuable during his time at DigiPen. "Coming out of the RTIS program and understanding the whole background and actually being able to do it put me way ahead of all of my colleagues starting out from scratch."

Perone's first job after graduating was at San Francisco-based Glu Mobile, where he quickly made a name for himself as a highly capable software engineer. "I came into Glu Mobile in '05, and I pitched to them the idea of making a 3D cell phone game," he says. "We had gotten the IP for Deerhunter, and I was able to not only propose and design out this 3D game where you walk through the world and hunt deer, but actually make it, on a cell phone, in 2005."

A couple years later, Perone left Glu to join his first start-up, a 3D social network/geo-location service called Loopt. "I was one of their first employees," Perone says, "so since I was one of their first employees, I wrote a lot of the code for their service." But while he wasn't creating the technology behind Loopt, Perone was learning everything he could about how to form a company. And in 2008, he got to put that knowledge into practice by starting his first company, an online gaming portal called Andrograde.

Since then, Perone has helped start a number of Silicon Valley-based gaming companies, including RubyCoins (acquired by PayPal), Funzio (acquired by Gree), and KIXEYE. And as the list of companies he's founded has grown, so has Perone himself. "Originally, I became an entrepreneur because I just didn't want to work for somebody else," he says. "I just wanted to make a game that I could call my own and not have to report to anybody. But over time you come to realize that there's a lot of other factors about being an entrepreneur that are really appealing. It's exciting being able to have an open-ended career where you choose it for yourself rather than have a certain set path. When you're an entrepreneur, everything is open to you."

Perone is quick to emphasize that the path he's taken is not for everyone. "If you are really motivated, really dedicated and passionate about something, and also willing to work your ass off and get very stressed out and not sleep, at the potential gain of becoming rich and famous, then starting a company is for you," he says. "But if you want more stability in your life - if you want to grow and be successful over time, then working at a company is the way to go."

And for future DigiPen graduates who decide to go the "employee" route, Perone has one last piece of advice: relax. Believe it or not, he says, "working at a job was way easier than going to DigiPen!"

An Artist Abroad: How One DigiPen Graduate's Career Took Him Across the Atlantic

If you had asked Scott Clary in 2007 if his five-year plan involved shipping off to distant island nations to pursue a career in game development, he probably would have looked at you like you were crazy. A graduate of DigiPen's Associate of Applied Arts in 3D Computer Animation degree that year, Clary was eager to break into the game industry, but he imagined that meant joining up with one of Seattle's homegrown studios. He was right - for a couple years, anyway.

Clary's first job after graduating was as a 3D modeler at Sony Online Entertainment's Seattle office. The developer discovered him at DigiPen's Career Day while they were scouting for artists with rigging experience. "If I didn't get that job at Sony - if the art director wasn't walking around our Career Fair that day - I may never have gotten noticed," Clary says.

He started out with simpler tasks like character skin weighting before he discovered his true calling: building tools to help other artists manage their workflow.

"I was talking with one of the technical artists at SOE," Clary says, "and I was telling him how I was always better at rigging, and he asked me 'Have you ever thought about coding or scripting?' I said I had, but I don't know where to start. And later that day, he sent me an email saying 'I need somebody to write this script for me.' It was something that I now know he could have written in two seconds, but he ended up taking the whole day showing me how to do it."

Over the course of Clary's two years at SOE, he gradually transitioned into more of a technical role within his team. "I kept writing more tools, and then people started coming to me with requests, so I kind of worked myself in that direction - writing tools, speeding up my pipelines and helping out other people's, and then I ended up becoming a go-to guy for general Maya problems. That's how I became a tech artist."

As his project at SOE wound down, Clary began looking for another full-time position as a technical artist. A friend alerted him to an opening at CCP, an Icelandic studio with offices in Atlanta. "I applied, and then the art manager for all of CCP's studios contacted me and said 'We're interested, but the position available is in Reykjavik, Iceland, not Atlanta.' I thought 'How many opportunities am I going to get to go to another country?' So I took the job."

Clary joined the team of developers working on EVE Online, an online multiplayer spacefaring game. "We were working on the expansion to add characters to EVE," he says. "I was a tech artist on the character team. And it was great, because my job wasn't 'skinner,' my job was to write tools. I was working under some brilliant guys."

Clary says his proudest achievement at CCP was shipping a new, fully-3D version of EVE Online's character creation system. "We completely redid the character creator,” he says. “You can't play an MMO that has better looking characters with as much customization options that are as intuitive to use. It's really cool. And I'm pretty happy I got to be a part of it."

Unfortunately, while EVE players embraced the new character creator, other changes to the game were less popular. Eventually, in late 2011, the company decided to cut their losses by reverting to an earlier version of EVE – and cutting 20 percent of its workforce. Clary’s team was among those on the chopping block.

That left him at a crossroads: would he head back home to Seattle, or head off to new shores? "My thought when I got laid off was 'if I can find a job somewhere else in the world, I'll probably take it,' because I don't have anything tying my down,” he says. He began applying for jobs all over Europe: in Sweden, Amsterdam, the U.K., and Germany. This time, however, the job found him.

"Not long after I got laid off, one of my friends who left CCP a year ago to start his own company,” Clary says. “He told me that they had found funding and decided to open a studio in Malta." And fortunately for Clary, the studio, named TRC Family Entertainment, was in need of a Lead Technical Artist. Clary jumped at the opportunity and moved to Malta in February of 2012 to begin working at the studio.

For Clary, it was a no-brainer. “I knew that if I come back home to the States, I'd probably never leave again,” Clary says. “I’m sure I’ll eventually end going back up back in Seattle because it's like home to me … but I felt like I could keep adventuring for a little bit longer."

From Tag to Portal 2: One DigiPen Game Team's Success Story

RTIS graduates Tejeev Kohli, Brett English, Pongthep “Bank” Charnchaichujit, and Ted Rivera had a "wish list" for their time at DigiPen: "Make a sweet game, win at IGF, and get hired by Valve," in English's words. For most student developers, accomplishing one of those items would be a tremendous achievement – but these DigiPen all-stars managed to hit all three.

It all started at DigiPen's annual Career Day, where students present their projects to visiting game developers. The team already had their "sweet game," a 3D platformer called Tag: The Power of Paint in which players travel through an urban landscape by "tagging" surfaces with magical paint, and they were demoing it to recruiters. That's where they ran into Robin Walker from Bellevue-based Valve Software. "He played the whole game, and while he played it he kept asking us questions about our process and how we worked on the game," Kohli says. "It was essentially an interview with us, but a very informal one."

A month later, the team flew down to San Francisco for the Independent Games Festival, where they checked the second item off their list: Tag won the honor of Best Game in the festival's Student Showcase. "That's when the Valve guys got back to us and said, 'Hey, do you guys want to work at Valve?'" Kohli says. They didn't need to be asked twice.

The team's first project at Valve was an unusual one. "It was just the four of us in our own office, and we were told, 'Make Tag in the Source Engine,'" says Kohli. (The Source Engine is Valve's proprietary game development framework.) "So we essentially re-wrote all the stuff from Tag – the painting and the paint gun – and made a few levels so that people in the company could try it and then assess what to do with the technology."

Around the same time they finished their tech demo, the "paint guys," as they came to be known within the company, found a new opportunity: playtesting Portal 2, the sequel to Valve's 2007 blockbuster that was itself based on the work of a DigiPen game team. "At that point, which was maybe two months into our jobs, we were deciding what to do with the paint technology," Kohli says. "We had a bunch of options, and one of them was 'let's incorporate this into Portal.'"

The transition wasn't completely smooth. "It took a little while for us to convince the Portal team that it was worth experimenting with," says Rivera. And even after they found allies willing to take up their cause, they discovered certain elements of Tag simply didn't translate into their new setting. "The feedback we got was that adding a second gun to Portal would complicate things a bit too much," Kohli says. Likewise, Tag's "stick paint," which allowed players to walk on walls and ceilings, was deemed too disorienting for the game's already complex puzzles.

But it wasn't long before the entire Portal 2 team was coming up with their own ideas for how to incorporate the Tag team's paint technology into their game. "That's when it really cemented itself as a core part of Portal 2," Kohli says.

At that point, Kohli, English, Charnchaichujit, and Rivera were assigned to separate teams within the greater Portal 2 group. Charnchaichujit jumped into the main programming team towork on the game's core features. English helped write code for a redesigned camera that was more intuitive for players. And all four of the "paint guys" helped design new and unique obstacles for players to overcome.

They couldn't be happier with how things turned out. "The first few months there, we were very much on our own, and that was scary," says Kohli. "We took it as a 'sink or swim' situation – being thrown into the deep end." But by trusting in their abilities and working as a team, they didn't just finish their checklist - they helped create one of the best games of 2011.

Zak Whaley

Zak Whaley is a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program. He will start as a software engineer at Redmond-based Microsoft Game Studios this May.

DigiPen: What kind of work will you be doing at Microsoft Game Studios?

Zak Whaley: I know what I'll be doing about as much as they do. I'm getting hired into some sort of experimental R&D group. They work exclusively with college hires - it's called incubation. They throw you on a bunch of different projects for two weeks to a month for about a year, so I'll be all over MGS, apparently, which is cool. It's like, "Wait, you're paying me for this?" So I don't know exactly what I'll be doing, but my primary focus here has been content pipeline work, and they might end up having me do art pipeline-type stuff. I'm hoping that I get to work with artist tools a lot - that would be cool.

DP: It sounds like you'll have a variety in the projects you'll be working on.

ZW: Exactly. Because it was a whole bunch of internal R&D that they were doing, it was like "Just play, have fun!" None of it is really consumer facing - it was basically as close to MSR [Microsoft Research] as you can get without having a Ph.D. They were the original group that worked on the Natal project - they did the original depth and motion-sensing stuff. They're now going to do Windows Phone 7 stuff, and they've done a lot of strange things like Facebook crossovers - they've done Facebook/XBLA titles - so they're just all over the place. So just because of the variety of work, it's never going to be a dull moment.

DP: What do you think most helped you get the job?

ZW: I felt like team skills - interpersonal communication - really helped me get the job. One of the last people I interviewed with was like, "You're listing team skills on your resume, and 1) I'm really skeptical, and 2) I have people coming in here from other companies, and they don't have this. What are you talking about?" And I said, "Well, I've worked on four year-long game projects. I've had to fire people - like, it happens." That's the biggest asset that I see coming from DigiPen is the team skills. Yes, technical proficiency is awesome - that's definitely a huge strong suit of DigiPen, but it's really forcing everyone to actually work on teams and actually manage themselves. You screw up here so that you don't screw up when there's millions of dollars on the line.

DP: Are you excited or nervous to work for such a huge company?

ZW: One thing that I would always ask MGS people is "With that many employeess" - 45,000 of them being in the Seattle area - "how do you not have the 'cog in the machine' problem?" And I don't know so much about the rest of Microsoft, but particularly in MGS, it's basically "Well, because it's not a big machine, Microsoft basically just owns these little game studios that are equivalent to like a 200-300 person game studio. And so it's a smaller group - you're not interacting with 45,000 people, you're just dealing with your friends basically.

The benefits of working there are huge as well. What I think is cool is having direct access to the technology, like "Oh man, I can go see how DirectX actually works," and "Xbox dev kits? Sure, I'll get three of those," you know, just to toy around with instead of dropping 10 grand. So I think it will be a fantastic learning experience. And having that right there, straight out of college - I'm stoked. I can't wait to start!

From Star Student to Star Employee

Jessica Yen's story isn't an unusual one for DigiPen students: She took an internship at Monolith Productions her senior year to get some industry experience under her belt; when her internship ran its course, the company hired her full-time as a Tools engineer. What's uncommon, however, is the level of praise that her manager, Eric Gross, heaps upon her. "She's unflappable, takes everything in stride, and pretty much exceeds expectations on every level," he gushes.

Yen, a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program, seems to have found her niche at the Kirkland-based studio. She was originally hired as a gameplay intern, but found herself transitioned into a Tools role early in the process. "I found out I really enjoy tools programming - I think it's definitely one of the most rewarding areas of game development," she says.

Part of the appeal for her has to do with the longevity that tools have in the game development process. "The analogy I use in my head is that game development is like baking a cake," Yen says. "Gameplay programming is like all your cake materials - your flour, your eggs, your butter - and you make this awesome cake, and it goes out the door and somebody eats it, and it's great! But tools are the things that stick around, like your pots and pans and ladles and things, and if they're really good, they work for every cake you're going to make."

Her first exposure to that type of programming came during her second year at DigiPen. "I built a level editor for my sophomore game, and I really enjoyed it," she says. "It was the first time I had used C#, and part of it was 'Oh, C# is so cool! It has all these neat features!' But I enjoyed making the tool, and it definitely helped with building the game."

When she began interning at Monolith, she found a different set of challenges from those posed by her student work. The biggest one was scale: Because the tools that Monolith uses have been around for well over a decade, the code base was considerably larger than anything she had dealt with before. "You go from something that's maybe a couple thousand lines to something that's several million lines - I mean, all the code I've written ever at DigiPen could maybe fill up one project in Tools."

But that hasn't stopped her from rising to the challenge. According to Gross, Yen quickly stood out as a potential candidate for a full-time position. "She had been performing above her level - she had been performing at the mid Software Engineer level," he says. "And for our Tools group in particularly … tools engineers must be strong technically, but also sensitive to the needs of their clients moreso than gameplay or engine guys. And Jessica has the perfect temperament for it."

Gross explains that it's typically a slow process getting a Tools intern up to speed. "When we bring an intern in, we start them out with bug fixing just to get an introduction to the code base; they fix bugs here and there until they start to get a feel for how the systems work together," he says. "And she was fixing bugs really quickly, so we decided to give her a shot at implementing some new features, and she did that really quickly as well. We code-reviewed her stuff really carefully to make sure it was robust, and everything she had done was top-notch."

This is far from the first time that Monolith has worked with DigiPen students. "Our conversion rate [for DigiPen interns] is huge," Gross says. "In fact, we originally used to take internship resumes from UW, from Full Sail, from any number of places. We'd have all of the candidates show up and screen them, and the DigiPen students were always at the top of the screenings, so nobody else was even getting called back. So our opinion of DigiPen is pretty high."

For her part, Yen says that her DigiPen game teams taught her a lot about the process of game development. "As learning experiences, the game teams were amazing, they really were," she says. "You have to deal with lots of different programming styles, and … I guess the most important thing would be dealing with code that you haven't personally written, because out in the real world, unless you work for a startup, that's pretty much all you're ever going to do. So what I really picked up, especially last year, was how to read other people's code and figure out what it does."

As for Gross, he couldn't be happier with Yen. "She's at the point now where … we've recently transitioned some other people internally from another team and another code base, a senior-level guy and another associate, and Jessica is helping them get up to speed," he says. "I mean, she was an intern six months ago! It's pretty tremendous."

Ian Levin

Ian Levin is a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program. He will start as a Software Engineer at Seattle-based Z2Live this May.

DigiPen: Tell us a bit about Z2Live. How did you hear about them?

Ian Levin: They're an iPhone/mobile game company. They actually came to DigiPen and did one of the Company Days, so I walked in and heard their presentation. Then there was an opportunity to go up afterwards, shake hands and meet the team. So I got their business cards and gave them a call, and then they called me back - they were thinking about taking a couple DigiPen students on as interns.

I got the internship last semester, and I continued the internship this semester, so I'm using those for my Game credits this year. Right now I go in there Thursday and Friday for eight hours, and I work with them on the next game they're putting out, which is pretty awesome - it's a good feeling to be working on something people are actually going to play.

DP: What's the work environment like at Z2Live? How different is it from a DigiPen game team?

IL: I think my experience is a little bit non-standard, because the company I'm working for is really small. In my immediate team I work with four people including myself. So it's almost exactly like DigiPen, except there's more process. We use FogBugz, and we log the stuff that we're working on. We're just more organized than DigiPen teams, but the idea is pretty much the same: We come up with a concept, we write down what we want to do, and then we knock out the tasks to make the application happen.

DP: What do you think helped you land a full-time offer from Z2Live?

IL: My supervisor could tell I want to actually make games. I don't think I'm the best programmer at our school - there's two or three other guys here who are just unbelievable, and I don't think I'm on their level. But one thing I do have is the ability to pick things up really quickly, and that's always a valuable skill for a programmer. And I am really interested in making games. I want to actually make a game. I guess the thing that he said that gave it away is that I work on stuff on the side - I write my own programs at home. Enthusiasm is really what got me this far.

DP: What do you find most exciting about working for Z2Live?

IL: The project that we're working on is really interesting, and the experience is really new for me, because since it's a touch interface game, it's not so much like the games we make here, which are really focused on 3D graphics. It's almost more application-type development, so like making the UI work and things like that. And something that's completely new for me is integrating with networked computers. I took the networking class at DigiPen, but I basically have a low-level understanding of how it works, and I haven't done anything high-level at all, so learning about how servers work and all that sort of crazy stuff is completely new for me. There's new things to learn, and that's always awesome.

DP: What's one of the most meaningful lessons you've learned in your time at DigiPen?

IL: The thing I learned the most from being at DigiPen is that to be successful, you have to be proactive. They're not going to feed you what need and you'll just produce it - you have to go out and chase it yourself. And the game classes really taught me that.

Chin Fong

Chin Fong is a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Art and Animation program. He will start as an artist at Redmond-based 343 Industries this May.

DigiPen: Tell me about 343 Industries and your role there.

Chin Fong: 343 Industries is part of Microsoft Game Studios. Right now I'm doing environment art … at first I was doing prop modeling, and after that they let me try out blocking out the environment first, so I'm seeing where that goes.

DP: Is your job at 343 very different than the work you did at DigiPen?

CF: It's pretty similar to working at school, actually, because they assign you artwork and you just do it for eight hours. And there's people around you … it's the same thing with school, if you work in school a lot, there's people around you doing work as well. So it's pretty quiet sometimes.

DP: What's the biggest challenge of working there while wrapping up your studies at DigiPen?

CF: Right now I'm working 30 hours a week … when I applied they asked for 40 hours, and I said "That's fine" anyway, just because I wanted a job. And it's a pretty good start - getting out of school to work in that studio. But 30 hours a week isn't always enough. This new assignment, which is building a level - it takes a lot of time, and they want it really fast, and I can't deliver as fast as I should be able to while working 30 hours a week.

DP: What attracted you to 343 industries?

CF: Their art director is Kenneth Scott, and he did Doom 3 and Quake - he used to be the art director at id also, and he pretty much started the whole "next gen" thing in art with normal maps and stuff, so he's a really strong art director. And the team itself that I work with - everybody there is really good. There's one person that worked at Naughty Dog, and another guy who did art for Alan Wake, and another did a Call of Duty game. So yeah, the artists are really good, and the title that 343 is releasing is pretty exciting.

DP: What do you think made you an appealing candidate for 343?

CF: They looked at my blog and checked out my artwork, and I guess if you do well in 3D and at painting … it seems like they really want artists and not just technicians there.

DP: Can you offer any advice for incoming BFA freshmen who might one day want to work at a place like 343?

CF: Get good at 2D painting, and really good at the foundational things, because that's always the most important, and it's the hardest to learn. You can teach someone how to use 3D very easily, but it doesn't mean they could make really pretty stuff with 3D. You could render it out nicely, but design-wise, it might not be good. I've seen people who haven't touched 3D before but they're already really good at 2D stuff, and they can translate what they're thinking of in their minds into 3D easily. So I think that's the main thing: Get really good at 2D, and don't worry about 3D as much, even though it is really, really important.

Neil Berard

Neil Berard is a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Art and Animation program. He will start as an artist at Bellevue-based ArenaNet this May.

DigiPen: What was your first contact with ArenaNet?

Neil Berard: Over the summer, Sonia Dociu [ArenaNet's HR Manager] posted a memo that they were looking for a few artists for the ArenaNet U program. So I replied and eventually took an art test. After about a month they called me back and said I'd been accepted into the program. So I've been there about six months now.

DP: Tell us more about ArenaNet U.

NB: It's an internship program that they have - they just started doing it this year. It is an internship, but they've also mentioned that a lot of people get contract work afterwards depending on where they stand. They also have a few classes you can choose from while you intern there, like life drawing, zBrush, etc."

DP: What do you think helped you land a spot in the internship program?

NB: First of all, as soon as that letter got out, I responded - probably within a half an hour - and tried to get on it really quickly. I knew a lot of people who waited too long to get back to her.

More importantly, I did a lot of stuff in my portfolio over the summer months, so a lot of my portfolio consists of not necessarily classwork. I think a lot of students assume that if you just do class assignments then you'll be fine, but I think you have to do stuff that you really want to do … when you're busy with classes, you don't always have the time to really invest in trying to make it look really nice.

DP: How has the internship made you a stronger artist?

NB: I think a lot of what I've gotten from it is being able to work with people better. It's a different environment, because there you're not by yourself trying to get a grade. It's more like you're collaborating with others, so something needs to get done at a certain time. Deadlines are kind of different: It's not like "this is a week assignment" - sometimes they'll hand you something and be like "Can you get it done by the end of the day?" And I think a lot of what I've learned is how to collaborate with people better and how to communicate better, because that's pretty essential to get the job done.

DP: What are some of the most important things you've learned during your time at DigiPen?

NB: Mostly, I feel like the big thing I've gotten out of school primarily is thinking more in terms of design, as opposed to just adding detail and seeing what you can do with 3D. It's like focusing on design elements and choices, really thinking about what you see more, as opposed to being worried about the small things.

The elements of design, like composition, character design, color theory, etc. - that stuff is more important, in my opinion, than questions like "How much detail can you get in a 3D model?" A lot of people don't always think in terms of design principles, but it really makes your art look good. It's something to really focus on; whenever you're working on a piece you should constantly ask yourself these things.

DP: What advice would you give incoming BFA students on how to make the most of their education?

NB: Try to learn as much as you can on your own. A lot of the education that you'll get is going to come from your own exploration - you can't expect people to hand it to you. There is a lot of good stuff that you'll learn from teachers, but go onto websites like Polycount, CG Society, or learn from outside sources as well, because ultimately, it's up to the student to really take on their own education.

DP: What are you most looking forward to after graduation?

NB: The idea of having a regular work week and a weekend is pretty nice!

Christopher Warwick

Christopher Warwick is a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program. He will be starting as a Software Engineer at San Francisco-based Self Aware Games this May.

DigiPen: How did you find out about the opening at Self-Aware Games?

Christopher Warwick: Andy Vella [a Senior Engineer at Self Aware] is a DigiPen alum from 2006, and he came up a few weeks ago to give a talk at a Game 450 lecture. They were doing interviews later that day, so I went in and had an interview. The next Monday, I got a call from him. Then that Friday, I flew down there and interviewed at their studio, and the next week, I got the offer.

DP: Tell us a bit more about the company and the position.

CW: It's a Junior Engineer position, and they do mobile development - their most popular game right now is called Word Ace, which is like a Texas Hold'em game mixed with Scrabble. They also have this other game that I thought was really cool called Fleck, which is an online Flash-based MMO using Google Maps, so you can play anywhere in the world, basically. It's in an early stage, but it's pretty cool looking, and that's what I'm hoping to work on.

DP: What appealed to you about working at Self Aware Games?

CW: It's a really small company. There's about 10 people there … They are pretty much a startup. They've been around for a few years, and they've shown success with Word Ace. They're owned by a company called Social Concepts, which has a website called Fubar which is pretty successful, and that company has been around for like six years or so. Self Aware Games is a division of that, so they have the stability of being owned by a parent company and not having to impress publishers for funding. That attracted me to them, because they have that whole aspect of not being smothered by investors - you have the creative freedom as well as the stability to take risks. Plus, being a big part of something small that could possibly lead to something bigger also really excited me.

DP: What were the main things you felt helped you stand out among other candidates applying for the opening?

CW: Andy [Vella] comes from DigiPen, so he knows what we're capable of. He worked at Factor 5 before, and he mentioned how he's gone up to DigiPen before to get people for Factor 5 - he always goes to DigiPen to recruit.

I also interned at Titan Studios. They're working on back-end MMO technology for Unreal 3 Engine, and I helped improve some of those tools, such as a device to simulate thousands of players on a server. That's helped me a lot in terms of looking for a job in the past couple months, to have that industry experience, especially with an MMO back-end.

DP: What part of starting your new job are you most excited about?

CW: Well, I've lived in Washington my entire life - in Bellingham for 18 years, and then I came down here for four - so going to a new city will be pretty exciting. A little expensive, but exciting!

Before I came to DigiPen, I had never programmed before. Now I feel like I'm a programmer. That says a lot about quality of DigiPen's program. But I haven't yet fully immersed myself in the games industry, and I think this is a good chance for that - to actually work on games and stuff that people play every day.

Caitlyn Patten

Caitlyn Patten is a 2011 graduate of DigiPen's Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Art and Animation program. She will be starting as an artist at Seattle-based Z2Live this May.

DigiPen: How did you first connect with Z2Live?

Caitlyn Patten: DigiPen had a Company Day with Z2Live, and they had an opening for an artist, so I went for it. And pretty quickly I was able to get an internship, which was very exciting. I've had that internship since October, and a few weeks ago - I think a little bit before Career Day - I got a full-time job offer, so I was really excited about that.

DP: What appealed to you about working at Z2Live?

CP: I was looking to go more into the casual game/social game industry, because the type of art that they do there works more with my style, and I can have more creative freedom. So Z2Live seemed like a really good opportunity for an internship. And they're a growing company, so I'll definitely be able to have a place there in the future.

I also really like what I'm doing. I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do, which is draw cartoons. I basically draw cartoons all day at work, and do what I love. So it's really fun for me.

DP: How has your experience at DigiPen helped you in your role at Z2Live?

CP: Everything I've learned at DigiPen has helped me. Learning 3D - even though I'm not a 3D artist - learning about the production of both 2D and 3D animation has helped so much, especially when it came to working on student games.

Junior year I did a student game, Lumin Lacuna, and I worked as a concept artist and a style guide person - I made a style guide and made sure that the six artists on our team really made the art look similar. Working on a game really helped me, because it introduced me to the game industry, which I wasn't really sure I wanted to work in. I was more of a film person; I came in wanting to work at Disney or Pixar, and kind of found that maybe the game industry is good for me - "oh, there's casual games and social games … cool! I want to work there!"

DP: How is working with a student game team different than working at a professional studio?

CP: Our game team was very interesting, because we got together in the summer, and everyone worked on the game idea, not just the programmers. The artists all came together with the game design and the game idea. So that was really helpful. And it wasn't as organized obviously, because we were starting a game, and we had to kind of stumble along the way and try to see if these things worked. "No, they don't work. OK, how do we change the artwork, how do we change the game design …" Stumbling and seeing those problems really helped me when going into a more organized environment. I knew what they had to deal with when developing a game. And even though it was much more structured, the experience helped.

DP: Do you have any advice for incoming BFA students on how to get the most from their time at DigiPen?

CP: It's good to learn everything. DigiPen trains you so you know both 2D and 3D production, but as soon as you can, find something you love and start doing that. People have told me "Oh, you can't become a concept artist in the game industry - it's so hard!" And that's true; it's a very hard, very competitive business to be a 2D artist, but I was able to find a niche that worked for me. So find that niche, find what you love, and do it.

DigiPen Alum Helps Ship Super Scribblenauts

2009 DigiPen RTIS grad Brittany Aubert
2009 DigiPen RTIS grad Brittany Aubert

Few people know better than DigiPen students how painstaking the game production process can be. Just getting an object to show up on-screen can take days of modeling, prototyping and coding, to say nothing the animations and physics necessary to allow players to interact with it. But one game series has set itself apart by letting players instantly conjure up nearly anything they can imagine - and a DigiPen alum helped make it happen.

Super Scribblenauts, developed by Bellevue-based studio 5th Cell and released for the Nintendo DS on October 12, is the second game in a series where your vocabulary is your reality. Write the words "Albert Einstein" and "velociraptor," for instance, and you'll discover what happens when one of history's greatest thinkers is confronted with one of pre-history's deadliest predators. And as a producer at 5th Cell, 2009 DigiPen RTIS graduate Brittany Aubert was there for every step of the development process.

"I had an internship at 5th Cell as a programmer between junior and senior year - I wrote a tool that was pretty much used as our content pipeline for Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter," Aubert says. "At the end of the internship I realized, 'yeah, I want to go into production.'" For their part, 5th Cell were so impressed with Aubert's performance that they obliged: She started as a producer at the studio a mere two weeks after graduating. "I basically came on and my first real game as a producer was from start to finish, which was really cool," she says.

It wasn't the path that Aubert had expected to take. "I had produced on all four of my games while I was at DigiPen through the gaming courses," she says. "And I was always fighting the urge to be a producer, because a lot of women in the game industry end up going into production, and it's kind of the most 'woman-friendly' field. So I was like 'no, I'm going to fight it, I want to be a programmer!'"

Eventually, however, she reevaluated that decision. "Working with Rachel Rutherford [a professor of the Game Software Design and Production] my junior year, I made the realization that production was actually something that I'm interested in," Aubert says. "And after doing a full internship, and sitting there day after day programming, I realized while it was fun and I really did enjoy it ... in 10 years I was probably going to be bored out of my mind."

Professor Rutherford's game classes didn't just help Aubert decide what work to pursue. They also gave her a taste of what studio development was really like. "It's as close to the professional setting in the game industry as you can get at DigiPen," she says. "You get the freedom to fail a lot. And a lot of the times, I learned more from my failures than I did from my successes."

She also had high praise for Sonia Michaels' Communications course. "It was a lot of little things like emailing more effectively, which you kind of brush off as 'eh, whatever,' but seeing as a good chunk of my day is spent emailing, it was kind of nice to put things in perspective," Aubert says. "I found it extremely beneficial, especially taking it right before I went out into the real world, because all of the information was fresh."

Aubert can't talk about the next project on 5th Cell's agenda, but she has plenty to say about life outside of work. "Weekends are probably my favorite thing since graduating," she says, laughing. And she's joined a soccer league comprised of local game developers, many of them fellow DigiPen graduates. "I know people at every other company," Aubert says. "The connections you make in school really do last."

Josh Neff

RTIS grad, Josh Neff
RTIS grad, Josh Neff

Recently, we sat down with Josh Neff, who is a graduate from our RTIS program. He currently works for Airtight Games as a game programmer.

DP: How did you hear about DigiPen?
JN: They offered summer classes at New Market Skills Center in Tumwater, WA, which is near where I grew up. When my mom heard about DigiPen’s program, she told me about it and I enrolled into the summer video game and 3D animation workshops, where I learned a lot about making games.

DP: After taking the ProjectFUN summer workshops, did you participate in any of our other youth programs?
JN: Yes, after taking the summer workshop I enrolled in the full year program for 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. In this program I used DigiPen’s ProjectFUN Editor for the first two years. In my second year, I along with two other students created a battle-bot simulator game. On this team I met Jonathan Junker, who I worked with at Airtight, where we programmed Airtight’s first title to ship – Dark Void.

DP: Do you feel these youth programs helped you once you got into DigiPen?
JN: Absolutely! They helped in two aspects. First, I got to explore what making games is all about, and had plenty of time to figure out if I liked it and if I wanted to go to DigiPen or not, which of course I really did. Second, they provided me with invaluable preparation for the college level courses, making my first couple years so much more successful than they would've been if I was figuring everything out for the first time.

DP: What program did you graduate from?
JN: I got a Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation.

DP: What drew you to the RTIS program?
JN: The DigiPen workshops that I took at the skill center were so fun and cool. I always had an enjoyable time, and wanted to learn more so I could make more games. The way I saw it was, there wasn’t a reason to not do the RTIS program!

DP: What do you do at Airtight Games?
JN: I work at Airtight Games as a Programmer. Most of us programmers are generalists, but we usually have some kind of specialty. My specialty is animation system programming.

DP: Aside from assisting with animation system programming, what does a game programmer, like you, do?
JN: We use Unreal Engine 3 for our games, so most of our work involves writing code to hook things up the right way. The engine has many, many features that work on multiple platforms, and sometimes we do have to delve into them to add features or fix issues. Sometimes we add our own systems. Most of the time, however, we get to focus on the 'fun' things that are directly exposed to the player and affect gameplay. Like, for instance, if we want to add a homing missile, we get to program it. If we want a new post process effect, we get to program that, too. We get to spend time with designers and content artists collaborating on the game design and determine what features or tools they need to make the game, or what issues they need fixed. After collaborating, us programmers go write the feature or fix the problem, then usually follow up with them to discuss. As programmers, we're responsible for making sure all the tools, features and the actual game work. It can get pretty intense!

DP: Did you go straight to Airtight or did you work somewhere else before you joined them? If so, where?
JN: I interned at Airtight for three semesters and a summer before graduating, at which point I transitioned to being a full-time employee.

DP: Did you go straight to Airtight or did you work somewhere else before you joined them? If so, where?
JN: I worked on Dark Void, which is Airtight's only shipped title so far. When I started working here, the project was just a prototype under a different name and IP. It changed and shifted around many times before becoming Dark Void, but it was quite an experience to be a part of! I also worked on an unannounced minigame for some new technology for a few months, but the project was cancelled. The game was virtually complete and very fun to play, but unfortunately things like this happen in the game industry. Currently, I am working on an exciting new multiplayer game, which I can’t really talk about right now, but am very excited about it.

DP: What DigiPen classes benefited you the most?
JN: It's hard to say, as every class at DigiPen has value depending on how you look at it. The classes I had the most fun in and felt like I learned a lot in were: the CS graphics classes taught by Professor Ghali, the C++ classes taught by Professor Mead, and algorithms and compression classes by taught by Professor Hanson. I learned a lot in every math class, and the physics classes helped expand my math and problem solving skills. Also, the game project classes were beyond useful. Like I said, every class was useful. Each helped shape and hone my problem solving skills, regardless of the content. I also learned a lot from and enjoyed an art class, and a short story writing class, and many others.

DP: What type of person do you think would like the RTIS Program?
JN: Someone who likes learning, logic, math and science would like the RTIS program. It involves lots of these things. An interest in games would also help, but the program is called "real-time interactive simulation", which does not necessarily imply 'games'. If someone ONLY likes games, they would probably be better off not taking the program.

DP: What advice do you have for DigiPen students?
JN: Be passionate about your learning, and strive for truth and understanding. There's a lot of stuff to learn at DigiPen, and if you want to succeed and go on to make games, you need to master it. Work with your classmates and your game teams, and help each other out so you can all learn the material. Ultimately, it's better to learn together than to strive alone to beat a curve. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it, but make sure you know what you need to specifically ask so you're not just making someone else do your work. This advice applies to everything in life, not just school.

Terry Suereth: Living His Childhood Dream

CE grad Terry Suereth
CE grad, Terry Suereth

Recently, we sat down with Terry Suereth, a 2008 graduate from the Computer Engineering (CE) program at DigiPen Institute of Technology. Here is our interview with Terry.

DP: What program did you graduate from?
TS: I graduated from the CE program at DigiPen. I came in as an RTIS student, then was drawn to the CE program when it was introduced.

DP: What drew you into the CE program?
TS: I liked that it was still programming, but focused on the nuts and bolts behind how things work, rather than just games and game design. I really liked the idea of being in the game industry, but at a very technical level.

DP: What lead you to DigiPen?
TS: As a kid I played plenty of video games. I was always interested in how games worked, and curious about programming my own. I saw an article on DigiPen in an issue of Nintendo Power magazine, and it sounded like exactly the school for me.

DP: Where do you work currently?
TS: I currently work at Nintendo as a software engineer, in the Project Engineering department. Currently, I am working on a project I cannot discuss. But I can say that this is the kind of job I dreamt about as a kid.

DP: Where were you before you joined Nintendo?
TS: Previously I was an engineer at Adeneo, an embedded software solutions company in Bellevue. I took my current job at Nintendo about a year ago. I love the work, and really like working around the game industry.

DP: What classes benefited you the most in your program?
TS: All the computer science and programming courses were very useful. My favorite was CS315, a low-level programming class that focused on machine coding on the Game Boy Color. I'd say that the majority of classes I took at DigiPen were beneficial to what I do.

DP: What type of person do you think would like the CE Program?
TS: The program is a good challenge to anyone curious about the lower levels of computer programming. Computer engineering also affords a lot of flexibility, so a graduate has plenty of good skills, and a lot of options in the job market. If you are interested in how things work, I'd definitely recommend enrolling in CE.

DP: What does a software engineer do?
TS: A software engineer can be responsible for a range of things in making computer software work. My previous job focused mostly on driver and firmware development, where I worked extremely close to the hardware level. Now I tend to work on higher-level software architecture, deciding how a system will work and figuring out how to implement it.

DP: What advice do you have for DigiPen students?
TS: Don’t give up! DigiPen is hard work, but if you put in the time and effort, it will definitely pay off.

In an effort to celebrate our graduates' success, it is our honor to feature some of the 2010 graduates who have secured a job in this tough economic climate. These graduates, along with many others, have accepted full-time job offers before graduation!

Read more about DigiPen's alumni and see a partial list of professional game titles crediting our grads

Josh Stanger

Self-portrait by BFA grad Josh Stanger
Self-portrait by Josh Stanger (2009)

DP: Which degree program are you graduating from?
JS: Bachelor of Fine Art

DP: Where are you going to work?
JS: Zombie

DP: How did you go about applying/securing this job?
JS: While I was on campus last summer I spotted a flyer on the bulletin board saying that Zombie was looking for an intern. I took down their information, applied for the internship and was hired on as an intern in September 2009. After working there for 9 months, they offered me a job and I eagerly accepted. Aside from the good people I work with, the size of the company was also a draw. It was really fun for me to see how quickly they grew in a 9 month period. They went from 15 people to 30.

DP: When do you start?
JS: I start on May 3.

DP: What are you going to be doing for Zombie?
JS: Because it’s a smaller company, I get the opportunity to do several different things. Primarily, I will be a character artist that does modeling, texturing, and concept and art design.

DP: Do you think attending/graduating from DigiPen helped you secure this job? How?
JS: If it weren’t for the bulletin board and the contacts I made at DigiPen I wouldn’t have applied for an internship at Zombie, which led to me having a job now. So, yes, I think attending DigiPen helped me in this endeavor.

DP: Did DigiPen’s course work help you? If so, how?
JS: Throughout my courses I became a much stronger artist and modeler. The courses demanded a lot of us, and through the rigor of it all my skills were refined.

DP: If you could give one piece of advice to your fellow graduates about getting a job, what would it be?
JS: In my experience, the biggest thing is the interview. I’d recommend that graduates calm down, manage their nerves and be themselves. I feel like being myself helped me in my job search, I hope it can help others.

Josh Stranger was featured in NW Jobs, part of the Seattle Sunday Times, discussing his experience in the industry as a game artist at Zombie. Read the full story

Patrick O'Leary

2010 RTIS grad, Patrick O'Leary
2010 RTIS grad, Patrick O'Leary

DP: Which degree program are you graduating from?
PO: Bachelor of Science in RTIS.

DP: Where are you going to work?
PO: I work at Microsoft Game Studios on their incubation team, “SEED”. I started working here in January, when I completed my coursework at DigiPen.

DP: What is your role at Microsoft?
PO: I am a Software Design Engineer.

DP: How did you go about applying for/securing this job?
PO: I was an intern for Microsoft, which led to this job. I found out about the internship last year during DigiPen’s Career Day and through a series of interviews I began my internship with them over the summer and got the job in December.

DP: Do you think attending/graduating from DigiPen helped you secure this job? How?
PO: Yes! I found my internship because of DigiPen’s company day and with the support of my instructors and the resources available to me I got a job I really love. As a matter of fact, since I've been here, we've already hired two other DigiPen RTIS graduates onto our team! So yeah, you could say DigiPen has a good name for itself. Overall, DigiPen has a good name for itself. 

DP: What DigiPen course do you find the most applicable to your current job?
PO (without hesitation): Professor Matt Mead's Advanced C/C++ class helped a lot. I had next to no programming experience before coming to DigiPen, and I can definitely point to that class as the moment when C++ clicked in my head and I became confident in my ability to write code.

DP: If you could give one piece of advice to your fellow graduates what would it be?
PO: BE PASSIONATE! We all came to DigiPen because we want to get into the game industry. So, I recommend my peers getting out there and showing how badly they want it. I feel like, once people see how passionate someone is, their message is more likely to resonate with the people who are listening.

Nick Hahn

2010 MSCS grad, Nick Hahn
2010 MSCS grad, Nick Hahn

DP: Which degree program are you graduating from?
NH: Master of Science in Computer Science

DP: Where did you get your job?
NH: Nintendo of America (NOA)

DP: How did you go about applying/securing this job?
NH: I went to DigiPen’s career day this year and met two reps from NOA, provided them with my resume and was interviewed over the phone a few days later. After the phone interview, I went into NOA for an in-person interview and was hired on to start on May 17. I was surprised by the quick turn around, but of course am thrilled to start working with NOA.

DP: What will you be doing for NOA?
NH: I was hired as an engineer and will essentially help second and third party programmers program for the Nintendo platform. My internship experience and graphic skills made me a good fit for this position.

DP: Where was your internship?
NH: I did an internship for 7 months at Vicarious Visions in Albany, NY.  I worked on the tail end of the development cycle for Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero for the Nintendo Wii. In this internship I primarily did code merging and scripting. Both tasks enabled me to learn a lot.

DP: What DigiPen courses taught you the most?
NH: All of the game classes taught me a lot. Each class motivated me to get into the industry and eventually inspired me to apply for the internship at Vicarious Visions, and my job at NOA.

DP: If you could give one piece of advice to your fellow master’s graduates about getting a job, what would it be?
NH: First, get an internship! Regardless of the company, getting an internship in the industry is beyond worth anyone’s time. And, I would say is even worth taking a semester or two off of classes for. Secondly, I would encourage everyone to work as hard as they can, and in addition do things outside of their class work that deepens their learning even further. As a graduate student, I found my extracurricular studying to be beyond useful in and outside the classroom.

Ted Fishman

2010 MSCS grad, Ted Fishman
2010 MSCS grad, Ted Fishman

DP: Which degree program are you graduating from?
TF: Master of Science in Computer Science

DP: Where did you do your undergraduate work?
TF: I went to the University of Washington and studied Physics.

DP: Where did you get your job?
TF: Sucker Punch Productions

DP: What will you be doing for Sucker Punch?
TF: I will be a game designer. My background is not just in programming, but a wide area of study, so this role sort of combines all of that experience.

DP: How did you go about applying for/securing this job?
TF: I originally applied for a programming position, and ended up interviewing for a programming position and a design position. After the interview process, Sucker Punch thought I would best suited for the game design position. I think I may have shown more passion in the design interview, so it made sense to me why I was chosen to fill that role.

DP: What will you be doing as a designer?
TF: I will be designing systemic content on an unannounced project, starting May 10.

DP: Did you do an internship?
TF: I did. I was a dev support intern at Havok in San Francisco for 3 months. It was a great experience. Overall, it taught me a lot about the professional environment, what is expected of you in that environment and how to perform under pressure. I'd highly recommend DigiPen students get an internship.

DP: What DigiPen courses taught you the most?
TF: I really enjoyed my project classes. Namely, Physics 350/550. It taught me how to write a game engine from scratch in a practical and hands-on way, while getting good feedback from my classmates.

DP: If you could give one piece of advice to your fellow DigiPen graduates, what would it be?
TF: Game development is not easy, so I'd advise that people know what they are getting into when they come to DigiPen and/or when they want to get into the industry. Aside from knowing what you want, I would encourage undergraduate and graduate students to push themselves beyond their limit and research/read about the industry on their own time. Doing both of these things paid off in spades for me.

Thomas Cameron Micka

DigiPen RTIS Grad Thomas Cameron Micka
RTIS Grad Thomas Cameron Micka

DP: Which degree program are you graduating from?
TCM: Bachelor of Science in RTIS

DP: Where are you going to work?
TCM: I got a job at Lucas Arts Studios, in San Francisco. I’m moving a few days after graduation and starting work on May 17.

DP: What will you be doing for Lucas Arts?
TCM: I’ll be a game play programmer and will be working on The Force Unleashed II.

DP: How did you go about applying/securing this job?
TCM: I was always a fan of Lucas Film, so when they did a company day at DigiPen I made sure to attend. After attending this session, I became even more excited about Lucas Film and was sure to stop by their booth at GDC in 2009. It was here that I got the 12-week, summer, internship with the Lucas Arts Studio. In September, after completing the internship, I was hired on full-time; but had to finish out my senior year at DigiPen.

DP: Do you think attending/graduating from DigiPen will help you in your new position? How?
TCM: Yes. I will be doing much of what I did in my game classes and much of what I learned in my CS 460 (advanced computer animation) course.

DP: What DigiPen course taught you the most?
TCM: My game classes were beyond helpful, but my favorite course would be CS 460 (advanced computer animation). I will use a lot of what I learned in this course when working on The Force Unleashed II.

DP: What advice would you give to students and/or graduates at DigiPen?
TCM: I would advise freshman and sophomores to work hard and get the best grades they can. For juniors, I’d recommend they start applying for internships. I found my internship invaluable. Last, but not least, I’d recommend everyone work on projects outside of their usual course work – this shows you have a genuine interest in the industry and will teach you more than you could imagine.

Stephen Scott

2010 BFA grad, Stephen Scott
2010 BFA grad, Stephen Scott

DP: Which degree program are you graduating from?
SS: BFA in Production Animation

DP: Where did you get your job?
SS: At a small Indie Xbox Live Arcade Startup in Seattle, called Exato Game Studios.

DP: What will you be doing for your new employer?
SS: I work as the Technical Artist mainly, but have a hand in most of the art assets – like character modeling, 2D assets, animation and rigging. Aside from this, I also help the company with running their website.

DP: How did you go about securing this job?
SS: Karen Wheeler, the head of DigiPen career services, notified me of a posting made by Exato stating that they were in need of a “Generalist” for 2D cinematics and modeling. I figured I would apply because a generalist position seemed right up my alley. In my interview with Exato, they seemed impressed with my technical expertise from the two games I worked on while at DigiPen – Brutal Beatdown and Oneiro – as well as the contract artwork I had done for an Xbox Live Indie title, War of Words. In addition to my games portfolio, I had a wide variety of art to show from paintings to high and low-poly 3D Models.

DP: Do you think attending/graduating from DigiPen will help you in your new position? How?
SS: Absolutely, I can already see how it’s helping me. Working on a game team was one of the most beneficial things I could have done while attending DigiPen. By working on a game team I learned short cuts, how to make 3D light, and how to be efficient even when the game engine is still in development. Being a part of two games that were building the pipelines as I was working on them presented several issues for me to solve, and now when I run into these kinds of problems at work, I can just run the tests that have worked in the past and usually push through most challenging issues that are presented to me and my team.

Aside from learning how to solve problems, I also learned how to manage my time. As an art student, I learned how to work under a lot of pressure and ridiculously tight deadlines. Because of DigiPen pushing me, I am now able to get things done on or before the time they are due – which boosts the company’s productivity.

DP: Which DigiPen course taught you the most?
SS: It’s a toss up for me; I'll go with the ironic one. CG225. I actually failed CG225 the first time through, and had to take it again. Taking it for a second time, I was able to focus more on a lot of the technical aspects and finer parts of modeling and rigging, and acquired a better understanding of 3D Studio Max because I already had the foundation down from my first way through the class. By the end of my second go with the class, I was doing advanced rigging, assembling muscle groups out of bones and dummys, and making IK/FK switches on the fly, which are some of the tougher aspects of rigging.

DP: What advice would you give to students and graduates at DigiPen?
SS: To Students I would say, make sure you are competent at everything. You don't need to be a master at everything but it sure helps if you can adapt to any project you’re presented with and produce. For instance, if you’re a 2D Artist you should still know how to unwrap a 3D model, and do some minor geometry fixes, if and when you’re asked to do so. To graduates, I can't stress this enough, research and ask around before applying to a company, and do your homework before applying and interviewing. If you have a portfolio, it should be adapted to whatever job you are applying for.