â??Graduates are rarely given the right skillsâ?

â??Graduates are rarely given the right skillsâ?

By Hollie Heraghty

June 11th 2010 at 8:30AM

Hollie Heraghty from Aardvark Swift discusses the issue of graduate recruitment in the video games industry and how the new competition, Search for a Star, is designed to help.

Recent blogs and news stories have shown that this issue of the standard of 'games graduates' is a hot topic. It seems to produce a lot of conversation, a hefty amount of criticism, but little in the way of solutions.

We currently have a problem in the UK development industry. Every year we have an increasing amount of computer games development graduates looking for entry-level positions, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to find a job. At the same time, UK studios are looking for entry-level programmers, but are struggling to find the graduates they require.
 
So why are we in this situation? The simple answer is that the majority of the grads being produced do not have the skills/experience that studios desire.

Computer games degree courses have increased in number and therefore the pool of games graduates trying to get into games has grown. Simultaneously, studios have become unwilling to recognise games degree courses as a viable route into games.  Recruiting instead computer science or pure science/maths graduates.

But - Finding suitable non-games grads is also difficult. Computer science and maths grads undoubtedly have the intellectual horsepower and natural aptitude for learning that is vital in the games industry. But, studios are becoming increasingly unwilling to flex on the additional skills they need from non games grads (C++ knowledge and must be a hobbyist games programmer).

Very few maths/science grads consider games a viable career option and fewer still have the foresight to learn a programming language (C++) whilst studying that will provide them with the option to get into games. Many studios won’t look at people with a strong science/maths degree but no C++ knowledge, because they can’t afford the time or money to train someone.

So we have Catch 22.

Computer games technology courses were created to directly address the issue of a lack of programming entrants. The hope was that students would be focused towards games, so gain the scientific and technical know-how, whilst creating demos and games on courses. So the skills should be more easily transferred into the industry. However, this has back-fired and now we see studios looking on these courses as second rate, feeling that they are not equipping students with the maths/science that they require. There is also the belief that many games courses are just enhanced 'media studies' courses, and with low entry requirements the grads produced simply aren’t intelligent enough to be a successful games programmer.

There’s certainly no magic solution to the problem. But we need to try to improve things!

We are trying to help with our Search for a Star programming competition. It’s designed to provide individuals with the chance to shine through their programming ability.  This competition has been devised along with Relentless software and is based heavily on their actual graduate recruitment process. It’s allowed us to reach and reward the games graduates who have strong academics, fantastic C++ programming and a passion for games.

The first stage was to ask universities for nominations, followed by a second stage of technical maths/science and programming questions - completed in exam conditions. Those who achieved 75 per cent and above progressed to the third stage - a ‘coding task’. The grads were asked to make a small game, based on existing ideas/code and implement new features. This allowed those with talent and flair to really shine. The final stage will be a panel interview. The panel will include recruitment and technical industry professionals. The winner will receive their award at The Develop Awards in July. www.aswift.com/searchforastar

This competition is not the solution, but it provides games grads the chance to shine, based on the criteria that we have been given repeatedly, by studios. Those progressing will have strong academics; a relevant degree, programming ability and passion. We hope that regardless of a student’s course or university, talent will be recognised. As interesting as debates are about the standard of graduates, we are running the risk of tarring all graduates with the same brush. Individuals need a chance to shine – providing opportunities for them to do so is the first step and we hope we’re helping. We also hope that it provides a benchmark for uni’s taking part. Those that don’t have grads progressing can and should question why, and then ask studios/us for guidance on the course content.

No one party is to blame, and people are undoubtedly attempting to solve it. Dare to be Digital is an excellent competition, Skillset are helping, and some studios are undoubtedly working very closely with Uni’s to help them improve courses. But we need more of this and we surely need to educate kids at an earlier age that Science and Maths are cool and can help get you a career in video games? What a great message to drive kids towards these subjects?