Women in Engineering Day 2020: Interview with Rosanna Nichols from the Engineering Team

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day 2020, we sat down with Rosanna Nichols from the Engineering Department to talk about her role, how she got to where she is today and to hear any advice she has for those looking to get started in engineering within the games industry.

Q. Can you tell me your name and full job title?

A. Rosanna Nichols and I’m a Junior Core Technology Programmer.

Q. What journey did you take to get to your current position?

A. When I first thought about games programming, I was doing a PhD in Mathematical Physics. During this time, I thought I was going to be doing physics forever, but gradually as it went on, I realised that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in. One direction that was obvious to me was programming because I’d always enjoyed doing it as part of my degree. I started looking at different jobs within this field and none of them stuck with me as much as games programming. I got involved in a couple of side projects, which helped me understand that there’s a lot involved in making a game work and gradually over the period of my PhD, I decided I wanted to do games programming as a career.

I took part in some more projects including a game jam and went to local tech meet ups like Tech Nottingham and the local indie game developer meetup East Midlands Indies. I also attended events like EGX as they have portfolio reviews and other useful activities for those starting out. When I eventually applied, I spoke to a few people at the studio regarding the roles available and at the time they were looking for Tech Designers as well as Game Programmers. I decided being a Tech Designer was for me, so I spent about 10 months working in Tech Design before moving over to Core Tech.

Q. Why did you make the decision, was it just better suited to you?

A. I really liked Tech Design, I would happily still be in it as there was a lot I enjoyed about the job. It’s quite varied, you can do lots of things including coding and the bits of it that I did, I enjoyed. In the Engineering Department, we have learning and development afternoons every other Wednesday, we can do projects and activities based around areas that we want to learn about.

In Tech Design, you are using the front facing parts of the engine a lot, and once or twice I thought to myself ‘it would be better if the engine could do that’, so during a couple of these learning & development afternoons, I dug down into the engine code and made it nicer to use. I really enjoyed doing this to the point that it inspired me to want to move to Core Tech to work on the engine code and continue to make it easier for everyone to use.

Q. Could you give us an idea of what the average day looks like for you?

A. We start each morning with a group meeting to catch up on the previous day and to talk about what we will be doing for the rest of the day. My time gets split between larger, bulkier tasks around improving the engine in some way and then fixing bugs and crashes, mostly within the engine, but sometimes within the game code too.

My area is mostly focused on making the editor tools that the Design Team need easier to use or fixing any problems with them. But I’ve also worked on things like AI navigation and we do a lot of performance optimisation.

Q. Why did you choose an engineering role in the games industry? What were the major factors in your decision?

A. During my degree, I was exploring career paths and coding was high on the list. But when I looked into coding properly, I found that a lot of the jobs were in areas like finance and website design. Games were more appealing as there is so much varied work that goes into making a game and a lot to learn. It’s also one of the few ways of using my technical skills to make a creative project and the things that you do have a very tangible result; you can really see the changes that you make in the game. I also enjoy the multi-disciplinary process, it’s great to work with the likes of Artists and Designers every day.

Q. Have you always been a big gamer?

A. Not especially. One of the things that made me hesitant about getting into games development was the fact that I wasn’t super into games. But as I became more interested in how games are made, I became more interested in playing games. I soon realised though that you don’t need to be fanatical about spending all of your free time playing games to want to be involved in their development.

Q. What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?

A. We work with Unreal Engine, so a lot of the work that I do is around adapting the engine code to meet the specific needs of our game, which is a challenge as Unreal is an enormous codebase and we didn’t write it. If someone in Game Code has a problem with a piece of code, generally its code someone in the company has written, so they can just ask them about it, whereas we can’t do that with Unreal. More of our time is spent understanding how things work rather than actually making the change itself.

Q. What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role?

A. Seeing the difference you can make to other departments using the tools you are working on. If you make it so that Level Design’s lives are easier, so that they don’t have to do the same thing hundreds of times and make the process of doing that thing simpler, then that’s rewarding. It allows them to focus on the designing rather than the more tedious tasks.

Q. What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to anyone thinking of starting a career in video games engineering?

A. Have confidence that you can do it and use that confidence, don’t think that because you haven’t completed a game specific degree that will stop you, because you can make up for that in other ways. It’s important to have people from different backgrounds with different approaches working on a project. You can definitely build up the skills you need for an entry level job, have faith that you can do it.

Q. Would you say that you’ve learnt a lot of the aspects of what you do ‘on the job’ then?

A. Definitely.

Q. What has been the most important factor in getting you to where you are today?

A. Having a friendly and involved team that has encouraged me to learn. Without the learning and development sessions and encouraging seniors, I wouldn’t have been able to go and work on engine code whilst still in Tech Design. It’s important to keep trying and learning new things, so it’s great to be surrounded by people who enable me to do so.

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