Anna Becker
Software Engineer

Too many interviews?

I ended up with a lot more interviews than I had expected.  Out of the 6 studios I applied to one weekend, 5 responded back.  On one hand it’s incredibly difficult to juggle the stressful interviews and code tests with work and on the other it feels really good to stand out against the competition.

I do really wish that I hadn’t worked as much as I did, especially during crunch, and spent a bit of time brushing up on data structures and algorithms.  It’s a catch 22.  On one hand I learned valuable experience in the industry and shipped a AAA game with major contributions, but I’m incredibly unprepared for “solve this search problem you’ll never see as a developer while I stare at you.”  The only thing I can do now is practice as much as I can and hopefully not make a complete fool out of myself.

Last week I was flown out to an in-person interview that went pretty terribly.  It was the last place on my list that I wanted to work at and by the time I got there I was certain that I didn’t want to work there at all.  The biggest part for me is my extreme allergies to tree pollen and the city the studio is in is like mother nature vomited trees up everywhere.  I was absolutely miserable, even heavily medicated, the entire time.  For the 24hours I was there my throat was slowly closing, eyes swelling and head filling with mucus.  Moving there would be the worst possible thing I could do.  First thing in the morning I was given a written test, in addition to the written test I had already completed at home, that I just didn’t do well on.  Needless to say the rest of the day didn’t get any better.  So now I’m down to 4.

Today I am getting ready to fly out for another in-person interview.  Currently this studio ranks at the top of my list.  First of all the phone interview went really well as it went more like a conversation than a strained series of questions and answers.  One simple C++ I stumbled on answering, he was very understanding that it was nerves and that I did know the answer.  The code test was a relevant long project where it’s wasn’t “can you do this tricky C++ problem”, but work with a given library and create a simple game.  My masters degree was more in engineering for games than data structures and algorithms.  The company itself does a lot of diversity outreach – which is incredibly important to me.  The answer to my question of “are there any women engineers?” was answered quite brilliantly.   Most studios so far say no (unfortunately), but how they answer it says a lot.

This morning as I was riding my bike to the grocery store, I thought about the most asked about question I get: why did you switch to programming from film.  This isn’t just an interview question, but one that I often get and rarely have a good answer to.  The short version is that film made me absolutely miserable and programming makes me excited to go to work.  The longer version says a lot more about who I am as a person and how my brain works.  I just never know which one to say and usually go with some form of “film is mostly contract work so after working 14 hour days, I would then have to network.  It was just exhausting.”

Growing up I loved 3 things: reading, watching movies and playing video games.  I’m incredibly introverted – if you couldn’t tell – so these were the things that I would do if I had the choice.  Movies though are what I loved most.  I started martial arts after seeing Karate Kid for the first time, which I have been involved in for most of my life since.  I reenacted the Swamp of Sadness scene from the Neverending Story by flooding the garden and using barbie and her horse in order to process the death of Artax.  These films moved me in a way nothing else really did.  I had a natural curiosity for computers and so very much enjoyed playing video games, but it was just different.  The things I got out of that was curiosity, learning and problem solving.  That moment when you are stuck and just can’t get past a part so you try everything and you just… get it.  That YAY moment.

Going into film was natural – I wanted to be apart of something that was so deeply important to me.  The downside was that the more I learned and worked with making film, the less I felt when watching them.  After 5 years of being in the industry I was absolutely miserable.  I moved back to the states – was in London at the time – and that helped, but it wasn’t it.  And after about a year of self-reflection I made the change to game programming.

This is where it gets tricky.  When I was a teenager I taught myself programming by making a text based adventure game.  That feeling you get when you finally get past a tricky spot in a game?  That’s how it felt to make it.  It’s the buttons it pushed within me that works so well with who I am as a person.  It was recalling that moment in my youth that made me take the leap.  The difference this time wasn’t that I love playing video games, it’s that I loved the challenge of making one.  They give roughly the same sense of accomplishment, but it’s different.  Experiencing a game come together and the miracle of it being released and at least mostly working, made me appreciate them more.

I have a plane to catch.  Until next time…

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