Women in Games: Interview with Fable: The Journey Intern Programmer Sarah Marshall
Find out what it takes to get into the gaming industry
Equality, feminism, human rights…whatever you want to call it, the fact stands that women are often treated as less than men. Even if they aren’t, there are certain industries which women tend to feel unwelcomed in and thus don’t even consider. One of these is the gaming industry.
Despite this there are more women in the games industry than ever. I began the Women in Games series back in August 2011 because I wanted to not only inform those who wanted to work in the games industry, but help other females realize that the industry is definitely an option – and it can be a welcoming one.
Every month I will interview a different woman who works in the games industry who will talk about their background and how they got into their position. This will include all kinds of roles, from interns to the highest levels. I want to bring not only information about how to obtain these careers, but I also want to show some of the many different types of careers in the industry. Learning about these roles can help one understand much more about what goes into a game—from the beginning ideas to release.
Because I want to present the whole series together, I will begin with my older interviews going into fresh interviews.
We will begin with an intern who is achieving her dream….
As a part of my Women in Games series, I had the opportunity to speak with Intern Game Programmer Sarah Marshall who is currently working on Fable: The Journey.
In the following interview, we discuss the presence of females in game programming, what it’s like to be a programmer, and what it takes to get into the field.
Please introduce yourself, if you would.
My name is Sarah Marshall. I am a Computer Science student at Warwick University in England and I just started a programming internship for the next 11 months at Lionhead Studios. This is my first videogame industry position. I got into programming at school – making games and solutions for my courses. I’ve always enjoyed it.
You are currently attending college for your degree in Computer Science. What are the classes like? Are there many females or is it rare?
Warwick tries to be broad in the modules it covers in Computer Science and I can choose which module to take. I have been studying A.I., advanced algorithms, mathematics modules and anything else that interests me. The classes are all interesting and every module has taught me things that improve my game programming or problem solving abilities.
As for the number of women on my course; in my year there are not many at all and fewer going on to the masters degree like I am. However in each new year the number of girls is increasing in both CS and other CS related courses.
What kinds of games do you like to play?
I love to play RPG games the most. However I enjoy lots of different genres. I prefer to play games that last a long time or have a lot of replay ability.
Has it been difficult being a female programmer so far? Is it a common thing that you’ve seen?
I don’t think that being a female programmer has affected anything I do so far. Of course it is a little strange to suddenly realize you might be the only woman in the room during meetings or classes. However I have noticed that people who don’t know what I do will tend to presume I work in a different field based on my gender.
Unfortunately I don’t know many other female programmers in the industry apart from those I have talked to online so I couldn’t say whether this is common.
You’re currently working on a release as an intern with Lionhead Studios. As an intern, what do your duties consist of?
Right now I am primarily on code support for both the scripters and animators. Additionally I chase up bugs and rewrite or refactor older code. Finally, I add new small features to the game and have ownership of those features.
What do you enjoy most about programming?
My favourite part of programming is how challenging it is on an hourly basis. Finding a problem, looking for the solution and finally fixing the code is always exciting. Learning new ways to accomplish a given goal and putting that knowledge into practice is a great feeling.
What do you think of the games industry in the U.K.?
I believe that the UK has tons of talent. Every student, indie and studio developer I have met all have the highest professional standards and not only want themselves and their company to do well, but want the UK industry to succeed and evolve.
If the standards keep being raised higher and developers concentrate on innovation and creativity in their games then I believe we can enrich the industry – not just here but in the wider world.
What would be your dream job and company?
Right now I am working in my dream job. My ultimate dream would be to join a company like Lionhead on a permanent basis and learn as much as I can. I would like to try as many different branches of videogame programming possible before choosing my specialty. I just want to keep programming games I love in an environment I enjoy for the rest of my life.
Why do you think there may not be as many female programmers as males?
I think it stems primarily from lack of access and the marketing of the industry as a whole to women. By “lack of access” I mean issues such as social preconceptions of programmers and the tiny number of good specialist game development degree courses at universities. Women that may not be interested in broader Computer Science degrees and don’t have access to a dedicated videogame course may just choose a different career.
Secondly the image of the industry and videogames – whilst changing slowly – is still male dominated and in some cases anti-female. I don’t like how I see women portrayed in some high profile games. I wouldn’t like to work on any game that can’t justify adding a character for anything other than eye candy.
Do you have any suggestions for anyone wishing to get into game programming? Any message for girls in particular?
Start planning what you want early and know the skills you are going to need so that you can learn them early. Get as much experience as you can and have an up-to-date portfolio of your games and skills publicly available. Read up on both the industry in general and the studios you like.
Once you are ready, get a list of studios or places you like and apply to them all. Apply even if positions aren’t open – most studios will be happy to get a talented new CV.
The most important thing is not to get discouraged! I applied to more than 50 studios across the world and only received a couple of interviews. Many companies may not get back to you or can take a month or longer to reply. It is not your fault, just keep trying.
Thank you for your time!