My computing games placement with Aardvark Swift

Computer Games Development student Neil Osbaldeston tells us about his experience on his work placement as a Junior Core Tech Programmer, D3T

Tell us a bit about your job role on placement and what this entails on a day to day basis

I fill the role of Intern Junior Programmer but in truth the Intern part may as well not be there! I do the same job as anyone else. I receive the same responsibilities, expectations, and respect. Day to day I work as part of a team on a specific project, which I can’t disclose at this time due to an NDA. The day generally begins with a stand-up meeting, part of an agile software-development methodology, to quickly determine the team’s progress, who’s working on what and what’s blocking any progress. Throughout the life of a project, individuals assume responsibility for certain areas, usually due to their expertise. This allows them to work through a list of tasks without risk of overlap. For the rest of the day I’m usually sat at my desk working to either implement features or fix the bugs that I’ve agreed to do that day.

What have you enjoyed the most so far on your placement?

Definitely feeling part of the team and not just some intern that they can throw in a corner and give menial tasks to! Also having the opportunity to work on high profile projects, gaining experience and credit.

What did you have to do to secure your placement?

For the most part I went through the same recruitment process as everyone else, except I first met my manager at the finals day of ‘Search for a Star’ where I was competing in ‘Rising Star’.  Both high profile competitions within the UK games industry, run by Aardvark Swift. That exposure and the fact I was willing to talk to D3T’s representatives, and I like to think impress them, put me on their radar.

I was then asked, through Aardvark Swift, if I’d like to complete their programming test. The programming test was different to most, they provided a simple game and I was given 24 hours to add as many features to it as I could from a list. This simulates working conditions much more than any maths test or written programming test which only instils panic. A programmer will always have resources available to refer from, which are not there in a classic test environment. I was called in for an interview which was fairly laid back and informal. We discussed the game features I’d implemented or not, my aspirations and generally just chat about life, my interests, particularly within games since this was a software engineering firm with a strong games focus. 

The idea behind the interview was clear; they were already happy with my skills, they now needed to see if I would be a good fit, since everyone works very closely together and there’s a strong family feel about the place.

Neil Osbaldeston
Neil Osbaldeston

What skills have you learnt whilst on your course that you can apply to your placement?

Probably the most difficult subject to stomach on the course, Software Development (including Agile Systems Design), has become the most useful.  Many agile methods such as stand-up meetings, Kanban boards, and time boxing are used within the industry.

Obviously, the programming was essential, but less the learning of the languages and more how to structure your code and comment it so that other members of the team understand what’s going on when you’re not available to explain or perhaps long gone.  Many projects get resurrected years later and trying to understand what’s going on without comments is near impossible.

How well do you think both UCLan and this placement have prepared you for finding a job after you graduate?

UCLan provides a solid understanding in programming AI, graphics, and systems, and all the methodologies that could be used to achieve the goal of a successful project.

My placement has taught me many other very specific skills such as VR integration, console development, and game engine optimisation, but the key one that I find doesn’t really work so well in university is team work on a large project.

Working side by side with potentially hundreds of other people all editing or adding to the project in some way.  Also, as a coder trusting the other programmers to produce good code and to not break everything.

How important do you think it is to have industry experience by the time you leave University?

I believe it provides a large advantage, especially if you can get a glowing recommendation from the placement or even an invitation to return after completing the degree!  Naturally that would be the ideal instance if your placement was what you were looking for. As far as being prepared for the work, I’d say it’s depends of your confidence. Some may benefit from being eased in more gently but a placement in the games industry is no less forgiving than the real thing, so I guess it would be a good chance to see if they can handle it..

What do you think of the opportunities that UCLan gives to students?

I personally think there’s plenty of opportunity for those looking for it, I’ve been to Cyprus and China on University business and the University fund academic trips organised by the students too. There’s no lack of learning resources available including a free subscription to which I’m currently utilising to learn more about Unreal Engine 4.

What advice would you give to other students considering a placement during their degree?

First, I’d like to emphasise the importance of the first year! Most students don’t see its relevance since it doesn’t count towards the degree but if they’re going for a placement, and I very much recommend they do, they’ll only have the grades from the first year to show to a prospective employer. Poor grades won’t even see them to a programming test, let alone an interview. Secondly, stand out! The more extra curricula activities you do, the more of an interesting person you become to a prospective employer. Also shows you have the extra capacity to do more than just uni work. This really goes for finding a job after university too. Extra work towards your chosen field is especially useful, volunteering or entering competitions are a great way to get noticed.

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