After Quitting the PhD – A Career Leap to Games Programming

It was a solid month after quitting my PhD before I really started to freak out about what to do with my life. For a while before deciding to quit I’d been convinced that it was a great idea to become some kind of amazing sci-fi author and live out a crazy, hermit-like existence. There’s even the opening chapter to novel kicking around somewhere that I was convinced was going to get finished. Whilst it certainly would’ve been interesting, I’m kinda glad I came to my senses and chose something sensible. Like a complete career shift to games programming.

Since I was a young child (around eight, I think) I always wanted a career in games. The ridiculous thing is that until the age of 24 I’d never fully grasped the notion that it was a thing that I could do. In January I got talking to a few friends in the games industry and was pleasantly surprised to find that a Physics degree is actually not a bad thing to have in this regard. My immediate reaction to this realisation was a little ridiculous…

I’d been teaching myself to code in C++ and making a small (quite stupid) game to test my skills but had really barely scratched the surface in terms of games programming knowledge. With this fairly limited skillset and temporary intellectual brovado I began sending out speculative applications for jobs.Two months after quitting my PhD. With next to no coding experience. Not the smartest move, but I did get an interview out of it. It seemed more like the company was interested because I had a pretty peculiar CV rather than anything else.

I am waiting to hear from various award committees.
My first game. Complete with incredible(!!!) sound effects and realistic dragon explosions.

Definitely the worst interview of my life so far. It was a phone interview, which it turns out are the worst kind of interview, in which the first question completely threw me. Consequently, a full on panic attack ensued preventing me from doing much other than incoherently mumbling and messing up virtually every subsequent question. To cap it all off, you know you’ve had a bad interview when the guy interviewing you advises you to stop applying for jobs. Several days went by with much wallowing in self pity. To my surprise, the next week they sent me an extremely encouraging email entreating me to continue learning and get back to them when I was more confident.

Although this experience was ultimately helpful, I’d not reccomend it as course of action for anyone in a similar position. The smart thing to do is build a portfolio and make sure you at least sort of know your stuff before throwing yourself head-first at companies. Obviously.

As a result of this I seriously reevaluated my learning process. Over the next month I ploughed through a decent  coding textbook (Accelerated C++ is excellent if you need to learn the language) and began work on a new game, which I’ll talk about in later blogs.


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