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Engineers and Computer Professionals- Help Please!
Old 12-09-2013, 10:19 AM   #1
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Engineers and Computer Professionals- Help Please!

My oldest son is about half way through his junior year in high school and so it's about time for him to get serious about looking at colleges. He's a very good student and really excels at math and science, and just about everything academic. Currently, he is a 4.0 student and last time I looked 5th in his class of about 400+. He takes his ACT test this Saturday so I don't have a result on that yet (maybe I should have waited to post this question) but I would expect he'll score above average. I'm sure he'll have no problem getting into a college of his choice, particularly since he doesn't seem to have any interest in most of the elite universities. So that's the background...

And getting closer to the question...

His interests are in video game design and software development. Or at least that what I think it's called. Herein lies part of the issue. I know nothing about this area and haven't been able to provide much help beyond what he could find himself using Google. From what I've heard this is a pretty competitive field, given that every teenage kid seems to like video games these days (except my younger son, who would rather spend the day outside looking at bugs or shooting cans of the fence with his BB gun). One of my concerns is that it'll be hard to find the job he really wants because the demand for these positions is high. I'd love it if his education was broad enough to find another job if the gaming thing didn't work out.

So here's the real question: should he focus on finding a college that has a video game design and development program or simply find a college with a good computer science or software development program? I'm guessing the former could give him a leg up on the competition after graduation but it seems that the latter would give him a broader base for various other types of industries. Or does either one work because they both have enough exposure to computer programming?

He and I have gone on two college visits just to give him a feel for a couple different sized campuses (30,000 students) and mid-sized (about 10,000 students). He seemed to be much more drawn toward the smaller school... and so we could also look at even smaller schools to see how he feels about those. However, at this point it seems that it would be more important for him to narrow his choices down by reputation in his field of interest first. In other words, if he really should be looking at colleges with a video game design program, that starts to really limits his choices.

To further complicate the matter in my mind, he's not much of an extrovert and has expressed interest in staying closer to home. So at this point, he's only been looking at in-state schools. This could actually work out okay for him, since there is one state school that has a video gaming program and there are plenty of schools with comp science or software engineering.

Here's another question to further cloud the issue... if it does make sense to find a college with a video gaming program, how important is it that it's a top-rated school / program? For example, there's an in-state college with a program that seems pretty darn good but doesn't have a well-known reputation... and would cost maybe $16,000 per year. There's also a college with a "top 20 in video gaming" rating in nearby Illinois... annual cost about $50,000. How much does reputation matter for this major??

Sorry for the long intro but I really appreciate any thoughts on this subject, especially from those of you who have experience in this field.
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Old 12-09-2013, 10:37 AM   #2
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So here's the real question: should he focus on finding a college that has a video game design and development program or simply find a college with a good computer science or software development program? I'm guessing the former could give him a leg up on the competition after graduation but it seems that the latter would give him a broader base for various other types of industries. Or does either one work because they both have enough exposure to computer programming?
Good computer science and software development program is all he needs as an undergraduate IMO. If the program is strong, he should be able to find electives to take as a junior and senior that would give him a leg up.

He can also try to get a summer or intern job as a programmer in the type of company he's interested in. That will give serious leg up on the competition after graduation.

Where are the graduates going in that in-state program that lacks a well-known reputation? Certain companies tend to recruit/hire at certain schools. You could always go to the school and see who is hiring there.
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Old 12-09-2013, 10:38 AM   #3
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Is there an option to pursue a more traditional software engineering curriculum and possibly a minor in the video games area? In any event, I suspect most jobs in the software development area are good choices for introverts

Right now, I would say the $s for software types are in mobile apps.
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Old 12-09-2013, 10:45 AM   #4
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We're in a similar situation with my son but he's a year younger. He's written a pong-game ap for his driod ...

We will choose an in state university - vice college. Committing someone to a specialized school could back-fire if he looses interest.

The first couple years of school will be tackling all the core engineering requirements ... very little in the why of hard-core programming (1 course/semester max ... if he can even qualify). Once he has the prerequisites under his belt he'll be much better suited to decide if that's what he wants to continue with.
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Old 12-09-2013, 10:54 AM   #5
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My younger son does this for a living, and has for 7-8 years. He did a normal CS degree, and recommends this for younger guys too. There are many niches in this field, as in all other fields. First, go broad. There is a video gaming college In Redmond, IIRC it was started by Nintendo. I think they do well, but no way have they put U. Washington or Washington State out of business.

Many jobs in the gaming area are really platform jobs, so a basis CS degree is very good.

Ha
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Old 12-09-2013, 10:56 AM   #6
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General CS, and then excel at it.

But he should also try to work into the industry with knowledge outside of college. Try to get a part time job at a game store, or equipment store. Try to get an internship. These can go on the resume.

Act very professional and be active in social media. What I mean by that isn't so much facebook, but rather gaming forums. If he becomes an expert on the forums, that's huge. For example, in general CS, there is a forum called "stackoverflow.com". I sometimes ask candidates if they participate, and if so, are they willing to show how they helped out by pointing to a post? I don't want their password, just want to know how they present themselves and if they participate in helping the world. You don't have to be an extrovert to be active on forums. (Most here are not.)

Finally: WRITING SKILLS. I've heard from my friends in the gaming world that they find some brilliant kids who could code or test all day, but cannot write down their results or ideas in any way, nor could they read specifications. This is important.
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Old 12-09-2013, 10:58 AM   #7
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Good computer science and software development program is all he needs as an undergraduate IMO. If the program is strong, he should be able to find electives to take as a junior and senior that would give him a leg up.

He can also try to get a summer or intern job as a programmer in the type of company he's interested in. That will give serious leg up on the competition after graduation.
Great suggestion on the internship. I'd suggest asking the schools he's interested in about any intern programs. A friends son got into a well known company that does gps and maps, he had a locked in job offer before his Sr. year. He's working on cutting edge stuff, with lots of graphics. He went to an affordable state school, that company is close by, that was one of their talent acquisition techniques. Local college, hard workers with great grades.

The IT industry changes every few months so its hard to say what the next hot thing is. It might be good to have a broad base, Comp Science, with knowledge of video games, instead of being pigeon holed into, I do video games.

I retired from IT after almost 30 years, my education, high school and a 1 year programming tech school. I wouldn't suggest that today.

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Old 12-09-2013, 11:03 AM   #8
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There has been a lot of press about video game developers being worked to death. I would second the mobile apps idea as there aren't millions of people out there yet to compete with for jobs since it is relatively new, so the pay is quite high and there is a greater opportunity to work for yourself or do contract work.
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Old 12-09-2013, 11:11 AM   #9
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As Audrey states above he needs to get a good computer science degree, preferably one that includes the architecture of computer systems. The gaming industry needs software engineers as well as game designers, programmers and the like.

DD is a software engineer and moved into the gaming industry 4 years ago. She makes an excellent living, but as a software engineer she first worked at IBM for 8 years and if the gaming industry collapses she has a whole range of other jobs available.

He sounds very bright indeed, and my advice would be to concentrate on the degree first. We are currently visiting with DD in Santa Monica where she works and I went with her to a bar and sat with a director and 3 senior managers for a couple of hours. A couple of days ago she had taken us on a tour of the facilities, which is a 2 minute walk from where she lives, is world HQ and employs 800 folk just in that building. It is a really different workplace to what I'm used to in the chemical industry. (She has also taken me on tours of offices of 2 other big gaming companies in Austin, and in Bellvue).

In asking the 3 guys I was drinking with how they got to where they are today career-wise, they all started with Computer Science degrees and worked in traditional computer related jobs before moving into the gaming industry.

DD got her move by playing a particular on-line game a lot, becoming recognized as a super-user so was a user beta tester, and then when on a gaming convention trip met up and had an initial interview with a manger in the company that made the game she liked so much.
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Old 12-09-2013, 11:12 AM   #10
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Of the millions of games produced, very few actually turn much profit. This means very few people make a sustainable career from such games. By contrast, business software is where the money lies, hence there are many more jobs and ways to have a successful career. Skip the video game college and go for a college that offers a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Science.
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Old 12-09-2013, 11:16 AM   #11
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The electronics world evolves very quickly as we all know. I was an EE and went to a top rated school. But frankly it was all very confusing and still is a bit to see where things are going and how things might evolve in the coming decades.

If it were my son, I'd encourage him to look at job requirements as posted online. That might give him some clues as to what things are requested. Just a taste of reality. He still has to filter this stuff as best he can. There are also sites like LinkedIn that may offer useful industry knowledge.

I'd also encourage him to try to find industry mentors, now or in the future when he is in college. Internships are good for getting a sense of work life too. Some kids love the college courses but don't like the actual industry work.

Then there is the whole area of broadening out his awareness. Life is too short to just focus on video games in my opinion. I'd encourage him to get some good courses in the humanities which is admittedly hard to shoehorn into an engineering schedule.

Some areas of our country offer more tech job possibilities then others. I worked in the Santa Clara valley area (Silicon Valley) and the energy and opportunities there were great.
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Old 12-09-2013, 11:34 AM   #12
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Wow! If I was the OP, I'd be most impressed with the replies so far...sounds like outstanding guidance based on my (inferior) second hand knowledge.
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Old 12-09-2013, 11:42 AM   #13
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My son is currently in college and is also interested in video game development. He is getting a general CS degree. There were several reasons he did this rather than going for a specific gaming degree:

1. Gaming companies don't require gaming related degrees. Go to the jobs websites for Blizzard or Riot Games. Look at what they require. In most instances jobs require certain skills, not specific degrees. In some instances a degree of some sort is required but usually it isn't specified or, if it is, all that is needed is a CS degree.

2. He can gain the skills he needs for gaming without having a specific gaming degree. This will also give him skills that would be helpful in other fields.

3. Most gaming companies want to see that someone has a passion for gaming and gaming development. I read a twitter discussion the other day between a lead game designer and someone asking about this where he said that they (large gaming company) don't care if you have a gaming degree. (Gaming degree was not a negative, but it wasn't any more desirable than a CS degree). They would rather see that you had written an iPhone game or something. Again - the emphasis was on skills. (He also has talked about the ability to be able to communicate well and work with others).

4. Things change. DS is sure right now he wants to go into gaming. But he could change his mind or he might not be able to find a job. In that case, the general CS degree will be much better for him.

Basically, even as gaming crazy as DS is, even he believes that a gaming degree won't help him in finding a gaming job and that a CS degree is more versatile. It might be more fun to just do a gaming degree, but the CS degree is far more practical even if all he ever does is work in gaming.
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Old 12-09-2013, 12:16 PM   #14
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One of our kids' friends was recruited for a six figure job even without a degree just by becoming an expert in a certain type of software and making a name for himself before he was even out of his teens.

Portfolios of actual work, even if just for a hobby or nonprofit work, can count for a lot in programming related fields.
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Old 12-09-2013, 12:20 PM   #15
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Absolutely get the general CS degree. But my recommendation is attend an engineering college that requires co-ops or internships. I have interviewed new college graduate engineers for years for the chemical industry. The kids who had co-ops actually have something to talk about in an interview. The kids who did high school, straight through college have nothing to talk about but their senior project in college if they did one. Plus, you can see what sort of job you're getting into before you graduate.
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Old 12-09-2013, 12:32 PM   #16
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I'm a chemical engineer so I'll give general comments on college choices.
  1. The degree program needs to be accredited. This is usually not an issue at major colleges but it is frequently an issue at smaller schools.
  2. The size is not the issue as much as the reputation of the program. Your son may initially feel more comfortable with the smaller school but once there he will find that most of his activities will be within his major which will be easily managed.
  3. An accredited degree program with a good reputation will be more heavily recruited. Graduates from these programs are also in leadership positions in industry. Don't underestimate the value of these connections. You might want to drop into the campus recruiting offices to see which firms interview and hire.
  4. Don't feel like your son needs to go to one of the "big name" engineering schools. I used to recruit at MIT. We paid MIT grads slightly more to start but their salaries were the same as the non-MIT grads 3 to 5 years down the road. By then performance had taken over and I didn't see a benefit from paying the outrageous cost of going to MIT. The state school is usually a better value.
  5. You don't have a location shown. Even state schools are expensive in many parts of the country. My kids had plenty of out of state students that said they were paying less than in state on the east coast. In Texas any scholarship from the university also qualifies the student for in state tuition.
  6. Internships or good summer engineering jobs are a big plus. Some schools are better at running these programs than others.
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Old 12-09-2013, 01:00 PM   #17
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I agree with the others that getting a CS degree is your best approach. Sony Online Entertainment is located here in San Diego and I know a few people who work there. None of them had video game specific degrees.

Here's an example job add from there:

https://rn12.ultipro.com/SON1002/job...EE11407DAC495F

I also agree with the advice to build a portfolio. Building android apps - or mods to open source online games (like Minecraft for example) is a good way to build a portfolio before you get the job.

A niece works for SOE - she said the user modifiable games are dramatically changing the video game industry... so your son needs to get the core skill set, and be agile and adaptable.
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Old 12-09-2013, 01:21 PM   #18
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Point him in the direction of a school that is strong in software and hardware engineering. He might think he loves software, but he probably has not seen the scope of CS.

What part of the country?
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Old 12-09-2013, 01:45 PM   #19
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Here is some food for thought on how Google goes about hiring these days -

In Head-Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal - NYTimes.com

"One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation. Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything.

What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college."

I suspect as time goes on more companies will interview like this, and internships, work experience, contributions to open source projects, real world on the job volunteer work, etc. will gain in importance over pure academic qualifications.

One of our kids has a part time, paid internship and the other we pay an hourly rate to do unpaid, career related volunteer work. I think it is better for them long term to have actual career related work experience, even if unpaid, on the resumes for post college employment prospects rather than working a minimum wage retail job for spending money during college.
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Old 12-09-2013, 01:49 PM   #20
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I think a minor in management would be a big help as he may want to move up from just writing code.
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