Womenize! Wednesday Weekly is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. Over the next weeks we will highlight five sHeroes from leading mobile game studio King. Today we introduce C++ Developer Johanna Ploog. Read more about Johanna in this interview:

Hello Johanna! You are a C++ Developer at King. With over ten years of experience as a programmer, what originally made you interested in becoming a programmer for video games?

For me, becoming a programmer was an obvious choice, simply because I liked writing code. However, I wasn’t that interested in gaming and it never occurred to me that being a game developer could be a viable option. So I sort of got into game development by accident.

While studying something else, I spent a lot of my free time playing “Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup”, an open source game under active development. As a fan and active player, I contributed with feedback, bug reports and eventually patches, and at some point I was asked to join the dev team. I stayed on for a few years, during which I learned a lot about game development. And not just programming, either. Since everybody on the team wore all kinds of hats, I also got a lot of hands-on experience in game design, QA, project management, etc. Even today, I still benefit from this experience.

At some point I realized I was essentially working 40-hour weeks developing this game and spending hardly any time on my studies. That’s when I started thinking about doing this for a living. I still didn’t know if that was a realistic goal, but I sent out some applications and got my first job in the industry. I never regretted that decision.

Your LinkedIn profile tells me that you like to attend Game jams. What do you love the most about them, are there any benefits besides connecting with other developers?

I actually don’t participate in game jams nearly as often as I’d like to. As a full-time programmer I find I need to do something other than more programming in my free time to rest my mind. On the rare occasions that I do attend game jams, however, I enjoy them a lot.

A large part of what drew me to game development in the first place are the immediately visible (and often playable) results you get when implementing a new feature or tweaking an existing one. Game jams take this to the extreme: Within a few hours or at most days, you get to complete an entire game. This also makes game jams an excellent opportunity to try something new. Dabbling in a different genre, trying out a weird game idea, experimenting with new technology, you name it. There’s no risk. Even if the game idea doesn’t work out or you don’t manage to complete the project, you’ve hardly wasted any time and still managed to learn a lot.

And finally, game jams are all about the shared experience. About forming ad-hoc teams with people you’ve never met. About working together to come up with a creative game idea and then make that become reality. And of course seeing what others have created can be a great inspiration, too.

What should be the first steps for someone who is interested in becoming a game programmer, do you have any tips on how to start out?

My career progression is probably not generally applicable. That said, I strongly believe that having real project experience, even in a vastly different genre, gave me a leg up in getting that first job. If your school or university doesn’t already require you to participate in group projects, I’d definitely recommend to participate in a few game jams.

Game development is about much more than mere programming. What these group projects (or game jams) will teach you are things like an understanding of scope, task prioritization, cross-functional team work, and dealing with unexpected roadblocks while faced with a deadline. All of these are greatly valued by team leads and producers alike and make for good talking points in interviews.

In more practical terms, I’d advise you to get to know at least one game engine. I’d recommend Unity 3D, simply because it’s free and easy to learn. Personally, I hardly ever used this specific engine in my professional life, but I found that knowing one engine makes it easier to pick up another one. The same is true for programming languages. The syntax takes some getting used to, but usually the principles are the same.

For this reason, don’t let yourself be discouraged if the job postings out there don’t match your skill set exactly. If you check half of the requirements, you’re good. If more, you’re probably already ahead of the competition. You’ll have to do a lot of learning on the job anyway, simply because projects come and go and requirements change all the time.

Thanks for taking your time Johanna!

Johanna’s Links:
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johanna-ploog
King Website: https://king.com/
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup: https://crawl.develz.org/

WWW Feature by Anne Zarnecke