Breaking into the Games Industry.
Hi, I’m Stephanie. You may remember me from such appearances as an “infected runner” in The Last of Us Part II, or part of The Game Awards’ Inaugural Future Class of 2020! (Jokes aside) I am currently working as a Quality Assurance Engineer at Riot Games on VALORANT, and I am excited to share my journey with you with how I broke into the video game industry.
Hopefully without going off on too many tangents or adding more-than-necessary detail, I wanted to begin my story with a brief description with how I grew up. I have one older brother who had nearly all the video game consoles from 90’s - early 2000’s, and I am grateful for all the times he shared those consoles with me. As corny as this reads I thought playing video games was a magical experience. I wanted to know how I was able to control an animated character in real-time, and I never knew video games was a viable career option. As I was leaving high school and entering college, I started to think about my future career (which changed about 3 times) and I decided to pursue electrical engineering instead.
So during college, I was introduced to Portal and Portal 2 based on the recommendation from a Professor due to it’s realistic physics simulations. I absolutely loved it, and from that moment, playing video games slowly re-introduced itself back into my life after years of not playing. Another person also eventually showed me the game League of Legends, and I became so hooked on it I went to the World Championship game in Staples center in 2013. Still, I had every intention to finish my electrical engineering degree and thought I would work in the medical device field or maybe become an astronaut after graduating. I just saw video games as a hobby. Before my final year of graduating, however, I had a hardware engineering internship at a start-up in Culver City that changed my mind about games. We made “do-it-yourself” electronic kits for the Youtube influencer Kip Kay, which ranged from making your own speakers to making an automatic door unlocker with a customized knocking pattern, and another team worked on a giant tablet that would eventually be the netflix of boardgames. My fellow co-workers from that start-up knew people who worked at Riot Games, and decided to take all the interns to a LCS match and a tour of their campus. When I went on the tour, I became super impressed with the campus and the people working there. Everyone was friendly and super smart and the environment felt oddly welcoming. The seed was planted at this point with the desire to work there or in the gaming industry in general but I thought to myself, “How would a hardware-focused engineer get a job at a software based company?”.
When I returned to school for the fall semester following that internship, I became President of the Society of Women Engineers and became engulfed in extracurricular activities. This helped me stand out from other applicants, and I was able to get a full-time offer from Pacific Gas & Electric 8 months before I graduated along with the promise that they would pay for me to take graduate courses at Stanford University. It was a pretty sweet deal, so I accepted it with the goal in mind to eventually work at Riot Games. As I found myself in a very stable job at a very stable company, I realized the longer I stayed at Pacific Gas & Electric the harder it would be for me to leave. After nearly 3 years, I decided to pursue other opportunities in Los Angeles to be where the video game companies are - yet I still didn't break into the industry. I joined a start-up that worked on wireless power over long-distance using ultrasound (which was actually neat and allowed me to grow more breadth as an engineer). About 1.8 years later, the start-up I worked at had folded and I was let go. Luckily, I was let go the same week the 2019 E3 conference was happening, so in an effort to lift my spirits I went and watched Elon Musk talk about Tesla developments. One thing that stood out to me from his talk was when he said, “... the greatest engineers I ever met worked at a gaming company” and I became so inspired at that moment I decided to just apply to all the gaming companies that interested me in Los Angeles. I tried to match whatever skills I felt I had as close as possible to the position I was applying for, and I changed each resume to fit the specific role. A few weeks later I was contacted by Naughty Dog to interview for the Quality Assurance Tester/Development Support contract role, and I got the job!
During my time at Naughty Dog I was very eager to work and I signed up for as many over-time shifts as I could. I wanted to learn how the game engine worked and how each frame got rendered to the screen. If I couldn’t figure something out myself, I asked questions to my mentors and peers, and I transferred that knowledge to new people if they needed help. Teamwork is extremely important, and I would not have been able to finish a lot of tasks without the help of my fellow QA, so it was important to return the favor as well. As The Last of Us Part II was nearing completion and my contract was possibly having an end date mid-2020 (along with the uncertainty of the pandemic) I began looking for other roles. While it was very hard to leave, I am fortunate my engineering background and quality assurance experience at Naughty Dog helped me transition to the role of a Quality Assurance Engineer at Riot Games, where I work specifically on performance on hardware compatibility on VALORANT. I am also currently a member of VALORANT’s Diversity & Inclusion Council to help outreach and help make the game more accessible for players around the world. Although my time within the game industry has barely reached 1.5 years at this point, my contributions so far have helped me receive recognition from The Game Awards by being selected as a member of their 2020 Future Class. As advice to anyone wanting to break into the industry and make a difference, I want to tell you to go for it and make those bold bets. Rejections may come and go, but having the drive and tenacity to do what you want to do will ensure success.