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How to Get Hired at a Game Studio: Game Engineer Edition 2021

In our How to Get Hired Series, we interview hiring managers all about their departments, their best practices for success at Filament Games, and qualities in applications and applicants that make an impression. For our first installment in the 2021 reboot of this series, we interviewed Gene Cook, our Game Engineering Manager. 

See our previous How to Get Hired post on the engineering department here, and see our current open positions here. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe the open role(s) and your role, along with your day-to-day work? How does your role interact with other roles in and out of your department?

Here, Filament’s game development projects are all run by small teams made up of around 5 people. When you make a game at Filament, you’re mostly interacting with the same small group of people. If you’re a programmer, you’ll be hanging out a lot with the UX engineer at the beginning of a project, and at the end of a project, you’ll be hanging out with the QA engineer on your team. Games typically take 6-12 months to complete, so every 6-12 months or so, new teams may form. But, overall, your project team will make up the majority of who you work with day-to-day.

For me, my day-to-day role is to make sure that engineers have what they need to do their job, to keep them connected with the other engineers, to make sure that they have career goals and objectives, and a place to discuss those things. I’m not here to manage projects. I’m responsible for taking care of all of the game engineers.

When it comes to hiring, I read and filter the first round of applications for the engineering department. I also make the final decisions on hiring. 

Tips for success at Filament Games? 

Be proactive. People who take action without waiting to be told to will have success at Filament. This place is fast-paced, so if you’re waiting around for someone to tell you what to do, it might not happen in a timely way, because everyone has their own projects to work on and deadlines to meet.

Spend time to get to know your peers and other people in the company. Filament is unique because of the game developers that we hire. We hire people who want to make learning games. It isn’t necessarily our goal to make sure that all of our employees have advanced degrees from prestigious universities, or only hire people who graduate summa cum laude from their classes. We’re looking for people who want to make learning games. Success and happiness at Filament can come from getting to know the people here – they will be like you in the sense that they want to make learning games too. They will be a big part of why you come to work every day. If you have a small team of people who are your friends, who are supportive, then no matter how tough or complex things get, you’ll know you’ll be able to get good work done. 

Filament is all about change. We change teams every 6-12 months. Sometimes I ask some of my engineers to help out on other projects besides their own, and sometimes this is unplanned. 

What should an applicant make sure to include, and on the other hand, make sure to avoid, in an application for your department?

There are two categories of engineers that we’re hiring for. One is people with under a year of experience – I’ve hired people right out of college before – so in interviews, I’m not going to ask them questions like “can you tell me about a time where you had a conflict with a colleague, and what did you do about it?” because it doesn’t make sense, they haven’t had the experiences yet to be able to answer that. I interview college graduates differently than I would the other category, which is experienced game developers. 

One common mistake I find on applications is that people do not include a cover letter. Or they’ll include a generic cover letter, and it’s pretty obvious. I can tell because those cover letters won’t include anything specific to Filament, or anything about learning games at all. These kinds of letters give me a sense that the applicant doesn’t know much about our company. And our studio is unique since there are not a lot of companies that only make learning games. If you’re applying to work here and you’re not talking about that, I’m going to be wondering why you’re applying in the first place. I would say that’s general advice for anyone applying for any job here.

For game engineers specifically, it’s great for you to list your college experience, but it has to be specific. I don’t get a lot from reading a sentence about a capstone project that was done with 9 or 10 other students. The same idea holds true for more experienced game engineers –  don’t just tell me that you’ve worked on a game, because depending on the company, there could be anywhere between 5 to 25 other engineers who also worked on it. How do I know what you did, specifically? So, you should tell me what you worked on, but you should also tell me what specific aspects of a project that you were responsible for. If you’re a game engineer, you should also be able to use the correct verbiage when explaining this. For example, for the AI I did this, for the pathfinding I did this, for the physics subsystems I did this, and so on. I expect you to use the proper language and not be generic. 

Make sure the past jobs and experiences you list on your resume are relevant. I do want to know what your hobbies and volunteer activities are. For example, if you tutored at your university, I would want to know that because that tells me that you’re interested in teaching, which is obviously related to learning games. If you’re somebody that tutors, you’re somebody who has tried to teach someone something before. You can include information about jobs that weren’t game jobs, for example, if you work as a web engineer somewhere, go ahead and list that. But add enough detail so I know what aspects of that job you worked on there as well, because it may be applicable to some of the stuff that we do here. 

You should also avoid listing every programming language and every tool that you’ve cursorily encountered. If you are going to list stuff that you don’t know very well, you should specify, for example, that you just used it in one class. If you say you’re an expert in something, you better be prepared to answer a question that only an expert could answer, cause I’ll probably ask it. 

What are the steps you take during your hiring process?

The application has a small programming test on it, and then, if selected, we start with a phone screen. The phone screen will be with an engineer – it may or may not be with me. The next step is a technical interview that lasts from 90 minutes to two hours. In this interview, several programmers will ask you questions that we’ve predetermined. Everyone gets the same questions, whether they are applying for a senior or junior position, but we have a large stack of questions. Everyone gets a warm-up question, and from there, they get progressively harder. The quicker and more completely you answer them, the more questions you get, so we can gauge how much you know. 

After the technical interview, we have an interview where you meet a representative from all of the other game departments, which lasts about an hour. For experienced game engineers, we’ll ask about things like your past interactions with QA, ask what your perspective is on design, ask what you know about art and animation, and so on. If you’re a younger programmer, we’re looking for a great attitude. Since you may not have many past experiences, we’re trying to see if you’ve put some thought into the future, for example, working with a QA department. Designers will want to know how candidates go about solving game problems. 

After those interviews, I’ll take feedback from others, and from there, I make my decision. 

What are some qualities, skill sets, or character traits you value in an employee?

Every one of our clients is different, and that means every game that we make is going to be different and customized for each client, and we don’t know who our clients are going to be ahead of time. Filament game devs have to be curious, and the type of people who are always excited to learn new things. Each new client is going to bring in new challenges, so rarely will our engineers use one set of skills for every single game they work on. 

Because we’re in a small team environment, teamwork and collaboration skills are really important. During an interview, we might pay attention to how much applicants talk about themselves, versus how much they talk about previous group work experiences and notice if they talk in a way that shows consideration for former colleagues. 

I need people with grit. When things are going tough, or there are unexpected challenges, I need someone who is going to dig in and figure it out. Someone who isn’t going to give up, or blame other people for obstacles, or wait for someone else to solve the problem. Another word that comes to mind is “ownership.” I want somebody who takes a lot of ownership over what they do and what their team does. 

Interested in applying for one of our open positions? Check out our careers page here! There’s a lot to love about working for us. Learn more about our company culture and who we are below:

More insight on how to get hired:

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