For the first session after
half-term reading week, I invited
our postgraduate course leaders to present their postgraduate
programmes, in the context of a general discussion about further study
as an option. As it happens, most of them were unable to make it;
Andy Thomason, from the
MSc in Computer Games and Entertainment,
was able to come, and he brought along some of the current students.
The message that he was delivering was clear (to me at least): if you
want to be hired as a games developer, it's the C++ and maths skills
that are in greatest demand.
The students have had plenty of chances to hear the message that they should have a portfolio of work to be able to demonstrate to employers what they can do. Andy's comments might have made it a bit clearer that the portfolio isn't just a collection of work: it's a product in itself, and it can be optimized for particular purposes just as any other product. As a showcase to gain employment, it should put the product of the in-demand skills front and centre: in particular, if the skills in demand are technical, such as C++ and maths, then construct examples that demonstrate those skills. Procedurally-generated terrain and realistic fog trump pretty terrain and artistic fog.
And of course I was there, wearing my MSc programme leader hat for our MSc in Computing, and very neatly suffering from a conflict of interest. In the sessions so far, I have been the voice of cynicism, trying to make the students think critically about what they were hearing; now, I was selling further study – worse, “more of the same” study – to the same audience. The good news is that I could claim any outcome as a victory; for the record, the number admitting to considering further study decreased after the talks, though I hesitate to draw a causal link from anything in particular anyone said.
To counterbalance the cynicism, and the sales pitch, I asked Becky Stewart from Codasign and Anti-Alias Labs to talk about some of the things she's been up to recently. She started by adding one possible motivation for postgraduate study: as she put it, it is way easier to go to a foreign country on a student visa than to be allowed to stay for any length of time for work – and she spoke with the voice of bitter experience. Although we in the UK have (at least for the moment) the privilege of being allowed to move about freely within the EU, it's not something that we can necessarily take for granted for very long. Following its recent referendum on immigration, Switzerland is finding that it is no longer benefiting from all the privileges previously afforded to it, and the possibility that either the anti-immigration crowd or the broader anti-EU campaigners get their way in the UK and take us out of associations is unfortunately non-negligible – and travel elsewhere is tricky and can involve significant paperwork.
Becky then showed some of her portfolio: projects she's worked on, complete with well-produced videos; for example, the GPS Shoe. This was particularly apposite, given Andy's talk about portfolios: the video is high-quality, clearly documents the project – and some distance from the “truth” of the matter, because the video was made before the electronics were complete, adding extra meaning to “fixing it in post-production”.
And, analogously, after presenting her other work, participating in art projects and leading workshops in creative electronics (including sewing workshops at technology conferences) Becky calmly told the students that although the art projects are what she talks about, and they're how she markets herself at least some of the time, they're not the projects that pay the bills: she earns money from freelancing in the creative undustries, so that she can work on high-profile art. And so we come full circle: portfolios as showcases. I don't know if Becky will thank me or not to draw attention to the hyperbolic trousers she made for my daughter some years back; maybe the next version needs more LEDs?