Goldsmiths, University of London computing professor William Latham gives you seven rules for picking your course in games programming

Top tips for picking your games programming course

This month, as part of our New Year, New Job 2014 special, Develop brings you a university representative to explain what path is best for you to pursue when approaching higher education courses, apprenticeships and more for the games industry.

How do you pick the best programming course? And to make that choice, do I stay with traditional ‘mainstream’ coding courses? Or do I go with a ‘trendy games specialist’ course?

These perennial questions come up again and again from students I meet through my work in games at Goldsmiths, University of London. To answer this question one needs to first look at the wider academic historical landscape.

Traditionally, at BSc level in the UK computing academic world, there has been a split between three distinct camps:

  1. The ‘purist computer science BSc courses’, such as those delivered by Imperial, UCL, York and Southampton
  2. The much more “hands on” application driven BSc course such as what we deliver here at Goldsmiths
  3. A third camp where minimal programming is taught.

Any student finishing A-levels has to decide which of these three paths to follow and which to join, which of course is often dependent on UCAS points scoring.

If you join the first ‘purist’ camp, the course will be more abstract, your skills will be more generic and you will learn to work from ‘first principles’ on any project. You could easily end up being seduced by larger salaries and working in the City in banking for a ‘Wolf of Wall Street-lifestyle’, rather than ending up in the games industry.

If you join the second, hands-on camp, you are going to be quickly productive, and hit the ground commercially running, but may have some tricky gaps in your knowledge, which will come back and bite you.

It is pretty clear what you will gain in the ‘no coding’ third camp: nothing apart from fun parties and clubbing for three years. (Actually, does not sound too bad! Not so great when you wake up with a terrible hangover.)

There is no obvious easy winning scenario between choosing camp one or two.

Here are some words of advice when choosing between the two routes.

Rule 1: Look for research
The amount and breadth of research that a department is doing is an indication of how strong and lively that department or course is. Normally, this research is easily available on the university’s websites and takes the form of papers, books, conferences and exhibitions. Look also for any EU, UK-RC or TSB grants that the university may have won, which are all positive indicators. Lively minded lecturers normally translate into lively minded teaching.

Rule 2: Look for maths course content
Maths should go hand in hand with programming. A phrase one often hears in the games industry is “they were a great programmer, but their maths was terrible”. You will always have friends in the games industry if you are a good mathematician.

Rule 3: Swat up on the head of department
If they are motivated and switched on, the courses will be also.

Rule 4: Placements and jobs
A course that is lively and successful will have strong commercial links, and if these are strong enough you will gain from these. So look for those commercial connections.

Rule 5: What else is going on at the university?
Look at everything that is going on outside the course. All work and no play, as they say. Who knows, these wider influences and connections could be very valuable downstream.

Rule 6: Industry placements
Look at whether the Course organises placements and with whom? When? You want to be on them. For example, at Goldsmiths all of our 2012/13 MSc in Computer Games and Entertainment students secured placements at UK computer games companies, such as Creative Assembly, Rebellion, Supermassive Games, Gamesys and the National Film & Television School.

Rule 7: Alumni
Check out the alumni. Where are they now? Do they still interact with the course? Does the course have an alumni network? This network could be the very thing that gets you your first job. At Goldsmiths, we are organising ours on Facebook and, for the first time this year, will have our alumni reunion and party in Soho this February.

But there is a new trend emerging for Computing students, one that doesn’t quite fit into camp one or camp two. This is to get the basics on a BSc, and then follow on with a hardcore MSc course with a focus on C++ and research.

This is what we are offering at Goldsmiths, and you can find more information on our website. We have an excellent industry placement scheme, we perform lively research, and there is always something interesting and fun happening at the Goldsmiths campus.

Good luck picking your programming course!

You can find out more about Goldsmiths, University of London and other university courses in Develop’s Training Spotlights archive.

This feature is part of New Year, New Job 2014, Develop’s month-long guide to games recruitment. You can read more at

Image (body): Flickr/Blowing Puffer Fish

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