Hardware is changing but teaching isn't, says Insomniac's engine director

Acton: ‘The education system hasn’t kept up with the real world’

Mike Acton, engine director at Insomniac Games, has hit out at computer science and game degrees for not keeping up with the changing nature of console development.

Speaking in the second part of his exclusive chat with us, Acton spoke on how recent programming paradigms of the past five to eight years – paradigms that are taught heavily at university – are struggling on modern architectures such as the PS3.

"It’s interesting because I think that probably the oldest programming methods are the most relevant today," he said.

"It’s the habits over the last five or eight years that are struggling, and it’s interestingly the people that are more recently out of school that are going to have the most trouble, because the education system really hasn’t caught up to how the real world is, how hardware is changing and how development is changing."

He continued: "The kinds of things that they’re teaching specifically is to abstract things and make them more generic – treating software as a platform, whereas hardware is the real platform – but performance, and the low-level aspects of hardware, aren’t part of the education system. People come in with a wrong-headed view on how to develop software."

The solution, he says, is that courses should teach more to-the-metal material, such as parallel processing and low-level programming with assembler. "You have a lot of people leaving school now who not only have never written any assembly but don’t even understand how it works in general," explained Acton. "But it’s something that as a professional programmer you should know – it should be part of the job description."

For more from Acton, including what lessons Insomniac has learnt as it develops its third PS3 title, check out the second part of our interview here. Part one, which covers Insomniac’s new Nocturnal code and knowledge-sharing initiative, can be found here.

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