Aardvark Swift and Develop introduce our competition to find the UK's brightest graduate

Search for a Star

Develop has teamed up with Aardvark Swift to launch a competition designed to find the UK’s brightest graduate – but what exactly is involved? Ed Fear caught up with programme manager Hollie Heraghty to find out more…

First of all, what is Search for a Star, and what does it hope to achieve as a competition?
Search for a Star is an X Factor-style talent competition we’re running in conjunction with UK universities, Develop magazine and the UK games development industry. It’s designed to highlight and reward the UK’s most promising video games programmers. Through three different stages, students will be tested and be asked to demonstrate that they have the skills, passion and the technical knowledge that the games industry is crying out for.

It will ultimately help provide opportunities for talented graduate programmers to get into the games industry, through experience, exposure and winning a Develop Award. We’re hoping that Search For a Star helps to plug the skills gap and will provide great talent for UK games studios.

How many students and universities have you got taking part?
We’ve approached approximately 50 UK universities, and a large percentage of those are taking part. The numbers of students vary from uni to uni – some feel they have two or three excellent candidates, others have nominated the full maximum of 10.

What has feedback been like from Universities so far?
The feedback from universities has been very positive. We have excellent relationships in place with many through our previous work delivering our annual careers talks. Many of the them also agree that there is a place for a competition like this. The focus is on the individual, as apposed to a team effort. The programming elements are completely technical and it shouldn’t clash with their studies.

The universities want the industry to let them know exactly what technical skills are required. They can see that this can be gained through the feedback that will be given to them; they’ll be able to see what is good about their courses and which areas they could develop and improve. They agree that as well as providing opportunities for their graduates, Search for a Star will help provide a valuable link between UK games developers and academic institutions. This should help universities focus future course content, which will in turn help to produce graduates with the skills and knowledge required to begin a career in the video games industry.

Have you spoken to any studios about it? Do they see it as a worthwhile competition?
In general yes. We’ve had an excellent response from forward thinking studios, as well as support from Skillset. However we find that developers fall into two camps: those that want to help to improve the calibre of graduates and those that just want to moan about it. Many studios are open to the idea of graduates, but feel that they are lacking the skills or the hobbyist projects or demos that they would require to consider them.

The response from Relentless Software has been amazing. I spoke with them because I was aware how actively they recruit graduates and felt that working together would give a greater credibility to the competition. Relentless devised and will mark the first and second stages of the competition. Sarah Maynard and Lizi Attwood have been a great help and support and have backed the competition with a lot of enthusiasm. Their help has really been invaluable, and their response cemented our belief that it’s a worthwhile competition.

What is the aim of the first round of technical questions?

The first round is designed to mimic the technical interview that a graduate would face after applying for a job at a studio. There are ten technical questions.
Students complete these under exam conditions so we’re confident that the answers are the students own. The last question allows scope for the students to shine (see boxout), to demonstrate the standard that we are looking for.

What comes after that?
The next stage of the competition is a second technical round. The remaining students will be given a task-based question, which will allow them to get to grips with some code, do some debugging and implement relevant changes.

Those students who are successful in this stage will be invited to a panel interview, then the winning student will then be invited to the Develop Awards to collect their Search for a Star award.

How many people do you expect to put forward for the panel interview?
This will depend a little on the calibre and quantity that make the cut from previous rounds – but we estimate six people.

What sorts of people do you anticipate being part of the interview panel?
The panel will contain a mixture of judges: a representative from recruitment, one from a technical background and hopefully a senior figure or two from the development industry. We will be talking to the students about their technical answers, going through their CV and assessing their passion and enthusiasm for games.

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