James Hyde, build engineer at Creative Assembly, looks back at his path and explains why experience in a studio isn’t vital to land your dream job
What is your job role and how would you describe it?
I am a build engineer at Creative Assembly (CA), currently working across several projects, including Halo Wars 2 , Total War and our brand new IP. Build engineering is one of those niche roles in games development – put simply, a build engineer is responsible for every build the studio produces, which is essentially a working version of the game at any point in time, from the first prototype to the final game. The developers submit their work to source control, in chunks of code and data, and the continuous integration system picks these up and creates a new build out of them. The build team manages both systems and investigates any breakages to keep the development team working as efficiently as possible. We also create tools to facilitate interaction with these systems, such as the sassy chatbot – Serina – that I am currently working on: she provides ETAs and progress updates on these builds, when asked nicely. And then there’s the release management component: we are responsible for delivering the game to publishers, and for submissions to digital stores. Recently, we worked with 343 Industries – eight hours behind in Washington – and were practically on-call 24/7, ready to fix and resend a build at a moment’s notice. As stressful as that can be, there is something quite fulfilling about being so integral to the release process of a triple-A title.
How would someone come to be in your position?
I found out a week before my interview with CA that a sequel to my favourite game had been announced, and that happened to be Halo Wars 2 – the then-unannounced game I applied to work on and was hired for. I think having a passion for the project or the IP helps but it certainly isn’t a requirement. Getting your foot in the door is about being in the right place at the right time and always being ready to take the leap. An opportunity will eventually arise; you just need to be persistent and prepared to seize it when it comes your way. Build engineers at CA have typically come from QA, however, it’s by no means a hard and fast rule. It can often seem impossible to break into the industry, especially if – like me – you apply to every studio around and receive not so much as a response. However, experience in a studio isn’t necessary. It is completely possible to produce a decent portfolio of work in or outside of education.
What qualifications and/or experience do you need?
The best qualification for a technical role in games is typically a traditional BSc, such as maths or computer science. More important is having experience of systemic problem solving, such as programming or scripting – whether for games or not. This can be from collaborative or personal projects. My own path was anything but typical. I dropped out of no fewer than six degrees and six occupations – including four years pursuing a management career in warehouse retail – while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. A BSc in Game Assets Development taught at Northbrook College Sussex is what I finally achieved.
If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for?
While hiring managers can often be biased based on their own experiences – like whether someone has a degree or not – our hiring process tends to be more open-minded and we look at the whole picture. It’s actually pretty difficult to find someone with the appropriate technical skills for build engineering so instead we focus on core skills, such as problem-solving, analytical thinking and logical reasoning – any type of programming or scripting experience really. Above all, we’re looking for the desire to learn, the capacity to advance and the will to succeed.
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