Get That Job: How to be a senior programmer

Development specialists offer advice on how you can bag that career leap
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Sega Hardlight’s Alastair Graham discusses the key skills needed to get into programming and work up to a senior position.

What is your job role?
I’m a senior programmer from Sega’s Hardlight Studios. I’ve worked within the games industry for around 12 years on a wide array of titles and platforms.

I’ve been in my current position at Hardlight for just under a year now. My current job role has developed into mainly working on the Android systems for all of our games, although I’ve got experience working on most aspects of console and mobile projects.

How would someone become a senior programmer?
Experience and a willingness to learn is the key here. The hardest steps in programming are really that initial push to write your first program by yourself – from that stage on every attempt will get easier. No programmers know everything; all you need is the self-confidence to dive into new things head-first. Set yourself goals and really work towards getting there. Split overwhelming tasks into smaller tasks and after that anything then is achievable.

Even after getting into the industry, the desire to push yourself is vital to progression. If you get the opportunity to work slightly outside your comfort zone, go for it. My career in mobile has come about through driving myself to learn a new skill in my own time.

What qualifications and/or experience do you need?
A degree in a relevant subject is always a plus, but not everything. The degrees related to games programming seem to be coming along in leaps and bounds, but in my opinion the ability to show your own talent, outside of university work, is far more valuable. Any extracurricular work you do will be rewarded tenfold.

What do you look for when recruiting a senior programmer?
An applicant applying directly into a senior role will generally have experience working on a few titles in a relevant role, although this isn’t always the case for specifics such as server engineers. A real passion for programming is usually apparent from the applicants past projects or portfolio; the majority of our programmers will have worked on their own projects in their spare time, purely for the fun and learning experience.

What opportunities are there for career progression?
Senior programmers usually move one of two directions, either into a more management style role or deeper into a specific area of programming. This is a bit of a sliding scale and I’ve known a lot of programmers go into hands-on management positions where they still contribute to the code.

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