[This feature was published in the June 2013 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]
Windows Games Ambassadors
Who are they? A team of student ambassadors
What is it? A programme to create enthusiasm for Windows as a development platform, through blogs, social media and events
A perennial issue in the games industry is finding new talent. But the next step is equally as important: giving that talent the attention and guidance to help it shine.
Windows Games Ambassadors is an initiative that’s helping to do just that by engaging with student developers and inviting them to share their experiences of developing for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. More than that, though, the ambassadors are also there to inspire and assist their peers.
Michael Cameron, a computer science student from West Lothian, Scotland, was one of the successful applicants.
The 23-year-old explains how the programme hasn’t only improved his employability and skills, but also allowed him to play a pivotal role in the journey of his fellow student developers.
“For me, I saw a huge opportunity. I am only a first year and when I applied I did not think I would get it,” says Cameron, who studies at the University of the West of Scotland, and applied to be an ambassador in December 2012.
“Knowing that I would likely not get any internships I knew that having Microsoft on my CV would be invaluable. However, I did get it and now my prospects couldn’t be better.”
A keen developer himself, it was Cameron’s creative flare as much as his enthusiasm that Microsoft saw in him. He has his very own Windows Phone game, ImiJump, coming out under his BusyPixel alias, and is also the president of his university’s games development society.
“I have been really surprised by how easy it is to develop for the Windows platform and how much help there is available to guide you through it. Microsoft have, for a long time, been keen to help students do this by providing things such as DreamSpark, free developer licences and Microsoft Virtual Academy,” he says.
As one of 17 ambassadors based in the UK, Cameron acts as a connection between Microsoft, students and indies.
“It’s great being involved in the programme and, being part of it, we have been able to do so many exciting things. We have been to different events, such as the Unity and Windows 8 Beta hackathon that was run at Modern Jago. We also have access to an amazing catalogue of software, learning and support through the MSDN [Microsoft Developer Network].
“On a day-to-day basis, we all attend our respective universities and engage with the students,” he tells Develop. “We organise events for the students such as game jams and workshops, and also interact with the academic staff to try and improve the university’s facilities for app developers.”
Most of the ambassadors use online tutorials that they have created or been provided with to teach students. They lead workshops were students can ask for help on building an app and events such as game jams to learn specific skills in a short period of time.
And when they aren’t engaging with students directly, Cameron and his fellow ambassadors are posting on Microsoft’s community sites as well as others, such as the Ubelly gaming blog, to pass on their knowledge to other aspiring developers.
For Cameron, there was a specific moment that he realised he’s been part of something special with WGA.
“It was after the previous game jam run at UWS [in April]. Our winner, Martin Grant, has received exceptional success in the Windows 8 store with his game Unicorn Space Command. The game has shot up in downloads and had a popular response from Microsoft also. It has been featured on MSDN blogs, Ubelly and my own,” says Cameron.
“Martin was incredibly grateful towards me for encouraging him to enter the game jam and the support I provided during it. Knowing that I helped this student get recognition for his game made me realise that what I do is really important, which in turn made me feel great about what I do.”
Having learned a huge deal about Windows development and passed on his knowledge to others, Cameron is now looking at internships for the summer, which is something he hadn’t envisioned, and feels his prospects have been lifted thanks to his involvement in the scheme.
“The Windows Games Ambassador programme has helped boost my confidence in all aspects of app development. I have been able to create apps for Windows 8 and now have to confidence and ability to pass this knowledge onto others so that they can do the same,” Cameron concludes.
“The programme has provided a great opportunity for me and has been very beneficial to the students at my institution. Whether that has been through development talks, game jam events or just by having someone to point them in the right direction, students can now see the immense opportunity that developing for Windows 8 and Windows Phone has to offer.”
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