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Sega Hardlight’s Lee Winder and Tom Gaulton discuss the challenges facing a new generation of programmers

Industry involvement ‘can improve education’

The debate over whether universities are equipping aspiring developers and programmers with the right skills isn’t a new one, but it hasn’t gone away either.

The situation has arguably improved, but more can still be done to ensure students learn as much as possible at university, while also gaining the experience required to put theory into practice.

Speaking to Develop, Sega Hardlight technical team lead Lee Winder says there isn’t a simple yes or no answer to whether schools are teaching students the right skills. Some provide excellent courses, while others aren’t quite up to the same standard.

He says that the wide diversity of technology used in the industry makes it difficult to teach students everything they need to know, but believes universities can still teach the core skills.

“As for what can be done to improve this, it’s a case of the industry engaging with education, offering their support on course content, offering to speak to students or provide seminars,” he says.

“You also have organisations like Creative Skillset who work with universities providing support and accreditation for creative industries.”

Winder and his colleague, principal engineer Tom Gaulton, both have an education in computer science at degree level, qualifications and knowledge which have undoubtedly helped them throughout their careers and land them leading jobs at Sega Hardlight, a division of Sega Networks.

“I studied Computing A-Level, then moved on to a Computer Science degree at the University of Birmingham. I picked that course because it focused on C++, which was unusual at the time,” says Gaulton.

The team used the Unity engine for its latest release, free-to-play mobile title Crazy Taxi: City Rush. Winder says it is a fantastic tool that has “clearly been of benefit to the industry”, thanks to its pricing model making it accessible to indies the world over.

But he admits that an over-reliance on such tools can become harmful to a programmer’s development.

“There is a significant advantage to fast iteration, but when memory is at a premium or when frame rate is stuttering and you need to optimise the title, not having experience of things like memory allocation strategies, native language profiling and other low level concepts will be a hindrance,” says Winder.

“At Hardlight we require our applicants to be proficient in C++ even though most of our titles are developed with C# via Unity, simply because the skills you learn when programming in C++ will benefit you immeasurably when working on other C-style languages, though that can’t be said the other way around.”

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