Trying to score a job in online gaming

Georgia Tech graduate Mae Tidman hopes her programming skills, design background, film study, and internships will get her hired by an online gaming firm.

Editor's note: This is the sixth story in an ongoing series profiling college graduates throughout the United States as they hunt for technology jobs. Click here for CNET's special report "Wanted: A job in tech."

Mae Tidman isn't your typical video game geek. At 22, she may be around the right age, but she's not really obsessed with games. And she's a woman. She's also taken an unconventional approach to breaking into the business as a new graduate, learning a variety of skills in college and taking internships and outside work to broaden her experience.

"In Computational Media, I studied new media, worked with computers, and learned programming, as well as studied video games and movies, making them and studying theory," she said, just days after graduating with a bachelor's of science degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. "I'm prepared to do multiple parts of a game, including design and programming."

She isn't put off by the fact that the gaming industry is gender lopsided. "Georgia Tech is a male-dominated school so I'm familiar with dealing with that," she said. "It's definitely a challenge, but I'm not going to let it inhibit me in any way."

Georgia Institute of Technology graduate Mae Tidman is hoping her programming and design experience, and internships will help get her a job in online games.
Georgia Institute of Technology graduate Mae Tidman is hoping her programming skills, design experience, and internships will help get her a job in online games. Emily Cook

Tidman is looking for the right job after having had several interviews and lining up a few more. She's bucking the trend of many of her classmates who have fled to the West Coast and hoping that her diverse skill set and enthusiasm will help her nail a job in the Atlanta area, where there's a growing gaming industry.

She is a well-rounded academic, partially because she keeps busy inside and outside of her classes. She spent last summer as a student assistant for Italian Film Study Abroad, worked a previous summer helping design television commercials in an internship, teaches computer science to elementary and high school students and teachers, and will have her research published on "Army of Darkness" and the "The Secret of NIMH" by the American Film Institute.

And then there was the internship earlier this year at Turner Broadcasting's online game unit Adult Swim Games, an enviable spot not only among her peers at school but millions of gamers on the Internet.

"I got paid minimum wage to play games all day. It was a dream job," she said in a recent interview with CNET. "It got my foot in the door at Turner so I'm applying for entry level positions there. It's really competitive."

She has interviews this week for two positions, one at Adult Swim Games and the other at Cartoon Network. "Both positions involve games and marketing and analyzing new media trends," she said. "Because of the internship I'm already familiar with the inner workings of the company and I know people. That's also useful."

Tidman has had two interviews already with Atlanta-based Eyes Wide Games, which makes games played on social networks. The position is community manager position, "which means I would be like a project manager for a game, making sure everyone gets what they need to get things done," she said.

At the interviews, she was questioned by two panels of employees about her experience and interests (she plays a lot of casual iPhone games as well as Portal 2 and Dead Space 2), had to do some impromptu programming (write a function that returns whether two rectangles are touching--she wrote it in Java), and asked to solve a logic problem (If you have 25 race horses and you can only race five at a time, what is the minimum number of races to find out the top three horses?) "It took me about two minutes to figure out--six races, five to test all the horses and the sixth to race the final winners of all the races," she said.

"I've been in school my whole life, so this graduation thing is taking me for a loop because I won't be in school anymore. I'm trying to figure out where I fit in the world outside of school."
--Georgia Tech graduate Mae Tidman

"If I don't get hired at Open Wide Games it's because I don't fit there and I'm OK with that," she said. "It's a start-up looking for people who fit in with their team."

In the meantime, she just started her summer job teaching computer science at the Institute of Computing Education at Georgia Tech. "It's an outreach program to get computing into more high schools, and to educate pupils and teachers," she said.

Tidman said she would like to stay in Georgia, at least for now, to be close to her family. Her parents live in the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Atlanta.

"There are tax benefits for gaming start-ups in Atlanta, so I think as soon as the economy picks up things will be easier for people in my major locally. I hope so," she said.

If Tidman decides to go to grad school in a few years, she may go to Boston where her brother lives, and eventually she could see herself ending up in California. Most of the graduates in her major who have gotten jobs are California-bound, working at companies like Zynga and Electronic Arts.

Many others are still looking for work. "Some are scared they are going to have to move home, which isn't so bad," she said. "I think a lot of people want to avoid that and just get a job and be an adult."

Tidman is confident and excited about the future.

"I'm optimistic I'll find something, but I don't know when," she said. "I've been in school my whole life, so this graduation thing is taking me for a loop because I won't be in school anymore. I'm trying to figure out where I fit in the world outside of school."

Updated 8:51 a.m. PT to correct Georgia Tech's full name. It's Georgia Institute of Technology.

 

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