Case Study: Addressing the games-tech programming skills shortage

The NextGen Futures Bootcamp in games-tech programming was built in response to the growth in this sector in the West of England, and related skills shortages reported by these employers. The ability to programme in platforms including Unity and Unreal Engine, are increasingly in-demand across games, VR, AR, animation, VFX, architecture, manufacturing, and automation companies worldwide.

To tackle this problem, NextGen Skills Academy worked in conjunction with TechSPARK and Opposable Games to deliver a 16-week Unity coding bootcamp to a cohort keen to learn games-tech programming, along with extra support via industry masterclasses and coaches. This programme is funded by the West of England Combined Authority’s Digital Skills Investment Programme.

As the course finished earlier this year, Shona from TechSPARK caught up with a handful of the students to see how they got on.

Up first sharing her thoughts on the training is Hollie Page.

Could you introduce yourself and give us a brief background on your career or education so far?

Hi, I’m Hollie. I have always been passionate about gaming and tech. I studied Fine Art at university and taught myself 3D modelling. I also work for a VR company, which involves running VR theatre sessions, project managing and audience based research.

How did you find out about the NextGen Futures gaming bootcamp and what made you want to sign up?

I was having a bit of a ‘what am I doing with my life’ crisis and spoke to my boss about changing careers. She sent me a link to the course and I didn’t even tell anyone else that I applied because I really didn't think I would get a place. I’ve always loved gaming and wanted to get into the industry in some capacity, but prior to starting the course I thought programming would be too difficult.

What were your aspirations to get out of the course when you started? Did these change throughout the programme at all?

I love taking on new challenges and especially learning different softwares. Initially I applied for fun and to learn more skills that would make me more employable as a 3D modeller. But as I started to learn more about coding, I really enjoyed the problem solving aspect and found it more visual than I expected. I’m now really trying to push myself to keep learning games programming and work towards getting hired or incorporating programming into my freelance career. I also wanted to meet new people and just generally learn more about the mechanics of how games are made.

Do you feel as if you accomplished these outcomes?

In a few weeks, I’ll be entering my first game jam with some people on the course. I definitely didn’t think I would have the courage to do a jam so early into learning, but having the support of the course makes it seem much less daunting. Generally, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy programming as much as I do. At the start of the course I really struggled with wanting to put all my energy into it, but not having the capacity to due to struggles with my health. I am now being a bit more kind to myself and trying to be proud of everything I have learnt so far. If I compare my skills to when the course first began, I’ve definitely learned a lot and I’m really proud of that.

Was there anything on the bootcamp that you were surprised to learn?

The masterclass sessions have been the most surprising, because they offer more in depth lessons about various aspects of working in the games industry. I was also surprised to learn more about animation and that my knowledge from 3D modelling was actually relevant.

What was your favourite part about the bootcamp?

My favourite part so far has definitely been being given the tools and support to mess around with creating something playable. It’s also really exciting being given the space to learn more and ask questions about the surprising outcomes that sometimes crop up from your code. The extra support I was offered, such as equipment and extra tutoring, really made the course feel doable for me as I was coming in with no experience of coding and having to navigate the workload with other responsibilities and health issues.

Why do you think it’s important to encourage people to learn new skills in VR, AR, animation etc?

I think it’s important that more people from underrepresented backgrounds get the opportunity and access to learn new skills within the tech industry. If we have better representation then ultimately that means we will have more creative and meaningful experiences within the sector, which will benefit everybody. It’s really exciting that companies are starting to understand this, but I think they need to first work on making sure they have an inclusive environment where current staff are accepting and knowledgeable about experiences other than their own. Otherwise, just hiring a few token employees will just put them into a potentially dangerous working environment.

What would you say to someone who wants to learn more about games-tech programming?

Tell people! Let your friends and colleagues know what you’re passionate about and that you actively want to learn more. For me, this made a massive difference and it almost forced me to do something about it.

What do you want to do next?

I want to keep learning and messing about making any little idea for a game. I’m going to keep practising and building up my skill set. My long term goals are receiving some funding to work on larger scale projects or gain some experience and get hired!

Thanks to Hollie for taking the time to share her experiences. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter & Instagram here.

Written by

Shona Wright at TechSPARK