How I Got My Video Game Programming Job: A Video Game Developer’s Story
Video games are in Andrew Kiebler’s blood. He’s been playing them ever since he was old enough to use a console controller. But as a kid growing up in the small town of Delaware Water Gap, Pa., Kiebler never thought of a career in video game programming as a viable vocation.
At the age of 13, Kiebler began programming computers, though it wasn’t until a few years later, when he saw a television ad about earning a bachelor’s degree in game and simulation programming at DeVry University, that he realized he actually could combine his passions for programming and gaming. “It was a no-brainer for me to go there,” says Kiebler, now 22. Today, Kiebler creates animations, graphics and other interactive training for a major federal agency.
Entry-level salaries for game programmers in 2012 averaged $66,116, an increase of $10,700 from the year prior, according to Game Developer magazine’s 2012 salary survey.
The magazine reports that video game developers are in high demand and that people looking to break into the industry have more options than ever. Ed Magnin, chair of the Gaming and Simulation Programming Department at the Dallas metro campus of DeVry University, and founder of developer Magnin & Associates, predicts that programming jobs “in the smartphone environment are going to be more prevalent and closer to you.” He explains that because smartphone apps don’t require big teams to develop, jobs on that front will increasingly be located almost anywhere—not concentrated in California, Texas and Washington, the states where the major gaming companies traditionally have been based.
Kiebler, who now lives in Stafford, Va., took an accelerated path to get where he is today. He went to a small private school until tenth grade, when he switched to an online high school that offered to pay for his college-credit classes at the local community college. Several months after graduating high school at age 16, Kiebler enrolled at DeVry University. He spent the first two semesters pursuing his degree online. But when he turned 17, his parents let him move to Alexandria, Va., outside of Washington, D.C., to continue his DeVry coursework on campus.
Every semester, Kiebler and his fellow video game programming students formed teams and developed a game. By his senior year, he and two friends even founded their own company—Dot Product Studios LLC—to release the smartphone game they were developing for their senior project, the space-themed DPS Defender. (In a first for the campus, Kiebler and his friends joined forces with a team of business majors to present their senior project. Today, such partnerships are standard operating procedure at the school.)
In 2010, Kiebler attended a game developers’ conference in San Francisco, where he met with a couple of representatives from a federal agency that now employs him. After graduation, he took a video game developer job at a company looking to break into tablet gaming, but he jumped to the federal agency’s training division in July 2011.
“The programming that I learned at DeVry, the logic, I use daily,” Kiebler says of his current gig. “The things I was learning at school were directly applicable to a job. The environment there really helped all of us grow a lot professionally and develop our skills.” Without the program’s emphasis on applying the knowledge students learn inside the classroom to projects outside the classroom, Kiebler says, “I probably wouldn’t be working here today.”video game developers, video game programming