In this brand-new feature all about studio staff, we hear from Codemasters’ chief technical officer David Percival

Employee Hot Seat: Codemasters

[This feature was published in the February 2014 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]

Name: David Percival
Title: CTO
Developer: Codemasters

What do you do at your studio?
I’m Codemasters’ CTO and I oversee our central technology department and the development of the Ego game tech, our award-winning, in-house core engine and tool chain.

Typically, my team are the first to get their hands on the new, cool tech years before it gets out there. My background with Codemasters Birmingham means I’m also still involved in the development of the F1 series, although much of the day-to-day tech management now falls to other capable souls.

There’s simply nothing more rewarding than working with switched on people. The gifted creatives that are everywhere you look in a company like ours are an inexhaustible source of surprise. If you’re the kind of person that likes to learn new things every day, games development is the place for you.

How did you get your current job?
In almost three decades working in the games industry, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a wide variety of disciplines and genres. Unusually for a technical lead, I actually started out as an artist in the mid 80s. From there I progressed to art manager in the late 90s, at which point I switched to technical management and coding things like physics, collision and animation. I’ve managed progressively larger and larger technical teams until May of last year, when I was kindly offered the role of Codemasters CTO.

What perks are available to those working at Codemasters?
We have flexitime and a subsidised canteen and minibus, but more importantly there are opportunities here to suit the way in which any candidate would like to work – small, projects on smart devices or our larger hero franchises like Dirt, Grid or F1.

What should aspiring developers do with their CV to get to an interview?
Keep it concise and stick to the truth. The people who will screen your CV will undoubtedly be busy people in senior management. Typically with the more experienced reviewers, opinions formed in the first minute or so with your CV are rarely changed after extensive further research. Selling doesn’t come naturally to developers, but think of your CV as a shop window; imagine the person reviewing it has CV fatigue. Take care to convey your information in a compact, elegant way and it will pay dividends for that all-important first impression.

Obviously you’ll want your résumé to sparkle with tons of relevant eye-catching skills, but don’t give in to the temptation to embellish. Don’t pad out your CV with buzzwords you don’t fully understand or can’t talk about at length. CV reviewers routinely check for pseudo-skills, they are a common and recognised indicator of ‘all mouth and trousers’ syndrome.

If you are fresh out of university or light on industry experience, a demo or two is strongly recommended. CVs can make quite dry reading, so a more interactive or engaging display of your skills will get you noticed. To be honest, similar advice also holds for the more experienced; those who are truly passionate usually have hobby projects. If you do provide demo(s) or example code, be sure to clearly identify which elements are your own work. Not crediting the contribution of others, or passing off library code as your own is not a smart move. If you can’t remember where a line of code came from, paste it into Google – that’s what the reviewer will most likely do.

What is the recruitment process like at your studio?
With technical interviews the process will often differ depending on a candidate’s experience and the role being applied for. However, a typical process starts with CVs being reviewed by a member of the senior staff for role suitability. Promising candidates are often contacted briefly by telephone first. The call is an opportunity for both sides to ask a few preliminary questions. Most candidates will want to know more about what’s on offer, and we like to know that the CV and candidate are at least from the same planet.

At the main interview you should typically expect a technical test of some kind, maybe some puzzle solving, a discussion of your résumé and some general conversation to see what makes you tick and, importantly, what gets you out of bed in the morning. A potential employee should not only be able to do the job on offer, but also enjoy the work and be a cultural fit for the studio.

What’s your advice for jobseekers?
Be yourself. Masking who you are will ring false and probably damage your chances. Consider, the games industry is stuffed with creative types, being different is the norm.

Be honest. Any interviewer worth their salt will try to ascertain how you might behave in a team situation. Lone wolf roles are rare; most jobs require collaboration and co-operation. How and when the words ‘I’ and ‘we’ are used say a lot about your attitude to others. Finally, a willingness to admit you don’t know something can be seen as a positive. Everyone continues to learn in this job.

And do you feel your work has an impact on the studio overall?
Managing technical people is not for the faint-hearted. Surrounded daily by
razor-sharp, insightful people, I’ve learned it’s advisable to choose your words carefully or, better yet, shut up and listen. After all, you employ all those smart people for a reason, right?

I firmly believe most, if not all, of the information one needs to improve products, process or the studio’s environment is already being discussed somewhere, by someone. The smart people at the coalface have fragments of insight that will outstrip anything even the most intuitive of managers could hope to form. A gifted manager will always make a difference where they work; one who also listens and harvests the gifts of others will achieve much more.

To read our other Employee Hot Seat articles about studios looking to hire, visit our archive.

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