I passed by my classmate’s desk and saw that he had a ninja-shaped thumb drive, and I commented, “Oh, I used to work in the company that made that.”
Another classmate commented, “Is there anywhere you haven’t worked, Michelle?”
That is a valid question. Even headhunters have commented that my CV isn’t so great.
Well, my response for people who don’t know me (after moving to the UK and realising that they have no clue about how old Asians look), start with, “How old do you think I am?”
Followed by, “I have 8 years experience as a programmer.” (And no, I’m not a child genius, and also I think child slavery laws also apply to programmers).
I am 29 years old, and I’m turning 30 this September (even though most people think I look 20 ish).
I graduated with a degree in Computer Science at one of the top universities in the Philippines.
DE LA SALLE UNIVERSITY- MANILA
BS Computer Science, Major in Software Technology
I got my first job when I was 21. It was at a games outsourcing company in the Philippines.
PROGRAMMER, LADYLUCK DIGITAL MEDIA
That was my first foot in the door, so to speak.
The game industry in the Philippines back then was mostly games outsourcing, but they worked on cool AAA projects. The company I worked for also did cute casual Flash games, which is what drew me in.
The first games I helped with in the company was a “Mean Girls” game (yes, the movie) and a “Clueless” (yes, also the movie) game. Yes, this is what I dolphin squealing on the inside signed up for.
I also learned how to use Unity before it was cool, and also before it was available on the PC.
Even though the company’s main source of income is outsourcing, my boss’ dream is, of course, make his own game. So we also made a lot of prototypes. A lot. Sadly, nothing ever came out of it.
Then I had one of the moments you get when you lived in a foreign country all your life — the urge to find your roots. My roots was in Taiwan.
So I quit my job.
And at 22, my sister and I packed our bags and moved out of parent’s home for the first time and moved to our supposed home country.
Where everything was in Chinese. I grew up speaking Mandarin at home, and I had attended a Chinese school, but it was nothing. I had the vocabulary of a grade school student, and I could barely read and much less write in the language.
My parents were of course very supportive of our move, because my mother not so secretly thought our Chinese skills would improve (it did eventually, but only barely).
This was the time when mobile games were gaining popularity. So I got a job as a mobile games programmer at a small indie game studio ran by 2 ABCs (American born Chinese). I picked that company because my bosses spoke English. Oh also, I wanted to learn Objective-C.
PROGRAMMER, MOBILI STUDIO
At the company, I learned Cocos2d and Objective C, and I made both mobile games and applications. We also used Agile project management in our small team. It was the first time I worked in a company where in the entire company is the size of my lunch crew back at my old company.
The thing about mobile games is that the barrier of entry is significantly lower and it seemed pretty easy for anyone to make their game and put it up on the store. So I thought I could do.
So I quit my job, bought a Macbook Pro (who is still alive and kicking to this date) and tried to make my own games.
Turns out it’s not that easy. I had the attention span of a gold fish. I would start with one idea, and then abandon that idea and work on something else. And sadly, nothing came out of my prototypes either. I had a better understanding of my first boss and his constant change of ideas now, and I don’t blame him for it.
Aside from moving out, it was also the first time that I had ever been financially independent. It’s quite a big thing for me, because in the Philippines or at least in the community I grew up in, most people live at home and still rely on their parents financially even though they had been working for years.
With financial independence also comes bills to pay.
So I had to get another job. I wanted something near where I lived, because my last job was quite far and it took me a long time to get home.
My mom used to joke about the criteria you look for in a job, ‘close to home’ was one of it.
I was open to anything really. I sent my CVs to companies nearby, thankfully there was quite a few. And I’m the type that would line up at least 5 interviews in a week (yes, that is one per day) and then select one of them (assuming that I’d pass the interviews, exams and actually get offered a job. But my batting average back then was quite good) something completely arbitrary.
This reminds me, I haven’t told you about how I decided on my first job.
After graduating with a degree in Computer Science, it made sense to apply to IT and software jobs. Also since our university basically arranged for multinational software companies to come to our school and let use take the exams and have our initial interviews there. So I did.
My batting average was also pretty decent back then and I had a few options. But then it was to be the first job that will somehow decide the fate of the rest of my life, so I had to get it right.
So I happened to be in a toy store and I picked up this cute Magic 8 Ball. And I asked my question, and it gave me an answer. This is unfortunately a true story and not some made up cute anecdote.
Okay, back to deciding what was to be my 3rd job.
Aside from Magic 8 Balls, I also have a thing for signs and coincidences. I believe in fate, even though my Christianity probably says I shouldn’t (rather it tells me that it’s a sign from God or something).
I was at one of the interviews and waiting for their supervisor who would be a little late, and they gave me a magazine to read. There was a big ad in the magazine for cute thumb drives (remember the ninja-shaped ones I mentioned earlier).
Later in the week, I went to an interview in the company that makes cute thumb drives (and loads of other cute stuff). And I think I was sold by the cuteness. Also it seemed interesting to make an adver game in house.
PROGRAMMER, BONE COLLECTION, FRUITSHOP INTERNATIONAL CO.
I have to say it was definitely one of the most unique work experiences I have ever had. Because it’s a design company and even though there are different departments, it was a bit more open.
People moved about freely and helped each other. Since I was one of the very few people that spoke and wrote in English in that company, I got to do voice overs for YouTube video ads, copy write some descriptions in the packaging boxes. And also when push came to shove, everyone in the company pitched in to repack boxes and assemble thumb drives (just putting in the thumb drive in their silicone covers, nothing too complicated).
I also took full advantage of my employee discount, because the things they make are adorable. I also got freebies every now and then.
But then at the end of the day, it is a design company and our little team making games in a corner isn’t really their top priority.
But then it was my other colleague that was looking for new jobs that told me about another game company nearby that was hiring.
I was using Unity and Objective-C in this current company, and I felt like I wanted to learn something new. The other game company was a C++ programmer job, and I thought it would be nice to learn something new. So I applied.
PROGRAMMER, ORANGENOSE STUDIO
Now this job, this was definitely something.
Programming wise, I did get to learn C++ and we were using Cocos2d-x. We eventually did switch to Unity. But in Unity, I got to write a lot of plugins in both native iOS and Android. I learned to work with a lot of third party SDKs and code, as we integrated way too many ads, analytics and tracking, social stuff, and whatever else that makes up a mobile game, that isn’t the game.
I also learned a lot about making games that people want to play and can’t stop playing.
This was a small company too. And I think with small companies, everyone that joins the team is like a pebble that gets dropped in a puddle of water, and it create ripples.
I also managed to convince my little sister to work in this company as an artist. We were hiring, and I thought my lil sis was perfect for the job (not biased or anything).
My boss was Singaporean and he worked with a few people from the Philippines at this last job back there. It is a small world and those people turned out to be people I knew from the multimedia club I was in.
I guess, we, in a way, convinced him that the people in the Philippines are pretty good (actually they are awesome).
The ripple we created, brought us back to the Philippines. And there we setup a new branch of the company.
This is the bit wherein I got to be more than just a programmer. I assisted in the set-up of Orangenose Studio Manila branch, including headhunting, interviewing candidates, and training the game team. I also trained newcomers in Unity game engine, and the company’s game development process.
We travelled back and forth between Taiwan and the Philippines, and we enjoyed going home to a home-cooked meal and spending time with our mom.
While interviewing people, we always emphasised on T skills. But then I realised that I needed to expand my T skills. I know programming, but I wanted to learn more about game design and production, and I wanted to learn about how to eventually set up my own business.
I was also feeling a little fatigue from programming. Even though every game project is different, it still feels the same.
So I made the decision to go back to school and get a Masters degree.
I had also been living in Taiwan for almost 6 years, and I wanted a change of scenery. And even though I didn’t live with my parents, I lived with my sisters, and I have never been anywhere truly on my own.
So I applied to a school. The program is called MSc in Video Game Enterprise and Production (it didn’t have Design in the title, but it also covered it). The school is in the UK.
I got in. But then I couldn’t afford it. I wasn’t eligible to a student loan from Taiwan. My parents offered to pay for it. But I still deferred for a year.
I needed to get a job and earn money for living expenses. The criteria for this job hunt was simple: somewhere that pays well. I applied to companies, and one of my colleagues from my previous job told me that she was working at one of the places I applied to.
I went in for an interview that was more of a formality, because of her recommendation, and got the job.
PROGRAMMER, MATTEL (FORMERLY FUHU, INC.)
This job was also quite interesting. They are a company that makes tablets for kids, both hardware and apps.
I took over maintaining a lot of utility apps, as well as made new prototype games. One of the most interesting projects though is a fitness band for children. It was my first IOT project, wherein I worked closely with a third-party hardware manufacturer, and make the front end app.
A few months after I started working there, the company was actually acquired. By Mattel. As in Barbie. As in all my childhood dreams came true (I was a Barbie addict. I went beyond the dolls. I had Barbie school bags, Barbie shoes, Barbie everything).
Although, project wise, it just meant that we skinned our existing stuff to a Barbie and Hotwheels (yah, it wasn’t that interesting).
While I was working at this company, I was also contacted by Packt Publishing to do be a technical reviewer for a Cocos2d book.
TECHNICAL REVIEWER, PACKT PUBLISHING
I also looked for more volunteer opportunities to boost my CV, because I thought I needed to be more impressive for school.
RISE CONFERENCE, HONG KONG — 2016
CASUAL CONNECT, SINGAPORE — 2016
As much as I wanted to continue working for Mattel, my plan was always to go back to school. So I quit that job at the end of August.
Then I moved to UK in September 2016. And I have been in school ever since.
BIRMINGHAM CITY UNIVERSITY
MSc Video Game Enterprises and Production
It’s May 2017 now, and I only have a few more months before the course ends. So I need to be on a job hunt again soon.
My CV to be continued…