Roll Call Interview Series - Andrew (Lead Programmer)
Role: Lead Programmer
Time at Roll7: Freelancing on and off for about 6 months, full time around 4
Favourite classic game: Legends of the Mystical Ninja, Solomon’s Key, Gradius
series, Blast Corps
Pets: A cat called Luna and a dog called Virginia Woof Hey Andrew! Greetings! So, you’re a Lead Programmer, right? That’s me! And what exactly does a Lead Programmer do? Well, mostly I tell other people what to do- Ah, the dream. It’s mostly meetings, really – I spend a lot of time talking to our producer, designers and team leads about what they need doing, programming wise, and then I take that back to my team and delegate tasks. Then code reviews, guiding, mentoring and I do some actual programming as well, of course. In particular, I do quite a lot of our server and systems programming.
I see. So, with the programming you do – forgive me, here, I was a Humanities major – what exactly does that involve? I always assume that it’s pretty maths based – is that true? Do you have to have a very mathematical mind to be a good programmer? There’s definitely a bit of maths involved, but no, I wouldn’t say that maths is the biggest part of what programming is about. I think the key skills you need in order to succeed in programming are mostly logic-based. What you’re basically doing as a programmer is writing instructions for a computer to follow. So you have to think a lot about what the most efficient order is for those instructions to happen in. When I’m explaining it to non-programmers, I often describe it like this - imagine you were writing a checklist for you to get up in the morning and get ready for work. You need to start the checklist with, say, opening your eyes, and then getting out of bed, and then going to eat breakfast, and then brushing your teeth. There’s no point, for example, brushing your teeth before breakfast, because you’ll just need to brush them again afterwards. And if you try to eat breakfast before getting out of bed, well, that’s not going to work at all, because your breakfast is in the kitchen. Right! Oh, ok, yeah, I can see what you’re getting at. You’re sort of writing a really detailed checklist for a computer to follow to reach whatever the outcome is that you’re trying to achieve? That’s the basic idea, yeah. Mind you, the specifics of what you need to program yourself have changed a lot over the years – back when I started out, a programmer would spend a lot of time having to work out how to get the computer to display an image of a character, for example, whereas nowadays all of that is dealt with by game engines like Unity. So the basic instructions are there already? Yes, you don’t have to start from scratch with figuring out how to make a game anymore – you can get stuck into the details of how to make this specific game, instead. And that’s changed a lot since you started out in your career? Oh, absolutely! I started with stuff like the BBC Micro which was – well, it was fairly basic. You had to plug it into your TV, and it wasn’t like computers today, which come with all these programs already installed. You had to do a lot of that work yourself. But yes, I was just fascinated with how it all worked, and by the time that my school started teaching us how to do some basic programming I had already been doing it myself for a few years. As for my career – you know, at the time, jobs in games were pretty hard to find. You wouldn’t find them in the newspapers like you might with other job listings, or at least I never did! I actually ended up getting my first programming job through a game me and some friends were making in our free time. We pitched it to a few places, and the game itself didn’t really go anywhere, but it was through that process that I actually first got work as a programmer.
It’s wild how far technology has come in such a short amount of time. It’s weird to think that not so long ago it wouldn’t even be possible to work remotely like we do now. Yes, and remote work was one of the big things that drew me to apply for a job at Roll7, actually. What about it seemed appealing to you? There’s a few different things, really; avoiding a long commute, having a chance to sometimes come in to meet with people in London and see the city without having to relocate my family to work there full time, that kind of thing. I’m also partially sighted (I have nystagmus and ocular albinism), and so working from home and being able to control things like the lighting in my workspace, the position and resolution of my monitors, that kind of thing – it’s a huge benefit to me. I’ve worked in an office before, yes, but having control of my own setup means that I can really set things up to be ideal for me. Also, communicating via slack or zoom video means I get to properly see my co-workers – in real life I find it very hard to see people’s faces well, but when I work from home I can set my screens up in a way that means I get to actually see you guys much better than I would in an office. And things like screen-sharing are helpful to me too, because I’m able to see my co-workers screen directly on my monitor, which is already set-up for me to see easily, so I don’t have the struggle of trying to lean over somebody’s shoulder to see a screen that might not be so easy for me to read from. Yeah, I can see how that would make a really big difference! It does – and it’s definitely nice that I now have a lot of time that I used to spend commuting to spend with my family. In fact, I’m pretty certain – I don’t know if you can see from my window in the background – my kids are currently building an assault course in the garden that they’re going to demand I try out after work- Ah, they’re not letting you get away without doing your one form of exercise a day, huh? (He laughs) Definitely not! Well, far be it from me to keep you from that! It was great talking to you, Andrew – good luck with the assault course! The Roll7 Team