Placement Experience: Software Engineer at Rare Ltd. – Sarah Ryan

Sarah Ryan studies BSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology and is currently on placement in her role as software engineer at Rare Ltd. She shares with us her placement experience so far and why “There really isn’t a reason not to apply for a placement.”

How did I find my placement?

I used the Creative Careers fortnightly placement newsletter, it’s a convenient list of some good placements. It’s important to look up placement opportunities in companies that you like too, you might be surprised who offers them.

During my search I sent off a lot of applications and there were plenty of companies I didn’t hear back from! It’s important not to get disheartened and keep sending off applications, even when you start hearing back. Creative Careers, along with my lecturers, checked my CV before I started sending it off which helped me to fix some simple mistakes!

Who do I work for?

I secured my placement with Rare Ltd as a software engineer, they are a well-known studio who have been making games for over 30 years. Some of their past games include GoldenEye 007, Viva Pinata and the Banjoo-Kazooie series but currently they are owned by Microsoft and are working on Sea of Thieves.

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(Photo): Rare’s Driveway in Autumn

What was the interview process like?

When I first heard back from Rare, they invited me to a Skype interview with some of their engineers. I mainly talked about my experiences with programming so far, what technologies I’ve used and my thoughts about them.

Then, I was invited up to Rare to see the studio and have a face-to-face interview. This was more technical and focused on problem solving and C++ skills. However, it was more like a conversation, they gave me bits of information to help me along when I was stuck and were encouraging. When I didn’t know something, I was honest about it but then I tried to apply the information they gave me to the question. I was nervous, but it was relaxed, and I ended up having a lot of fun. It’s easy to think of game developers as scary and hard to talk to, especially when you admire what they do, but they remember that they are just normal people too!

What are my main duties and responsibilities?

I’m on the engine team, we work on a lot of the underlying systems for Sea of Thieves such as networking, physics and audio. This all helps the gameplay teams to continue making new content for players.

Some of the tasks I’ve completed are optimising existing game objects through aggregating ticks, updating the implementation of existing systems to use new API versions, fixing bugs within Unreal Engine 4 and now I’m working on my own feature! Aside from that, I like to participate in studio playtests, attend talks and try to help where I can.

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(Photo): My desk! Where all the magic happens.

Are you treated like an employee?

Absolutely! Even though I still have a lot to learn, I’m never made to feel stupid for asking questions or not knowing something. Everyone treats me as just another engineer and my feedback in meetings is valued.

I have ownership over my tasks, just like everyone else. I can make decisions on whether something is worth working on and about the way I approach tasks. Although before making decisions, I like to talk them through with other engineers, which is highly encouraged. Often it is scary to have that sort of responsibility but that is what it’s like in a real team and everyone here is very supportive!

What is the social side of Rare? How are the working conditions?

I’ve found the work environment at Rare to be awesome. I’m encouraged to speak up and get involved in meetings and conversations in the team. Everyone in the studio is friendly and happy to have a chat.

At lunchtime there are walks around the grounds, board games and lots of people playing multiplayer games at their desk. There are a lot of dogs and their owners are happy to let you take them for walks if you need to de-stress. The studio also hosts video game nights, BBQs with other studios and other events where you can bring your family!

There isn’t a crunch culture at Rare, people are never expected to stay late and it’s not often people stay later than 5pm. This all contributes to a workplace where people like to be.

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(Photo): A picture from one of many lunchtime adventures.

What are the benefits of doing placement?

The biggest benefit of doing a placement is the experience you gain from working on a real game with many different people. You learn coding practices used in the industry and can develop skills in the areas of programming that you want to. It also helps your problem solving and debugging skills as a programmer because you must investigate crashes and bugs that might not have a lot of information.

Additionally, you learn how to communicate effectively with other programmers, designers, producers, artists and everyone else involved in developing a game. You experience meetings and reviews with your manager, which at Rare is the same process that full time employees go through.

Finally, you can make friends within the industry and potentially get a job for when you graduate. There really isn’t a reason not to apply for a placement.

What concerns did I have?

I was concerned about moving so far away from Portsmouth, away from all the friends I had made. I didn’t know anyone at Rare and it was scary because I didn’t know if I would fit in. Additionally, even though I got the placement, I was worried that my technical ability wasn’t good enough and that I would struggle with any task they gave me.

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(Photo): The studio dogs in the Halloween spirit!

How did those concerns work out?

They all worked out just fine! Moving away was a little stressful but Rare were helpful and I found a great place that was near to the studio. Everyone here has been awesome and made it easy to settle in and make friends.

I’m still learning a lot and improving my technical skills, they understand that as an intern, I’m going to have big gaps in my knowledge. Any programmer who starts a new task will have to learn the relevant technical information for it, it doesn’t stop me from getting tasks done. Plus, there are many talented individuals who can answer questions.

There was an onboarding process got me to make a small bowling application in C++ and do some Unreal tutorials; this eased me into code reviews and the workflow when I had just started. Then, I was given some small tasks that were self-contained until I felt confident enough to take on something bigger.

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(Photo): Hanging out on a new bridge at Rare

What advice would I give to students about placements?

Apply! Even if you don’t get a placement, the experience of interviews and writing cover letters is invaluable. You have nothing to lose!

Make sure that your cover letters are personalised for that studio/company. They can tell when someone has written a stock cover letter and sent it off to multiple places. I believe that writing each one of mine from scratch was better practice and helped to convey my genuine passion about each of the places I wanted to work.

The most important thing to show an employer is your enthusiasm to learn and try things. Interns are an investment for the company and you won’t be most skilled person there. They want people who won’t give up on hard problems and will ask questions to find the answer.

Inspired by Sarah’s experience and fancy working at Rare Ltd yourself? The 2019 placement applications are currently open, click here to check out the vacancies!

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