Game Programmer Portfolio Creation

A bit of advice for those game programming students polishing up their portfolio websites prior to applying for jobs post-graduation…

Your Degree

For Champlain College programmers, the official program name for the game programming degree is: BS, Game Programming (NOT Electronic Game Programming). Consider linking to the official Game Programming website. Not everyone will know that it is a Bachelors degree, nor will they understand that it is based in Computer Science. Many schools offer 2-year degrees in game design that they may call “game programming”. Your website should immediately distinguish yourself from them.

Contact Me

If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, get one. If you do have an account, make sure there is a link on your “about me” page. And when you sign up, make sure you have a professional username.
By using LinkedIn, you’ll avoid receiving spam from bots searching the web for email addresses. You’ll also ensure that you only have to update your contact information in one place.

Portfolio

In most cases tech demos are significantly more impressive for your portfolio than production games, especially if the artwork is not amazing (which it rarely is). Be sure you’re showing what makes you a great programmer. For each project you post, focus on the following questions:

  • What was the challenge?
  • What approach did you take to solving it?
  • What would you differently now?

This will demonstrate that you have a solid understanding of your role on the team (you’re not responsible for how it looks or whether it is fun). As a programmer, you are a problem solver. That’s what a potential employer will care most about.

Keep your answers to the above questions focused. Consider including an interesting screenshot (something covered with debug text is much more interesting to a programmer than something polished by an artist), and if you have more detailed information, link to that.

Don’t start anything with “I wrote this post for class”… it makes you look lazy. People don’t care why you did it, just that you did it … and then a little about your process. Consider the difference between the following project journals:

As my final research project for my Graphics II class at Champlain College, I have chosen to research and create a “Game Engine” that can render to both OpenGL 3.0+ or DirectX 11 indiscriminately. I plan to …

I have chosen to research and create a “Game Engine” that can render to both OpenGL 3.0+ or DirectX 11 indiscriminately. I plan to…

Order your projects with the most impressive/relevant first. And if its not impressive or relevant, don’t include it.

Finally, when talking about programming, value the knowledge of your audience. Don’t spend your time talking about how great your project was, but instead imagine you are describing to a colleague the lessons learned and what advice you’d offer if they wanted to recreate what you’re demonstrating. Assume they have the same (or more) knowledge that you had when you started.

When a prospective employer looks at your portfolio, they will plan to give you 30 seconds of their attention (at most). But if your tech demo has something interesting, something that causes them to think, “how did they do that” … and then they actually learn something … you’ll have made a significantly different impact than the rest of the resume’s they had to struggle through that day.

Language

Remove conditional words like, “pretty good” or “a bit”. For example, you don’t have a “pretty good background in math” you have a “background in math“.

Replace phrases like “I have a number of screenshots…” with “Included are a number of screenshots”. By making the statement about the post instead of about you, you will create a much stronger and professional statement.

Stay Modern

Stay away form talking about high school or what you did as a kid. You’re an adult now. A college graduate… a programmer with a special interest in “some” area of programming. Tell your reader about what your programming interests are, followed by some examples of how you’ve applied those interests. No one who hires you will care what you did as a teen … and we’ve all had a lifelong interest in games. (The old, what have you done for me lately). Your portfolio should tell me why I should hire you, without explicitly saying “this is why you should hire me”.

Presentation

Web Mantra 1:Content is King.” No one cares about your layout or colors unless they are a distraction, then they’ll care very much. When in doubt, simply go with black text on a white background.

Web Mantra 2:Don’t make me think.” Follow web standards. Keep your navigation on the top or left, don’t make the user hunt for your “contact me” or resume link. Ensure any links are highlighted using web standards (blue underlined). People like jumping to the point quickly, so they scan for links. Without the highlighting, the links are hidden.

Web Mantra 3: Never, ever, ever included a “Under Construction” or “Coming Soon” page. Simply remove the menu link and add it when you’re complete.

The only presentation that is really important to your audience is code snip-its. Get a good plug-in for displaying code, preferably one with chromacoding (syntax highlighting) for all the programming languages you work in.

Even using something as simple as the <code> tag will look better than plain text:

cout << "Hello World";

And please, proofread. Everyone makes mistakes, but go back and read your posts occasionally to make sure you don't have any glaring errors.

Check out my post "Top 5 Free Plugins for WordPress" for some great tools to make your portfolio creation easy and sophisticated.

Technology

Use WordPress or something similar. Unless you're looking for a job as a web developer, you don't have time to ensure your site works on all browsers and all devices. Let the experts do that. That way you can spend your valuable time improving the content.

On that note, make sure the entire process of posting is easy. From uploading images, to code snippets, to embedding videos should be painless. Otherwise, you'll avoid it.

Examples

Chris Brough (2013 Grad)
Alex Tardif (2013 Grad)
Melissa Gill (2014 Grad)
Corbin Percy (2014 Grad)

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