Big Viking Games: The Co-Op Experience

Two co-op students describe their experience working at Big Viking Games in London, and their advice for other budding co-op students

With Hack Western right around the corner, Big Viking Games wanted to give attendees an idea of what to expect when it comes to taking on a co-op position during school. We sat down with two of our Vikings, Nathan L. who was a co-op for 8 months during his time at the University of Waterloo, and now a full-time hire, and Michael M., who is now on his second co-op with us and in his 3rd year at the University of Waterloo. Each offers their own perspective of what to expect when taking on this new challenge!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What team are you on? What’s your educational background?

N: I’m a developer on YoWorld. I grew up in Mississauga, but I went to school for Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. Other than video games, I’m really into archery and board games.

M: My name is Michael Shimokura, and I’m from Ottawa. I study Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, and I’m entering my third year. I’m a Co-op Software Developer at Big Viking Games working on the iOS sci-fi CCG Dark Heroes. I got into programming because I wanted to make awesome games, and here I am!

2. What would you say the main difference is between working as a co-op compared to full-time?

N: I actually would argue that there was very little difference between working as a co-op and a full-time. As a result the answer to your question is that I had to submit paperwork to the University while I was a co-op, but I didn’t have to while I was a full-time. Big Viking really treats co-ops as regular employees. There’s no babying. I got the same training that a full-time would get on the project when I started and the same sort of things were expected from me as the full-time.

3. What do you think it takes to make it as a co-op in a mid-stage startup company?

M: Just like any co-op placement, you get what you put in. The thing is, at a startup you have a lot of room to take on as much work as you can handle. If you have a lot of drive and enjoy the work, working at a startup can be really rewarding, but if you just want to be given work and ride the term out then a startup isn’t the place for you. There was never an average day at BVG because things could often change very quickly. One day I’d be working on assisting with game design, while the next moment I could be dabbling in some community management. Every day offered unique and interesting challenges!

It was a great experience here because I felt like the work I was doing was genuinely making a difference. Some of my friends from Waterloo that do their co-ops at other workplaces tell me that they get assigned to one task, which can get a bit tedious for them. What’s more, they never even get to see the products they work on go live! Here at BVG, I had a variety of roles and responsibilities, and most importantly for me, I really got to see the impact my work had on the company as a whole as basically everything I worked on before I left shipped.

4. What do you think set you apart from others in order to become a full-time hire?

N: What set me apart from the others and secured my place at Big Viking was when we were about to ship Dark Heroes. Our release schedule was accelerated in a way that ended up having us scheduled to deploy the game at a time when the current lead would be on vacation. He had a prior vacation commitment that was two weeks long that lead up to and included the ship date. I was given the opportunity to step up and lead the team when we shipped the game. I delivered on time and secured my spot as a part of the team.

5. What is one piece of advice you would give students/recent graduates in order to break into the gaming industry?

N: The best way to “break” into the industry is twofold:

  1. Network with developers you meet in the industry or developers in fields near the industry. This doesn’t have to be difficult. Any conversation, work related or not, is effectively networking.
  2. Make something. It can be a game (that’ll certainly help), but it doesn’t have to be. Have personal projects that are very clearly distinct from things that you had to do for school or work. It is remarkably difficult to finish personal projects, but doing so will make it clear that you have passion for what you want to do. This is a HUGE boost when you’re applying and comes with the added benefit of giving you experience in areas that your education or job might not provide.

We’re always looking for amazing and talented individuals to join our team and can’t wait to see what’s in store during Hack Western.