Get Into Games: Summer tips for new students, plus how to thrive at uni

The summer before university is a time to rest, recuperate and play videogames in 30-degree heat. But it doesn’t hurt to have one eye on what is expected of you once you take the next step on your way to a game industry job.

With a full induction week on offer at most institutions, you shouldn’t have many problems settling in to your course and new surroundings. But if you want to get ahead, there are several ways you can gain an edge.

Here Warren Viant, head of computer science at the University of Hull, offers his top tips for aspiring game students as well as pointers on how to make the most of life in academia.

Get the right kit

Officially you do not need any equipment for the majority of Computer Science degrees.

However, the main way to improve your programming skills – the foundation of any computer science degree – is through practice. So it’s useful to have a PC outside university. Most are fine for programming, but here’s a checklist of factors to consider:

Laptops are great, but make sure the screen is large enough.  Development environments are a lot more complex than notepad and require a lot of screen real estate.  Anything smaller than a 12” screen is just hard work and an ideal setup would be a couple of 20-22” monitors.

The spec of the PC is largely irrelevant, provided it has 4GB RAM.

You do not need a gaming PC for a games programming degree.

And remember; whatever you get, make sure you have insurance for the kit.

Don’t buy expensive software licenses

This is where you can save a lot of money. Hull, like many universities, signs up to various academic software licenses.  In particular, Microsoft’s Academic Alliance allows students to have access to the majority of Microsoft’s software portfolio for free, including Windows 8 and the professional versions of Visual Studio. Licenses include installation on students’ home PCs.

Check the programming language you’ll be using

Arguably the most important topic that you’ll need to nail in the first year of a computer science degree is programming. Any exposure you can get prior to starting your course should be helpful. If you are not sure what language you will be learning first (C# and Java are two of the most popular), go to your course website and look for programming 101 and confirm the programming language.  At this stage you don’t need to purchase text books, you could just look for a suitable tutorial online.  For example search for “C# yellow book”. You can also download some software for free such as Microsoft’s Visual Studio Express.

Cover the basics

In my experience CS students need 3 things, a bed, food and internet access, and not necessarily in that order. Most official student residences will have internet access, either wired or wireless. This information should be available online. Private accommodation is more difficult to guarantee and will usually require you to do some legwork once you arrive at university.  Fear not though, you’ll not be without access while you get things sorted at home. Eduroam is a common Wi-Fi standard across European universities and once you have your university login details you’ll have Wi-Fi access on campus. Some universities have invested heavily in Wi-Fi and have near 100% coverage, others require you to find those hotspots. Look for groups of students huddled together staring at their devices.

Remember: You deserve your place

You will have been assessed by your chosen university, so the fact that you have a place means that you meet their entry requirements. Further assessment may take place during your induction. At Hull we have a maths assessment, to help guide students either to take a maths module or seek alternate support. Although not absolutely necessary, if you love technology, can think logically and enjoy programming – if you’ve been lucky enough to have done some – then you’re probably on the right course.

10 ways to get the most out of your time studying

1. Be positive. The majority of students taking a computer science degree will become computer science professionals.  So the degree is your conduit to a fascinating career.

2. Think about your profile.  Build and maintain an online presence.  Create a portfolio of your work.  Start a blog about your learning experience.  It all adds to your CV.

3. Be careful of what you publish on social media.  You don’t want your well-crafted online profile ruined by a stray comment on Facebook.

4. Work on skills that computer scientists aren’t supposed to have, for example public speaking and creative writing. This will really help you stand out when you go looking for a job.

5. Program program program.  The more practice you get, the better you become.  Writing a program needs to be as natural to you as writing in English.

6. Participate in programming events.  We run student 24-hour programming marathons at Hull, just for fun.  It gives a whole new experience to programming

7. Put yourself out there. Aim to get something published on the app store (not necessarily a piece of coursework).

8. If you have the opportunity for industrial experience in your degree, grab it.  It’s a little known fact that students with industrial experience on average improve their final degree by a whole classification. It also makes a huge difference at interviews.

9. If your dream job is a developer in one of the UK’s top games studios, then get a BSc/MEng/MSc in Computer Science and strive to become one of the very best programmers.

10. Socialise, get involved in university activities such as ComSoc and enjoy yourself. People you meet on your course and in societies could potentially become you next best friend or even partner.