Alumni Spotlight – Alyson Szymanski Class of 2008

We are excited to share our conversation with ETC Alumna Alyson Szymanski, Class of 2008.  In addition to learning about Alyson’s adventures since leaving the ETC, she also shared her views on the gaming industry as well as great advice for current and future ETC students.  Thank you Alyson!

ETC: What have you been doing since graduating from the ETC?

Alyson Szymanski (’08):  After graduating from the ETC I made my way across the country to work for a very small 30 person team tasked with taking the Halo Franchise internal to Microsoft.  I managed production and release of the first ever Xbox community hub – Halo Waypoint – in fall 2009.  From there I joined the campaign story production staff for Halo 4 as the team was entering production.  I gained a ton of valuable experience on shipping a AAA title on a huge 200+ person team.  I took that knowledge and worked on Halo 5 campaign for the full production cycle from blue sky, through pre-production, into production, and taking it across the finish line in 3 years.  After Halo 5 launch I moved on to manage the Halo 5 multiplayer team through our monthly content drops.  Applying my previous experience supporting Halo Waypoint, I helped usher Halo 5 from a boxed product into the new era of “games as a service”.  After 9 years at Halo, the next step for me in my career was to join a new team that is in line with my focus – the player, the customer, the team.  I joined Amazon Games in January 2018 to build cutting-edge games for new audiences, focused on bringing games to our passionate customers.  As a producer on The Grand Tour Game I work closely with the team to build new and sustainable processes so that we can bring the best game possible to our player base.

ETC: What is your fondest memory of the ETC?

Alyson Szymanski (’08):  I can’t pick just one.  Cruising in international waters on a cruise to “nowhere”; mentoring students of ETC fundamentals while they try to build boats that won’t sink when racing across an indoor swimming pool at Nemocolin Resort; introducing other students to the Jewish culture at a Passover Seder where fellow students led us through 4 cups of wine;   famous parties at 315 Atwood; happy hour and half-priced food at Mad Max; making my roommates drive the bright red VW bug with black spots and a face to the main campus gym.  But I think if I were really pushed to name just one it would be working until 11:30 pm every other Monday night with our BVW class, and then going out for $4.69 Antoon’s Pizza and $2 Gibbon’s Pounders at Gene’s.  Those fairly mundane late nights built a camaraderie that I have never found anywhere else and am so blessed to be a part of.  Looking at you BVW Class of 2006!

ETC: What changes have you seen in the gaming industry throughout the past ten years?

Alyson Szymanski (’08): There are two major changes that I think ETC students and people trying to get into the games industry should internalize: 1) Games as a Service – Most games are no longer box products. Games are constantly shipping new features, patches, balancing and tuning.  This is a huge mental shift for veterans in the games industry in that it changes what best practices are for producing a game.  Make sure that you change your frame of mine to think about shipping a new version of one product every week, rather than shipping a different completely isolated product every 2 years.  This will change how a team triages bugs – issues no longer get cut, then get postponed to a later ship date.  It changes how a product is marketed, what makes sense to ship in a first release, and how a team future proofs its features.  It brings backward compatibility issues to the forefront of QA.  This is changing the landscape for AAA titles and if you can think with this new frame of mind you’ll be a step ahead of industry veterans! 2) Indie is the new AAA – Gone are the days that only behemoth publishing companies can make profitable games. With new platforms, the focus on personal hand held devices, Kickstarter, Twitch, etc. games can be made anywhere.  If you have an idea and the drive to make it happen then you can.  It takes hard work, due diligence, meeting and retaining great contacts, and BONUS: it’s completely doable!

ETC: What advice do you have for current ETC students?

Alyson Szymanski (’08):  The 2 most important things I learned (and more importantly built up an experience with) at the ETC are 1) How to work with teams and people of all types and 2) How to present ideas and information.  Unless you become a one man band you will work with people throughout your career.  They will be veterans, n00bs, creatives, anti-socials, millennials, the money guys, savants, and much more.  ETC was an invaluable time to get as much experience as possible working with different types of people as a team moving towards a common goal.  Pay attention to the meta, reflect on your project’s team structure, your learnings about working with others.  Start creating a tool kit for yourself on techniques to work with others.  I imagine it sounds ridiculous to current students but in retrospect quarter presentations, half presentations, soft opening, ETC fundamental papers – these were by far some of the most important experiences I gained at the ETC.

ETC: What advice do you have for students considering the ETC?

Alyson Szymanski (’08):  If you want to work in any industry that touches on making products for customers, the ETC is for you.  If you want to work in games, the ETC is for you.  If you want to make roller coasters, the ETC is for you.  If you don’t know what you want to do with your career but you think it’s related to technology, and/or entertaining or bettering human experience, the ETC is for you.  I think of the ETC as a vocational tech/entertainment industry experience.  It was instrumental in getting me to where I am in my career.  If you want to explore the genre of gaming; if you want to study the trends and wax philosophical about the gaming industry; if you want to review games, comment on games, and critique games for a living, the ETC is not for you.  This is not a graduate school program in the academics of the gaming industry or the theoretical of game design.  In my opinion, the ETC is meant for someone who has some area of expertise (mine was in events planning and film making, so it doesn’t have to be coding!) that wants to BE in the entertainment industry.


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