Search for a Star

Aardvark Swift's Hollie Heraghty explains the process for this year's developer talent competition

What is Search for a Star?

Aardvark Swift is very proud to announce that Search for a Star 2011 is officially underway and gathering pace for the second year running - and we're delighted to be partnering with leading videogames business news and community site for this year's competition.

Search for a Star is our programming competition for university students in their final year. It's a competition designed to highlight the country's brightest young programmers, giving them a platform to make the difficult step into a career in videogames.

The idea for a programming competition was conceived sometime ago, but took a little while to gather momentum. I work as a specialist recruiter, for programmers within the videogames industry and I've taken a great interest in graduate programmers - trying to help them secure their first role within the industry.

I noticed that there was a recurring problem surrounding graduate recruitment - I'd talk to graduates daily who were unable to secure a role in a videogames studio, and simultaneously I'd speak to studios who wanted to take on entry-level programmers but couldn't find the calibre and skills they required. Something wasn't adding up and I wanted to try and help solve the two problems.

Hollie Heraghty

Aardvark Swift's Hollie Heraghty saw a disconnect between graduates and studios, and created the Search for a Star competition to help fix it.

The Skills Gap

Initially, I surveyed UK studios, to gain a better understanding of the skills they required and which skills they felt the entry-level applicants were lacking. The answers confirmed what I suspected - that studios want programmers who are academically strong, have a solid understanding of Maths, C++ programming, a passion for games and the ability to work within a team.

It seemed the problem was mainly finding graduates with these skills, but also helping studios to identify the applicants who had these skills and separate them from the many similar CVs that are submitted for junior roles.

Search for a Star was the perfect solution to a glaring recruitment problem. We devised a plan for a competition that would mirror games studio recruitment processes. This gives studios the confidence that the programmers reaching the final round and winning the competition could demonstrate the skills they were looking for: C++, Maths, passion for games and the ability to communicate with others.

How it Works

Search for a Star is a four stage competition:

Stage one is the nomination/application process, with applicants filling in all relevant details about their educational background, interests, programming experience. Successful applicants then proceed to the next stage.

Stage two tasks applicants to answer ten technical questions, which are completed in exam conditions in a time limit of two hours. The top 15 per cent then progress to the next phase.

Stage three is 'the task stage' - this is completed within a week and really gives the competitors the chance to shine. They are given broken code which they must fix, implement new features, then go above and beyond, to show that they are the star we have been searching for.

Stage four, the final stage, is a panel interview that will assess communication skills and an applicant's passion for games. Our panel interview is an important part of the competition process.

This year our panel will comprise of recruitment professionals: Lizi Attwood from Relentless, asking technical questions; and a representative from Rockstar Leeds. The candidates will have to demonstrate a passion and interest in games, technical proficiency and the ability to communicate.

University Challenge

The participation of universities is crucial to Search for a Star, and we have dedicated a lot of time to contacting those with relevant courses whose students might want to participate. We have excellent relationships in place with many UK universities due to our efforts over the last six years.

We've organised and carried out an annual tour of university visits, where we hold careers talks and offer CV advice. We recently sat on a panel at Leicester University to advise on the content of their course and give annual reviews of course content and structure.

Universities have therefore been happy to back Search for a Star - they've nominated students and publicised the competition, making sure that everyone who might want to participate gets a chance. Additionally, course leaders find the competition useful to see where their students rank compared to other universities and we're able to give them and the students a practical idea of what standard and skills the games industry expect.

Studio Involvement

The other vital component of the competition is the input and involvement of the games studios - having them on board adds credibility to the competition and everything we are trying to achieve with it.

Universities, students and other games companies can feel confident that graduates who have reached the final stages in Search for a Star are exactly the types of graduates with the technical ability and the passion to enter the videogames industry.

This year we are proud to confirm that we have three studios involved: Relentless Software, Rockstar Leeds and Headstrong Games. All of the studios make great games and have a real passion and interest in the issues surrounding junior programmers.

Lizi Attwood (Relentless) is a lead programmer and is active with SkillSet, so therefore was a great person to get on board. Lizi wrote all of the programming questions, based upon the skills she looks for when recruiting junior programmers.

Rockstar Leeds was another obvious choice - the team there looks for the best talent in the industry and would be keen to take on more junior programmers, providing they were at the required standard. Every year the company offers internships and looks for people with the same passion and interest in games that their founders and leads display.

Headstrong games meanwhile has consistently taken on junior programmers over the last few years, believing them to be integral to the studio - so is very pleased to be involved.

The End Result

We're pleased to offer prizes to the winner and runners-up that will help them on their way to a career in videogames. We've secured work placements at Relentless Software, Rockstar Leeds and Headstrong Games - all companies that will provide hands-on experience to winners to give them an even greater chance of securing a role in a games studio.

We have also teamed up with Gamer Camp to offer the winner a place on their Mini games camp. The prizes are designed to allow the finalists to build their CV/portfolio and make them more marketable to the industry.

Gamer Camp in particular is a great partner for the competition, as the company hopes its Camps can solve the same problem we've identified. During the Camp the students produce real games that will be released on iPhone or PlayStation Portable. They receive coaching and support from top industry professionals and gain skills, training, and experience from all stages of the games development process. Guy Wilday, former Studio Director at SEGA Racing Studio, is running the course with Birmingham City University.

We are very excited that so many universities are taking part this year. There's a real buzz around the competition and the applications have been flooding in. The 2010 winner is currently having interviews at some of the country's leading videogames companies and many of our finalists are working with leading studios, such as Lionhead and Codemasters - which really shows that we're highlighting the right types of candidates.

We hope that the 2011 competition will be bigger and better than last year - you'll be able to follow our progress with regular updates on, as well as our official Facebook page.

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Latest comments (8)

Andrew Lee Pearson Studying Game Designer, Train2Game9 years ago
When I got an email about this thought to myself "Ooh Nice", then when I got to the website it says programmer Doh!
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Nuno Silva9 years ago
Only for UK students... sad...
I'll have to stand up through other ways!
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Rob Sienkiewicz Graduate Programmer, Black Rock Studio9 years ago
I entered this last year, got through to the final 10 and then found out I hadn't won simply because the Develop conference came and went and I wasn't there...

Still, I'm pretty sure being part of this had a positive impact on my job hunt, and Hollie was the one who sorted me out with a job! Recommend it for sure.
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Show all comments (8)
Mark Hunter Studying MA Environment Modelling, Teesside University9 years ago
Is there no way of getting something like this for 3d artists? seriously struggling to find a postion within a studio and its my dream job. id work cheaply lol

maybe hold some design competitions?

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Sarah Johnston Project Co-ordinator, Dare to be Digital9 years ago
Mark there are other types of competition out there that would suit your skills, for example Dare to be Digital. Ok so its a completely different set up to Search for a star but it's not restricted to programmers and its all about teamwork.
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gi biz ;, 9 years ago
I remember talking at phone with her... I didn't know she looked like this!!
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Morris Kanyowa Studying MA Games Art, University of Hertfordshire9 years ago
awwwww man, just coders
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Bev Bush Course leader B.A. (Hons) Games design, University of Central Lancashire8 years ago
Yes, how about a section for games designers and game art? Please.
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