Even future game designers might fall for the stereotype. Tyler Nguyen did.
Pursuing San Jacinto College's computer simulation and game design program, Nguyen expected game design to be silo work — wearing headphones and guzzling soda while programming levels.
The reality was far different.
"There was a lot more communication than I expected when I went in," he said. "That's the one thing people will be surprised at. People who are in computer science or game design in general might be introverts, but you really do have to talk a lot."
Thanks to building communication and teamwork skills at San Jac, the recent graduate landed a summer internship with top video game developer Riot Games.
High school techie
Nguyen dates his tech fascination back to high school computer science classes. Around his sophomore year, he and a friend started building PCs for other friends and family members.
"Whenever you buy a computer from Walmart or anywhere, you're limited to what they give you." he said. "Building your own, you have leeway on what parts you like and what money you're going to spend."
Nguyen enjoyed the trial and error, building about 10 computers, including his own. Starting the computer science program at the South Campus in 2017, he eyed a programming career. A professor later encouraged him to switch to the new game design program instead.
"My interest slowly shifted from just programming to more," he said. "I wanted to design and create something with my own ideas."
San Jac standout
Nguyen made the right choice with game design. Not only did he get more hands-on training and business savvy instead of theory, but he also learned how to express his ideas and opinions during team projects.
James Isaacks, adjunct computer information technology instructor, linked students to an internship creating a virtual environment to train plant operators in error reduction. Nguyen's leadership and communication skills grew throughout the project.
"He helped keep the team on task while solving some of the harder programming problems to make the simulation work," Isaacks said. "He was willing to start communication in the team and displayed enough patience to wait until the rest of his team began to communicate."
Nguyen also stepped up as president of the campus Esports Club, forcing himself outside his comfort zone at every opportunity.
"I made a habit to go to the student center and push my limits," he said. "I would talk to people whether I wanted to or not. I've developed this hybrid introvert/extrovert personality."
Early into his game design training, Nguyen set a goal to intern at Riot Games. The company earned more than $1.75 billion last year thanks to its League of Legends game for PC gamers and esports competitors.
"I was really into their design philosophy ... it resonated with me," he said.
Although students worldwide compete for these internships, Nguyen relied on the confidence and team-building skills he had developed to apply. In early 2021, Riot interviewed him by phone for two hours. After one more call, he had landed the two-month internship.
This summer, Riot flew him to Los Angeles, where he experienced the workplace culture and project design alongside about 30 other interns.
While Nguyen found interviewing stressful, the work environment itself was laid-back. Each day kicked off with a casual group meeting to brainstorm and discuss progress. Nguyen contributed to several projects, though he can't share details because of industry privacy.
What he saw mirrored what he had experienced in the classroom — communication.
"I think people perceive you'd be at a desk eight hours a day," he said. "But there's a lot of talking involved — brainstorming, team-building, working on your discipline, programming occasionally."
What's next for Nguyen? In spring 2022, he starts his bachelor's program in game design at the University of Texas at Dallas. Then he'll try for a paid internship with Riot next summer.
Beyond that: "I would hope to have my own company in game design or be working for some company making some kind of game," he said.
Nguyen feels San Jac's simulation and game design program laid a solid foundation with skills that translate to many careers.
"People might look at it and think that's a really specific niche," he said. "But you're not exactly limited to IT simulation and game design. You also get hands-on and business experience."
Nguyen circles back to communication. If anything, he's learned game design revolves around collaboration.
"You really do have to talk a lot," he said. "At some point, you'll probably break out of your shell."
Banner photo courtesy of Jeremy Bezanger/Unsplash.com