Rockstar Games' Amanda Crane on the Technical and Team Skills Needed to Succeed
When you get your friends together, you probably think about how to create a community that everyone can enjoy.
That's exactly what Amanda Crane does every day at work—only she does it for 100,000,000 people, all at the same time.
As the Associate Director of Social Club Development at video game developer Rockstar Games, Amanda's role includes developing the Rockstar Games Social Club website, where players of Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, and other Rockstar titles can earn bonuses, connect with other players to join "crews" and play together, and track performance.
"Gaming is commonly portrayed as an isolated individual pursuit, but that cannot be further from the truth," says Amanda. "The applications we build are focused on making gaming a truly socially inclusive activity, and the art of creating our games and all the infrastructure required to support them is highly collaborative."
We sat down with Amanda to learn more about her path into gaming, how her team does their work, and what kind of people she's looking to hire.
London to Edinburgh to New York: leaning into love for development and travel
As a resident of New York City and a student of archaeology, Amanda can, in normal times, be found spending weekends wandering around all of the art and history museums the city has to offer. Her passion for art has always been a part of her life, though her first jobs in software didn't quite highlight it.
She started her career in London, writing accounting software and developing a range of coding skills, then worked freelance for a while and relocated to Edinburgh for a long-term project with a global energy company. She worked on designing, building, and managing an online system that enabled remote engineers to share their knowledge—and gained experience that she uses daily in her current role at Rockstar.
Amanda knew she was ready for her next career move to involve more art and creativity and had been thinking about Rockstar for a while. "I was familiar with Rockstar's games and really appreciated their artistry and just knew that was where I wanted to be," says Amanda.
Amanda applied for a role at Rockstar and was offered a position on the Social Club team, based in New York City, where she could use her experience with web technologies and help grow Social Club from a social platform to a cutting-edge way to manage and improve player interactions with Rockstar's online services.
And that's exactly what she's spent the last ten years doing.
Driving engagement requires collaboration
Along with running the development of the Social Club, Amanda partners with all of Rockstar's business departments to realize their goal of providing a reliable, engaging, and safe online community to their entire player base. That requires her to collaborate on company-wide processes, especially with Rockstar's Player Insight and Analytics, Online Operations, and Marketing teams.
"There are so many opportunities for working with different people, technologies, and applications," says Amanda. "Rockstar encourages collaboration across teams and studios, everyone is super passionate about the product and works really hard to ensure every detail of what we produce is top quality. Passion, collaboration, and love for the product really is at the heart of all we do."
She also oversees a team of nine developers who report directly to her. She makes sure they're getting the training and development they need to be successful at Rockstar and over the course of their careers, and that the environment they're working in is a positive one.
"We need to ensure our environment is able to evolve constantly, but we also need to keep it safe and inclusive," says Amanda.
What you need to succeed on Rockstar's Social Club team
Rockstar is constantly on the lookout for new hires for the Social Club, so if being a part of creating a safe, engaging community for other game lovers sounds like something of interest, take notes on what they are looking for:
Technical skills needed:
- Front end web development (with strong UI/UX skills)
- .NET development
- Database development (including SQL)
- Build and Release engineering
- Test Automation engineering
Soft skills needed:
- Collaboration. "Our team spans multiple time-zones so a lot of that collaboration occurs remotely. This can bring unique challenges and requires a highly communicative and collaborative nature," says Amanda.
- A flexible approach. "New projects can often be presented to our team in early stages of design and frequently require research into new technologies/methodologies and lots of discussion, documentation and planning before development work can begin," she adds.
- A growth mindset. "Demonstrating that you have a passion for technology and continued learning is important," says Amanda.
- Developing websites with a strong design emphasis, strong security protocols, and a high concurrency rate in order to create the best possible user experience of public-facing applications
- Working directly with product owners and end users and communicating across different audiences
- An appreciation and understanding of the factors that can impact performance, much like data manipulation and presentation in the financial sector ("it's a close parallel to much of the work," explains Amanda, "especially that which involves the analysis of game telemetry")
4 tips to stand out in a technical Rockstar interview
Whether you've long dreamed of a career at Rockstar or Amanda's story has convinced you to apply, keep these tips of hers in mind as you go through the interview process:
- You don't have to be a huge gamer, but make sure you do your research. "[Get some] insight into the wide technological infrastructure supporting online games, and the many roles available beyond actual game development," says Amanda—which would include roles on her team! "It also helps to invest the time to familiarize yourself with our online games and the Social Club platform. I love when people I'm interviewing make a reference to a feature on the Social Club website and can discuss it in the context of their own experience."
- Connect the gaming industry to other tech sectors. Many of the technical difficulties faced in gaming are found in other places, like an awareness and vigilance of around security, performance, and maintaining the infrastructure behind tens of millions of user accounts. Highlight your understanding of those problems, even if you haven't come across them in a gaming scenario, says Amanda.
- Show your work. Amanda loves to see candidates that keep up to date with recent frameworks and innovations on their own time. "If you can demonstrate with a personal project that you have familiarity with the latest frameworks, that goes some way to inform us that you are passionate about technology," she says.
- Give credit to your team. Being a geographically dispersed team, Rockstar relies on collaboration to succeed. "We need to be open with our ideas, share them across the teams, be able to communicate ideas to non-technical stake-holders, and mentor other members of the team to help them fully understand what we are doing and, just as importantly, why," says Amanda. "What I love during interviews is when people emphasize the team aspect of their successes, and even when talking about failed team projects, are able to communicate lessons learned and how those were applied to subsequent successful team projects."
Ready to apply?
Ready to become part of the future of gaming communities?
"A career in the gaming industry is a fantastic opportunity for anyone with a desire to work within a highly collaborative and communicative environment, on products that embrace social inclusiveness," says Amanda.
If that sounds like something that interests you, check out Rockstar's open roles!
From Puzzle Solver to Data Detective: Rockstar Director of Analytics Caroline Peika Talks Data Analytics in the Gaming Industry
Caroline Peika has loved puzzles—and mystery novels—for just about as long as she can remember. Both are extensions of the same core interest: problem solving.
It's this interest that led to her studying math and computer science in college, and ultimately, to her current role as Director of Analytics at Rockstar Games, solving data mysteries on the front line of AAA game development.
"It's the same kind of mindset. I'm trying to figure out something with whatever clues or information that I have," she says.
We sat down with Caroline to learn more about her path into analytics, and to hear her advice for those considering analytics as a point of entry to the gaming industry. Read on to hear how she got her start in gaming, the ways analytics in gaming is unique compared to analytics in other industries, and the difference between data analysts, data scientists, and data engineers.
A Career in Data: Caroline's Path into the Gaming Industry
After studying math and computer science in college, Caroline was approached by a business school to join their all-new business intelligence program, which combined math, programming, and business. Caroline was smitten: "I fell in love, I had to do it. And from then on, it's been my career."
Living in Montreal at the time, a hot-bed for the gaming industry, Caroline knew lots of people working in games—and she's a pretty big fan of video games herself, enjoying everything from Grand Theft Auto (GTA) to the Lego video games that her toddler son enjoys.
"I had a lot of insight on how fun the industry could be and how every day was a new experience. So I knew I wanted to be there—it was just a matter of how to do it."
A role in data forensics at Deloitte gave her her first taste of the video game industry. As a manager, she approached game companies to propose projects, such as health monitoring and anomaly monitoring, which they could use to detect, correct, and prevent errors in their games. That experience helped her land a full-time role at Ubisoft before she moved to San Diego for her current position at Rockstar Games, where she's worked for the past six years. (For those of us who are also into games, Rockstar needs no introduction. For everyone else, Rockstar are the creators of a string of hit video games including the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption series, both pop-culture hallmarks, with iterations spanning decades.)
So far, the experience has surpassed her expectations. Working at Rockstar, Caroline says, is all about collaboration. "Everybody wants to help. Everybody wants to hear what you're working on—and why—and how they can help. It's so easy to connect with coworkers and have conversations that fuel your own work."
Emphasizing Innovation: Realizing Her Vision at Rockstar
Caroline not only got to realize her own dream of working in gaming by joining the Rockstar team, but her vision for a robust, optimized analytics department as well.
When she started at Rockstar, Caroline was eager to invest in improved tools and infrastructure for the data analytics team so that they would be able to answer business questions more quickly.
"When I joined the company, there was a lot of opportunity for us to build and develop analytics as a team, and Rockstar empowered me to help make that happen—there were no roadblocks or micromanagement."
Caroline sees this emphasis on continual improvement as the backbone of Rockstar's culture: "It's all about innovation. How can we be better? How can we leverage new technologies?"
Understanding the Impact of Data Analytics in Gaming
Part of the reason this investment in architecture and infrastructure was so important to Caroline was because she knew that without it, her team wouldn't be able to answer stakeholders' many questions quickly enough… and when you work in a department that touches every aspect of the business like analytics does, efficiency is essential. But whether the team is helping optimize internal operations or providing insights on how players are interacting with a particular game, the goal is always the same: leveraging data to solve problems (or puzzles, as Caroline sees them).
"For people who love puzzles or challenges, every day is different. That's something that other industries may have, but it's the name of the game in the gaming industry. You get to experience this great balance of fighting fires in real-time with live ops, while also planning ahead and looking forward to new games and releases."
Roles in Data Analytics: Analysts, Scientists, and Engineers
As you might expect, the far-reaching applications and impact of data analytics on gaming means that analytics teams also tend to have a variety of members on staff, each with unique focuses and expertise.
Caroline was kind enough to break down the three main roles on Rockstar's data analytics team and the skill set required of each one:
Data analysts are the closest to the data. They're responsible for designing the data and making sure it's usable. They work closely with stakeholders to make sure they understand how the data is going to be used and the requirements for the end product before creating the final output, be it a report or a deep dive analysis on a specific topic.
What does it take?
- A basic understanding of statistics
- Good visualization skills and problem-solving skills
- A quantitative background, in fields like business, marketing, or economics
Data scientists push those analyses a bit further. With a toolkit a bit bigger than the analysts', they are able to answer questions and, most importantly, build solutions. They use advanced analytics and machine learning to create clusterings, predictions, models, and optimizations.
As Caroline says, "It's not just answering a question that can be used in decision-making, it's actually creating a product for a team and making sure it can be used and it keeps updating correctly."
What does it take?
- A strong technical background, in a field like computer science or statistics
- A good grasp on business
Data engineers are the ones who bring the product built by data scientists into the production line. They are the owners of the final production pipeline--and the ones that will get called to fix it if it breaks.
What does it take?
- A background in software engineering or data engineering
- Fluency in programming languages
- The ability to adapt and switch to different technologies as needed
Across these profiles, every member of Caroline's team is focused on something specific, related to the stakeholder they are working with. Some tasks may be aligned with the skills of a data analyst, while others require the attention of a data scientist.
Breaking Into Data Analysis: How to Be More Than a Number
Whether you're starting out as a junior analyst, or looking to pivot into game analytics, Caroline shared her recommendations for people starting out in the field and, most importantly, what she expects from someone who wants to join her team:
- Understand Game Analytics: "Do your personal research of what this is all about. You really need to understand what you're getting into, which is a very varied and fast-paced environment."
- Know how to apply your knowledge: "If you're just starting out and you have the tech skills, what you're missing is an understanding of how to use them in actual business environments. Do your research and read books on the different ways businesses leverage analytics. Make sure that you're not only good at analyzing data, but telling a story with it that will be meaningful in a business setting."
- Show your hand: In the interview, don't be afraid to mention what you've done in the field and what you enjoy the most. "We want to hear your selling points. We love to hear about what you like to do and what you're comfortable doing, because we can always think of a place on the team where we can leverage that."
- Ace the test: Portfolios aren't expected. Instead, Caroline sends out a task—an open-book test: "That's your way to shine," she says. "This is where you can show what you bring to the table. We're not expecting perfect answers. We just want to see how you work, how you think, how you're creative."
Interested in solving puzzles with Caroline and the rest of Rockstar's data analytics teams? Check out their open roles here.