Liz Wright on Placement, Gaming and Women in Tech

A recent picture of Liz
Liz Wright, a final year computer science student, talks about being a female in a male dominated industry, and how that motivates her.

The Basics

Liz has been interested in “gadgets, electronics, computers for pretty much the whole of [her] life”, gaining a place at her chosen University and recently complete a 10 month placement, she programs games in her spare time. She recently participated in the Brunel Department of Computer Science Hackathon, where she coded a Parrot AR drone to operate via computer, instead of the supplied app.

Family Ties

Liz is not the first Wright family member I have spoken to. I have previously spoken to her sister, Sarah, who is currently studying game art design. Given that both seem quite technology orientated, I asked Liz whether or not their shared interest may have been a product of their upbringing.

She recalled how when she was young – too young to understand code – her sister, her dad and herself all used to play point and click adventure games together. Mention of the Monkey Island series got her excited, and she recalled how she would enjoy playing these games with her family, but never really got to share it with her friends, as the genre was dying out. Even at a young age, she thought it would be cool to create these funny, intelligent games, and be able to share them with her kids. Interestingly, she also has fond memories of fighting games. Classics such as Tekken were played with her sister, due to the ease of mashing buttons and sometimes winning was satisfying.

Liz’s dad is an electrical engineer, and it was obvious that she was going to take after him. Her choices for A-levels were Maths, Further Maths, Computing and Physics. It is apparent to both her and I that her dad had a very big role in helping her become interested in the sector.

Liz on Work Placement

Liz knew early on that she wanted to work in the gaming industry, but she was torn between the coding of games, or game art design, which was the path her sister took. After assessing the factors, and thinking about which would make her happier, she chose to go down the coding route. This was due to her appreciation of there being either a right or a wrong solution, a boolean output, as opposed to the subjectivity of art.

Liz found that her work placement was very helpful for her. She acknowledged that she had picked up many bad coding habits at university, operating on the mentality of ‘if it worked, it was fine’. This was torn down during her placement at Black Kite Technologies. Now, other people might be reading her code, or trying to get it to run on their computer, and it ‘just working’ was no longer enough. Updating messy code is a nightmare, and she had to learn to clean code, going on the philosophies of ‘Uncle Bob’.

Liz on Gaming

As gamers, we treat each other “really really badly”. Liz doesn’t know whether or not it’s the type of game we play, or the adrenaline boost, or some other factor, but she noticed that even perfectly normal, placid people, can become enraged and offensive when playing video games – myself included. The sandbox game Rust was used as an example. This is a game which auto assigns your character, so you have no control over how it looks, but people do look different from one another. This caused people to receive insults and threats online for the first time, simply because of how their character looked. Removing the ability to design your character after yourself put people in the uncomfortable position of experiencing first hand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, racial abuse. It sounds like it would have served as an eye opening experience.

It seems to have become normal and accepted behaviour to attack others online because they are different, either a minority race, or even a different gender. Liz feels that there are a number of ways to tackle this. First, we should all make a concerted effort to just be more polite to one another. If you have had a good game, then thank your team mates, wish them luck, and move on. Chat doesn’t just need to be for hurling abuse at one another. She also says that rather than attacking the weakest player on your team for bringing your score down, you should blame the level. Sometimes, levels just are a bit of a pig, and that can easily trip up less experienced players.

She also raised the interesting point about the demonising of video games. Specifically, we talked about how COD gets a bad reputation for making children violent, and glorifying war, and how you have to be 18 to play it. Yet, in some countries, our own included, you can join the army at 16. It was an idea I had never really considered before.

Liz on Gender Imbalance

Liz admitted that at times she has found the gender misbalance quite daunting.

When in middle school she didn’t have access to computing opportunities, so instead focused on the maths and physics aspects of education. Even then, however, it was a very male dominated area. It only got worse when she finally got to do computing, and she was the only female in her A-Level computing group. When on her placement, she once again found herself the only female in the office, but found it more difficult to assimilate, perhaps due to the more professional expectations. While able to become comfortable with her peers at school, there always seemed to be an additional social layer with her work colleagues, making it more difficult for her to fit in.

She has identified that games could be used to challenge sexism, and already we are seeing gender neutral games succeed. Minecraft, for example, is loved by both sexes, and Liz hopes that this will open the door for more acceptance of females in games as this generation grows up. Developers, Liz argues, also has a role to play in making women feel more welcome. Box art, for example, seems targeted specifically at males, and addressing this could go some way to resolving the gender gap. She seemed less impressed with the idea of ‘games for females’ though, suggesting that they “always end badly”.

She believes that it is the responsibility of everybody to try and adjust the attitude that women don’t belong in the industry. In particular, she says there should be more females shouting about what they do, and going into schools to do talks. On the rare occasion a computing talk was held at school, it was always a male.

Liz has taken this ethos in her stride, often volunteering to help run projects, because she thinks that it is important for females to see other females pursuing their interests. Even though she is only at University, she hopes that young women are inspired by her, and feel more confident to enter the computing industry.

Liz’s Advice

“If there is something that you’re interested with, just go for it.” There were many times when it was daunting for her to do something, perhaps because she was the only female, or none of her friends wanted to do it, but “at the end of the day if it’s something you’re interested in, I would definitely say pursue it.”

With females in particular, you may find it a bit uncomfortable, or question whether or not it is the correct career path for you, but Liz says it is important to keep pushing ahead.

You may then find yourself the only female in a workplace, but you are then in a position to go into school, talk to other young females who feel intimidated, and inspire them to do what they’re interested in, rather than simply what is expected.

First Published on artsawardvoice.com.


About the Author

Tom Inniss

A recent Brunel graduate who is now studying a Journalism masters at the university. He is the deputy editor of Voice, and a keen podcaster. Visit tominniss.com