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Making a living playing—and building—games

Max Kohl

Max Kohl (Computer and Information Science, ’16) is a software engineer who makes video games.



Contrary to your parents’ protestations, playing video games might actually help you get a job.

That was the case for Max Kohl.

From about the time he was old enough to hold a controller, the 2016 graduate of computer and information science has been battling foes or solving puzzles in video games. He started with classic titles such as “Tetris,” graduated to “World of Warcraft” as a high schooler and today is a regular combatant in “League of Legends.”

Like most kids, his parents—with mixed success—told him to stop playing games so often. But now he can look back and say that all of those hours in front of a computer screen sparked an interest that ultimately led to his current job as a software engineer at a video game company.

“I spent most of my life paying to play video games and said, ‘why can’t I have a job where people pay me to play video games?’” Kohl said.

So he enrolled in the CIS major with his sights trained on a job in the gaming industry.

Two courses proved especially useful: one from Hank Childs on how to build graphics and another from Eric Wills on internship and career advice.

In his Introduction to Computer Graphics class, Childs teaches students how to create their own graphics through writing code—thousands of lines of code. The course culminates with students building their own graphics projects; most choose to make a game.

Along the way, they learn project-management skills and a programming language called C++ that is one of the most difficult to master, yet carries weight with recruiters.

Said Kohl: “(The course is) super-profound and game-changing.”

Wills’s class is a practical approach to career building. Besides teaching students how to write a resume, conduct a job search, build a portfolio and prepare for interviews, Wills brings in recruiters to meet with his students weekly.

Kohl discovered that having a game or a similarly demanding project to his credit is a huge asset in getting a job. He had three games he could tout to employers; Kohl said that during job interviews, he spent more time discussing the games than his classwork.

That body of work helped him land an internship with popular game-maker Zynga in 2015. He began by fixing glitches that cropped up in “Farmville 2: Country Escape.”

About halfway through the internship, he was given the responsibility of developing a new feature for the game: He promoted a Twitter campaign by a juice company that had partnered with Zynga to make fresh, locally grown food more affordable and accessible to urban and rural communities.

Thanks to the internship, Zynga recognized that Kohl was more than simply qualified for the job—he was a good fit with the people, too.

“I get paid to play video games all day,” Kohl said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

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