This is part of a series of posts from MIT students who were involved in the Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connected current students to alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. Alumni, learn how to get involved.
Guest blogger: Mark Zhang ’13, electrical engineering and computer science major
Host: Jeevan Kalanithi SM ’07
The past couple of weeks have been some of the best in my life. What’s got me so fired up? Complete creative freedom, a fast-paced and exciting environment, friendly and intelligent people, a whole city to explore…what’s not to like?
I’m currently taking part in an externship at Sifteo, an up-and-coming start-up whose product is an alternative gaming system that uses physical, manipulable blocks rather than a conventional game controller. Being employed as a game designer, this system poses numerous challenges for me as I must predict and take into account how the user will interact with such a system a priori when building my game. For example, the system will be new to users. Experienced gamers will come in expecting certain actions to do specific things. I instinctively assumed shaking the block meant “No” and tilting the block was akin to a control stick. But we must also accommodate users who are new to games and whose instincts differ from our own. This is but one of the complex issues that game designers at Sifteo must face as they try to create intuitive interfaces. And don’t even mention the fact that the entire game must fit on several disconnected 128 by 128 pixel screens!
I see these challenges as opportunities to learn, and I am certainly learning a lot at Sifteo. The staff here, despite being busy, has been extremely supportive and provided a lot of help and constructive criticism. I often attend brainstorming sessions and meetings where I am able to share my ideas and learn from my colleagues. (I never thought company meetings could be so much fun; expect nothing less than a fascinating foray into game design.) And best of all, I have complete control over my own project. I have a chance to make something that is truly my own. Each day, my technical, artistic, and creative sides are put to work, often simultaneously, as I design, program, and render graphics for my game. This is a job that plays to all of my strengths, and I am loving it.
I’m currently staying at a hostel in the heart of San Francisco. I am constantly meeting new people from all over the world, and any time I please I can walk a couple of blocks, hop on the metro, and explore the city. And I’ve been doing just that, with several old friends who now live in the area. We’ve strolled along Golden Gate Bridge, toured the Museum of Modern Art, giggled at the belching sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, and peered at domestic chickens roosting beside Coit Tower. How refreshing it is to be in a big city without any schoolwork!
I cannot help but think how fantastic it will be if my life is anything like this after I graduate. This externship has not only taught me a great deal about game design and start-ups but has also motivated me to pursue my own start-up one day. It has fully convinced me that my chosen field is right for me. And it has given me a bright future to look forward to. Thank you, Sifteo, and thank you, MIT Alumni Association, for giving me this opportunity.