Women in Games: Jennifer Wilson of Night Owl Games
Continuing with Gaming Angels’ feature of showcasing women in gaming, we had the pleasure of getting Jennifer Wilson to answer a few questions for us. Jennifer is a developer for the studio Night Owl Games, which was formed in 2008 and is located in Austin, Texas. Their game, Dungeon Overlord, is a multiplayer strategy game that is available for play on Facebook now.
Summer: First, can you introduce yourself and tell us how you got into working with games/ended up at Night Owl Games?
Jennifer: Well, I’m a partner in a firm called Creeris Ventures, which incubates start-up companies.
Night Owl Games is one of the companies that we started up, so I was actually involved with the company before it existed, ha! My very first Night Owl meeting was years ago at a coffee shop with Chris Mayer (who became the CEO of Night Owl Games) and the CEO of Creeris to discuss the founding of the company and what type of games it would produce.
Chris was passionate about the idea of creating re-imagined browser-based versions of classic games. At that first meeting, Chris said he wanted to create a twist on the classic game Dungeon Keeper, and he’s done just that with Night Owl’s first title, Dungeon Overlord.
That’s awesome, being with the company from the beginning. Have you found it to be a more difficult or stressful job when you’re working on a brand spanking new company (i.e. because you want the company to be successful)? Or has working with already established companies been more stressful? Is working for one more rewarding than the other?
After that initial coffee shop planning phase several years ago, I wasn’t involved with Night Owl again on a regular basis until last April. I was actually running a couple of other technology companies that I started while the Night Owl team was developing Dungeon Overlord and bringing it into beta. Personally, I prefer starting up a company to joining an existing one. It can be hard to find a place to fit in and not step on anyone’s toes when you join a company later in its life. I think that starting up a company is both more stressful and more rewarding than joining one — you have an enormous amount of responsibility, but you also truly have ownership of the project, which is a great feeling.
What is your position at Night Owl Games?
I started working with Night Owl last year to assist them in their transition to self-publishing. Since then, I’ve worked on their server systems and also done a bit of database work.
Can you tell us anything about your current/future projects?
One Night Owl project that I’m currently involved in is business intelligence related—that is, gathering and analyzing data from our servers to help us make awesome business decisions. Another Night Owl Games project has me delving into mobile development the last couple months. (Spoiler: this should make Dungeon Overlord fans very happy!)
What’s it like being a woman at Night Owl Games/in the gaming industry in general?
There are other women working with Night Owl, but not in tech roles. (Attention female developers: apply to Night Owl Games!) I have worked with tons of other female developers throughout my career, and I don’t think I have encountered gender bias in the technical side of my career.
One great thing I have noticed at Night Owl is that everyone there is really passionate about what they’re doing—passionate about gaming generally and also specifically about making Dungeon Overlord awesome. So that’s been really nice to experience.
I think that’s fantastic that you’ve run into little/no gender bias in your career. Do you think it just has to do with the industry maturing or do you think you’ve been lucky to work with people that are more interested in being passionate about what they’re working on and making sure that the final product reflects that?
I would guess that people who’ve worked with women developers are probably more likely to respect them, so industry maturation could play a part in it. I also think that developers generally respect other talented developers, so if you are good at what you do, your gender probably won’t matter.
Speaking of having a passion for what you do, how do you keep that level of passion on your off days or when you’re just starting out and running into the Great Wall of Rejection/Failure?
I think the best way to stay passionate about your job is to pursue other passions outside of your job. If you work on something too hard for too long, you begin to resent it and burn out. It is good to give yourself a break to focus on other things on a regular basis (meaning: try to take weekends off, which is often easier said than done).
What advice do you have for girls and young women who want to do what you do?
Get a great foundation — I have a BS in business and computer science and did several internships while I was in college. This gave me a great foundation for my career.
Be confident — if you have a great foundation, you can build anything you want on top of it. You don’t have to have all the knowledge needed to complete a project before you start it; you can learn as you go.
Have range — some developers stick themselves into a small category: “I am a DBA.” “I am a UI developer.” If you gain knowledge and experience in more than one area, you’ll probably have a more interesting career, as well as be much more highly sought-after by employers.
Get involved in the community that you want to work in. If you’re a gamer applying for a position at a game company, make sure that your prospective employer knows all about your involvement in the gaming world.