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Cracking the code after college lands dream job
Gaming software developer from Bremerton showing next generation of students path to technology career

By Terri Gleich / For KPBJ 

When Chris Gonzales graduated from the University of Washington with a computer science degree, he wasn’t qualified for his current job as a software developer at Unity Technologies.

To teach himself the computer code that is the foundation for every website and software program, he spent hours watching YouTube videos and visiting bookstores where he would page through manuals he couldn’t afford to buy.

He honed his skills making websites for friends before eventually landing a full-time position in the industry and beginning the path that would take him to a dream job at Unity, maker of the cross-platform game engine used by Temple Run and Bad Piggies.

Now, as a member of the Bremerton School District’s STEM and computer science committees, the Bremerton High School graduate wants to help the next generation of students get their dream jobs.

Unfortunately, he contends, many schools are focusing on the wrong things.

“Schools do need to change,” he said. “The skills required five years from now are not known and by the time schools adapt their curriculum, the skills have changed.”

Gonzales said educators should help kids find their passion and then teach them how to be lifelong learners so that they can adapt as technological advances bring new opportunities.

The breakthrough opportunity for Gonzales’ employer, Unity Technologies, was the creation of the smartphone. The resulting proliferation of mobile devices meant that gamers always had a computer at their fingertips, opening up a huge new market.

Unity provides a widely used engine that game makers, ranging from amateurs to big companies, can use to make their games work on all platforms. In the past, Gonzales said, it took multiple teams to make a game work on gaming systems, desktop computers, iPhones and Android phones. 

“It’s really cool,” he said. “You can write the game once and people can play the game everywhere.”

That’s especially important to small developers. Unity has free and paid levels. At a recent career day at Mountain View Middle School in Bremerton, Gonzales said half the students in his group of about 100 had heard of the international company and many had used it to create games.

“For 12-year-olds to make games kind of blew my mind,” he said, adding that the most common questions he got after his presentation were technical ones from kids who wanted help de-bugging their games.

Gonzales works out of Bellevue, where his job is to help game publishers market, promote and make money from their products.

As a kid, the 28-year-old said he was like many of his peers who wanted to work in video games. But somewhere along the way, he said, he was convinced by adults that it wasn’t realistic. He was advised to concentrate on careers that would fatten his wallet.

Now that he’s turned his passion into a career, Gonzales is having a blast.

“At its core, gaming is about spreading happiness,” he said. “It’s really about making people happy for a minute or an hour. It’s really what makes me get out of bed every day.”

Gonzales advises students interested in following in his footsteps to check out YouTube videos this summer and try their hand at coding. If they like it, he predicted, it will get them more excited about math and science. Game creators need to understand the physics of inertia and momentum, for example.

Gonzales is working with Unity to make sure the Bremerton School District has the most up-to-date version of the game engine. He also wants to help students and teachers attend the company’s Unite 2014 conference in Seattle Aug. 20-22. Attendees will learn about new products and get to meet game developers and artists from around the world. 

Linda Hupka, director of STEM and career and technical education for the Bremerton School District, said Gonzales is her go-to guy when she has a question about anything related to the computer industry.

As the district beefs up its computer science offerings, Hupka said Gonzales is giving her invaluable information on what software to buy and what to avoid. He also gives her ideas on the best career pathways for students.

“Chris is helping me to develop a really well-rounded, complete computer and IT program and not just what’s popular at the moment,” she said.

Just as reading and writing were the keys to success in previous times, Gonzales said understanding computer code is paramount for the future.

“Software is significantly reinventing every industry,” he said, including music, movies, communication, news, cars and health care.

“Software is all around us and you should really know how to read it. If you don’t, you’re going to have to pay somebody a lot of money.”

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