This interview is part of a collection of interviews that explore women’s experiences in the gaming industry.
Mahum is an SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test) in the switch platform team at Unity Technology. She is responsible for the overall quality of her team and product, optimizing development and bug workflows. She possesses 5+ years of industry experience, specializing in game development, Unity real-time engine and Virtual Reality. Daria explores Mahum’s professional and personal journey.
As a female engineer, I’m happiest when young women use me as an example of what can they can achieve
Could you tell me about your role and what being a ‘SDET’ entails?
I work as an embedded QA engineer for the Switch Platform team at Unity Technologies. As an SDET, I create custom scripts, game projects or setup automation tools to optimize the quality levels of my team or product. This means that I am responsible for driving quality culture in my team and increasing the overall quality of my platform by optimizing development workflows. This includes bug verification processes, PR reviews, test suites and feature development processes. Being an embedded QA engineer means I am part of a group of developers responsible for one specific track of a product. I work closely with developers on a daily basis to develop features for our platform.
Why did you decide to enter the video game industry? And can you tell me about the journey?
Even though I come from a gaming family (where 2 out of my 3 siblings are in the game industry), I chose virtual reality over game development. My internship was in Pakistan’s biggest digital marketing agency as a web developer. At my first job, I joined the VR team. VR is a more complex and advanced subset of game development with computer vision, image and shader processing, data visualization, device performance and server optimization involved, and I chose it for its complexity. After that, I moved to build a VR communications application, and I am now in engine development.
What does an average day look like for you?
My workday usually starts with a sync call with my Quality Assurance team. Some other team might have a question about the switch platform that I would have to address by searching for the solution. I will continue my work of implementing an improvement for the switch team. That could mean reviewing a trail suite and reducing its run time, improving the bug verification process, or introducing automation to reduce the run time of a manual job. If there are incoming bugs for my platform, I ensure the reporter has completed its bug report before sending it off for a developer to pick it up. Or if a complex bug comes for verification, it will come my way.
What would you consider to be the most rewarding part of your job?
The biggest reward is releasing an optimized product that other people can use to enhance their work. As a working professional, I find joy in enabling my juniors to learn and grow. As a female engineer, I’m happiest when young women use me as an example of what can they can achieve.
What would you consider to be the most challenging part of your job?
Keeping up with all the different branches of game development, each one more complex than the last, is like climbing an infinite mountain. Five years in, and I’m still no way close to being an expert. Another interesting challenge is communicating with my distributed team since half of my development team is Japanese or French. Before joining Unity, I thought I was good with communication, but working with Unity has humbled me. It has taught me how to channel my frustration into a positive direction that would yield results.
Have you ever experienced misogyny or discrimination while working in the video game industry?
I would have to stand my ground and make them listen to me
Before Unity, I was in a male-dominated company, always the only girl in the department. I would lie if I said that never happened. But I never faced a wage gap or lack of opportunity. The most frustrating moments for me as a female engineer were when my peers would not respect my authority as a lead. I would have to argue and prove my domain knowledge. It sometimes took them more than an hour to solve a problem that should’ve taken five minutes if the developer had just listened to me.
My feedback would be easily disregarded without proper reason by my tech leads. I would have to stand my ground and make them listen to me. It would’ve been much easier to just be a simple tester, keep my head down and do the work I was assigned, but I wasn’t satisfied with that career path. All this resistance motivated me to always be technically prepared for an argument and grow my knowledge as an engineer. But not everyone was like that. Most of my male colleagues recognised and respected my skill set. In Pakistan, I developed plenty of complex features like multiplayer matchmaking and VR avatar generation workflow.
Do you have any advice for students wanting to enter the field?
Game development is one of the most complex problem sets in computing, as it incorporates visual computing, physics, rendering pipelines, and art. It’s like a perfect combination between science and arts. On top of that, it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. Even if you are not an avid gamer, choose game development if you like a challenge. Whatever field you choose in science or arts, someone somewhere in the game industry will have a job for you. Just do your market research, know your worth and never make the mistake of asking for less than you are worth.
What is your favourite video game?
I love RPGs like Horizon Zero Dawn and Final Fantasy XV. I’m a huge fan of the Devil May Cry series since DMC 1. I love King of Fighters (even though I’m not as good as my siblings) and racing games like Drive Club and Burnout. I like to play word puzzle games and card games on mobile too.
Featured Image courtesy of Daria Paterek. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article video 1 courtesy of Playstation via YouTube. No changes were made to this video.
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