This article is part of Virtuos Insider, a series of interviews where Virtuosi share about their careers and experiences in the company and video game industry at large. In this instalment, Lisa Willig, Software Engineer at Black Shamrock – A Virtuos Studio, shares her inspiring story of shaking things up after completing her PhD in Experimental Physics with a career switch to game engineering, and her move to Dublin.
As Virtuos continues to grow at a consistent pace, we’ve welcomed talent from diverse backgrounds, including those outside of the video game industry to enrich our team’s skill set. Lisa Willig, a software engineer at Black Shamrock – A Virtuos Studio, had pursued a decade of research in experimental physics before taking a turn into game development.
After completing her PhD in Experimental Physics at the University of Potsdam in Germany, Lisa decided to experience a change in both her career and environment. A driven character who’s always up for a challenge, her love for games and learning new things eventually found her with us at Black Shamrock in Dublin, Ireland.
Graciously taking time from her busy schedule to speak with us, Lisa shared with us what it was like to switch to a career in game development and experience a new living environment in Dublin at the same time. Read on for the full interview!
Tell us a bit about your history leading up to your current job at Black Shamrock – A Virtuos Studio. How did you come to join us?
Before joining the video game industry, I was working on my PhD in Experimental Physics, where I spent quite a bit of time on programming my lab software and creating data analysis scripts. Halfway through my PhD, I had set my mind to pursue a gaming-related career as I’ve always loved games and the challenges they present. Knowing what I wanted to do helped, as I spent the remaining time I had before completing my PhD refining my profile and experimenting with games in my free time.
I also wanted to work in a different environment and move out of Germany, where I had spent many years living in and pursuing my graduate studies. When I came across a junior programmer position at Black Shamrock, I found that the profile was a good fit for me and decided to apply for it. So, here I am now!
What was it like, transitioning from a researcher in experimental physics to a software engineer developing games?
The transition was a lot smoother than I expected. Many skills that I acquired during my studies and working as a researcher in the last 10 years turned out to be very beneficial for me. I’m able to utilize technical skills such as programming, debugging, working with documentation and data analysis, which are required as a software engineer. In addition, the soft skills I’ve picked up as a researcher including project management and communication have proven quite useful in my current role as well. While I enjoyed my previous job as a researcher, my present position as a software engineer is deeply intriguing and interesting to me.
What’s a normal work day like for you as a software engineer?
I tend to start my day with meetings, as a lot of my work consists of communicating with different teams between the Dublin and Shanghai studios. I also take the earlier part of the day to guide my juniors whenever they need help. Afternoons are usually quieter for me if there are no meetings, where I’ll have time to focus on my own tasks.
What’s your favorite thing about working at Black Shamrock?
I enjoy being able to work on many different projects at Black Shamrock, as it means that I can learn much more about the various aspects of game development, and the diverse styles of many different long-established studios that we work with. I also like meeting and collaborating with individuals of different disciplines, ethnicities, and nationalities.
Share with us a little about your personal life. What are some of your interests?
When I’m not playing games, I spend time reading and coding for leisure. I also enjoy being in nature, and I look forward to doing more long-distance hikes in Ireland now that the pandemic situation is improving, and restrictions are being lifted.
What spurred the move to Dublin? Tell us one thing that you like most about living in Dublin.
My wish was to leave Germany after my studies, as I wanted to experience the culture and life in other countries. In Dublin, I feel very lucky to live very close to a beautiful wild park, as I was still able to spend time there to unwind in nature during the height of the pandemic. I live close to the coast and really enjoy walking along the beach as well.
What is it that you want to accomplish the most as a software engineer for video games? How has Black Shamrock been supporting you in that journey?
As someone coming from a different background, I want to learn and experience the various disciplines of programming in a project as I enjoy being challenged and tackling new tasks every day. In this sense, the work at Black Shamrock has been very fruitful, as I’m given a lot of freedom to explore different areas and there’s also a lot of exposure to a variety of topics and projects.
As a female engineer in a traditionally male-dominated video game industry, what opportunities do you see for yourself and other women in the industry?
I’m working towards a goal where it is considered normal and common to see women working in the video game industry both in the tech and art side, just like any other job. As a researcher, I was lucky to have many female colleagues as well as male colleagues, and nobody explicitly questioned my ability based on my gender, but purely based on my work. This is my hope for the video game industry overall, for people to look past genders. This way, there will be a greater diversity of people who can enrich the creation of games and make games more interesting, multi-faceted, and unique.
In my opinion, games are a great medium of storytelling and educating people.
How has the company supported the growth of women such as yourself in the industry?
At Black Shamrock, I’ve always been evaluated based on my performance and ability. I’m seen as an individual who is part of the team, and there’s no difference in treatment regardless of gender. As a member of the studio, I’m proud of our team’s diversity and inclusive culture.
What advice would you like to share with people who are interested in joining the video game industry, and Black Shamrock?
Stay curious, and stay motivated. If you’re not one to settle with what you already know, and want to keep learning and working on many exciting projects, Virtuos is the place for you!