A New Talent Pool?

I hate computer games. Whats more, its a hate born of ignorance, because I know almost nothing about computer games. The last one I played was Pong, and my interest in that waned rapidly because it demanded far too much hand-eye coordination.

My ignorance of the subject doesnt end there, however. I also find myself stereotyping gamers as nerdy, adolescent recluses whose detachment from reality is demonstrated by a circle of friends theyve never actually met, but who they envision as being clad entirely in armor. Except for their wings and horns, of course.

My son Dan, a junior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, is such an avid gamer that one of his two majors is interactive media and game development. Im not saying that Dan fits the stereotype, but he has Nerf weapons hanging on the walls in his room. Im not making that up. Hes also been seen running around the WPI campus with a long stick called a LARPing (live-action role-playing) staff. Fortunately, WPI is an institution where that sort of thing is accepted, so he doesnt have to worry about frat-guy onlookers throwing empty beer bottles at him and his fellow LARPers.

Interestingly enough, Dans academic pursuits have given me a glimpse of what lies beyond the stereotype. The kid is, as they say in Worcester, wicked smart. Ive seen some of the design work hes done in Maya, Autodesks 3-D rendering program, and its pretty amazing. Im not referring solely to designs of goofy cyborgs with built-in weapons of mass destruction, either. Im talking about practical designs that would have real-world applications in construction or any number of other industries.

Venturing beyond the stereotype has yielded another eye-opener for me. If I were the wagering type, I would have bet more than I can afford to lose that the percentage of gamers who are boys 17 and younger is far higher than the percentage who are women 18 and older. Yet according to the Entertainment Software Association, the former group constitutes 23% of gamers, and the latter group 30%. Who knew?

Thats just one of the enlightening bits of information I gleaned from reading our feature on women in the computer gaming industry, She Got Game." If you havent read it yet, you could be forgiven for wondering what in the world an article about women who design computer games is doing in Computerworld, The Voice of IT Management. But just read it.

One of the things youll learn is that computer gaming is attracting women into the technology arena at an accelerating pace. According to the nonprofit Women in Games International, a typical WIGI event attracts 250 to 300 women, whereas even a major event would have brought in fewer than 100 women 10 years ago. As the IT profession continues to lament the declining percentage of women in its ranks, consider the skills that women in gaming bring to the fore, like project management, collaboration in a development environment, and experience with networking technologies and high-end computing systems. That has to be an attractive pool of talent for IT recruiters.

Game developers, moreover, often have top-notch writing abilities (Dans second major is professional writing), a valuable tool in creating the story lines underlying the more sophisticated computer games. No doubt, well-developed written-communication skills are equally highly prized in any IT organization.

So if youre hung up on the stereotype, get over it. A woman with a styrofoam cudgel may be one of the best hires you ever made.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at don_tennant@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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