Lab42 is a studio which is passionate about the development of its teams, whether it’s learning days, speaker and networking opportunities or facilitating discipline-led learning.
Most recently, the studio has launched its Programming Forum led by Senior Programmer Jonny Bolton, which sees programmers from across the studio coming together to share knowledge, level up their learning and develop skills in presenting.
Join us as Jonny takes us on a tour through the Programming Forum.
What is the Programming Forum?
“The Programming Forum is an opportunity for programmers of all levels to get together, share insights into specific code languages or best practices, and develop their presentation and networking skills in a friendly, safe and welcoming environment.” says Jonny.
“When we went remote during lockdown, the studio set up plenty of virtual events to keep us connected and it meant that we were able to get to know colleagues from across the studio rather than those we worked directly with every day on our projects. This sparked the idea to bring together entire disciplines within the studio for socials, which eventually developed into an idea of getting us together to learn from and with each other… then last year, I decided to launch the Programming Forum officially!
“Lab42 has everyone from people who have been in programming since the 90s, to juniors who are fresh out of university. This breadth of experience and knowledge means we get a lot of perspectives in the room – with juniors getting facetime with very senior programmers who have a lot of experience and titles under their belt, and seniors getting updates on the latest technology and techniques emerging right now from our graduates… it’s a really great mix and a unique opportunity to share.”
What happens at the Programming Forum?
“We’re in the very early stages of the forum, but so far we’ve been able to watch insightful talks about navigation systems from experts around the world at conferences like GDC, including Down with Nav Meshes: The Next Generation of Navigation Data, by Ben Sunshine-Hill and Killing the Walk Monster, by Casey Muratori.
“Thanks to the success of this pilot event, attendees to the forum began to come forward with their own ideas and we moved on to people within the group presenting on a range of topics. There are a few of us interested in esoteric programming languages, so we decided to create presentations on Rust and Haskell – two languages which we aren’t all as familiar with as C++ and C#.
“This has been a really interesting route for us to explore, as these languages aren’t used predominantly in games but bring a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas forward that we can use in our everyday languages.
“Each session has an agenda driven by programmers from Lab42 as I’m keen that we’re making it as useful for everybody.”
What’s next for the Programming Forum?
“An unexpected but wonderful outcome of the Programming Forum has been peoples’ keenness to develop their presentation skills. As Programmers, we maybe don’t get as much opportunity to do big-scale presentations as other disciplines like Production do… so this is a great way to get started! It’s much less scary presenting to 10 people you already know than to a room of strangers at a conference, so it’s important to us that we create a very welcoming environment where people can feel confident to deliver these presentations.
“We’ve had one person practice their talk for Sumo’s internal conference, Sumo Developer Conference, in June, and someone else has the space to practice their first presentation delivered fully in English.
“Looking ahead, I’d love us to work with our Sumo neighbours in Sumo Leamington so we can get some cross-studio collaboration going and learn how we’re doing things differently and what we could improve.”
Top Tips for discipline-led learning
The format of the Programming Forum is applicable to all disciplines within game development, and there are easy ways you can get started:
Set aside some dedicated time: Those who take part in the Programming Forum carve out time to do so, which frees up space from them on projects and meetings so they can focus their learning. Lab42 (as part of Sumo Digital) offers all of its people five learning days a year, and using these to get involved means there are no distractions and it’s time dedicated to learning.
Be Proactive: The Programming Forum came about became we wanted to create something that was open and available to everyone working in programming at Lab42. So, I got to work asking around the studio and seeing what people would be interested in, and it turns out a lot of them were! Remember: if you’re thinking you might like to level up your learning, there’s a good chance someone else is thinking it, too! Now I’m in regular contact with people who attend the forum to check in on what they’d like to learn, topics they want to cover and how we can improve.
Create a welcoming environment: If you’re hoping to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their opinions, asking questions or even presenting to the group, you have to make sure it feels safe and welcoming. For us, we take a separate space in the studio and keep it really laid back.
Do your homework! Programming is constantly evolving, so you should be too! Keep an eye on games industry events where people are delivering talks about your discipline… it might just be the next big thing! Games industry publications and figureheads can be a great source of inspiration for your next agenda and usually bring about plenty of discussion after.
Learning at Lab42
Jonny was one of the first members of Lab42 when the studio started out in 2015. Back then it was six people in an office working on its first project and while lots of things have changed, one thing remains the same: Lab42 loves to learn. Jonny said: “It might sound obvious, but even in those early days, the studio had its sights set on creating a place where game developers from all levels could come together to learn, develop and grow their skills in a safe environment.
“We love welcoming people from all stages of their games industry journey and are very proud to work with partners including GamerCamp to bring in fresh graduate talent, and Ahead Partnership to inspire the next generation of developers. These partners also allow people within Lab42 to grow their confidence and develop their presentation skills as they deliver talks to and lead workshops for young people.
“Studio Operations & Engagement Manager Kirsty Kirby is an advocate for learning and is always on the lookout for ways we can get together as a team to learn something new. Last year, she introduced the knowledge sharing programme to Lab42 which sees team members across teams, disciplines and levels paired together for 1/2/1 sessions, mentoring and sharing their wealth of expertise.”
Don’t know your C# from your Sean-Bean-as-Sharpe? No bother! You can find a handy glossary of terms used throughout this article below:
Programming: Programming in games is a huge discipline with lots of areas but put simply: programmers create code which brings a game to life. They take work done by all other departments and translate it into a playable experience.
C#: Pronounced C-Sharp. C# is a programming language used for lots of things including app development, websites and – of course – video games!
C++: Pronounced C-Plus-Plus. C++ is a programming language that can be used across platforms to create high-performance applications and products.
Esoteric Programming Languages: There are lots of programming languages which are considered esoteric. Each of these have their own rules and are not as commonly seen in game development.
GDC: Game Developer Conference. A conference held each year in San Francisco where the greatest and brightest minds working in game development get together for talks and networking.
Discipline: A discipline in game development refers to an area of work, like Code, Production or Art.
Navigation Systems: A navigation system in games refers to a path for something to follow. For example, an enemy in-game must follow a certain path for a player to go up against.
Looking to level up in the games industry and join an award-winning studio making great games? Lab42 is hiring! You can find all Current Opportunities on the Careers Page.