ACM - Computers in Entertainment

PhDs in the Digital Entertainment Industry

By Xiaomao Wu

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.

I still think I made the right choice to join the digital entertainment industry four years ago after I finished my postdoctoral research at INRIA. Although so, I was always curious to know if other PhDs who are working in the industry evaluate importance of their Ph.D. study. Has their Ph.D, degrees helped them survive and grow in the industry? So I recently designed a survey and sent it out to my Ph.D. friends who are working at top companies in the entertainment industry to find out. In this blog post, I’d like to share our collective experience. Here I’m confining the topic to the digital entertainment industry only.

The first question that came to mind was: Does Ph.D. study help industrial work? Among all participants, 67% think that if they had a choice to re-choose whether to do a Ph.D. or not, they would still do it. Half of them think Ph.D. study helped their industrial career significantly; 33.3% of them think their current jobs require skills they got from their Ph.D study. Another 33.3% think their jobs require a bit of Ph.D. skills. The remaining 16.7% think that none of the skill acquired from doing a Ph.D. is required for their current jobs. It indicates that in general, a Ph.D. study helps boost an industry career.

The second question I was really curious about is: Why they joined the industry after obtaining a Ph.D.? According to the survey, the participants think industrial work is more practical and it’s cool to push technologies inside the industry. Industrial work is more recognizable, and an industrial job can support their daily life better, as well as provide them with better career opportunities. An academic career is tougher, competitive, and bureaucratic. It’s also a personal choice, as industrial work not only requires creativity, but also practical, stable and non-far-away solutions. On the other hand, an academic career is more stable once you get a tenure position. However, getting tenure is tough and requires both hard work and luck. Although an industrial career does have the same challenges, and is not stable as the academic one, it does provide you more opportunities, a bigger human network, better interactions, and quick feedback from end users.

Lastly, I asked them to give advice to professionals and students on their studies and careers. Most of the participants encourage getting a Ph.D. if one is interested. However it’s more of a personal choice. Ph.D. study helps one solve problems and even how to find a problem. Ph D. students are usually not afraid of tough problems. Instead they are finding it difficult to discover the right tough problems. From a hiring manager's point of view, I think good PhDs are great assets to a high-tech team. Although it’s not easy to get high quality PhDs with good coding skills.

Overall, I think Ph D. study does help one’s industrial career if the job he or she is doing requires related technical skills one gets from Ph.D. study. Whether you want to pursue a Ph.D. or, instead, use the same amount of time getting a double master’s degree purely depends on personal preference. In my experience, many successful people do not even have a formal degree. The way to achieve success is not an academic degree, but the willingness to accept challenges, keep learning new knowledge, hone an ability to work smoothly with people, and display a persistence to keep chasing your dreams.

Dr. Xiaomao Wu is currently Lead Software Engineer at Crytek Frankfurt HQ, and an associate editor for ACM CiE. He received his Ph. D. from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and continued his postdoctoral research at INRIA. He is currently leading Crytek’s Cinebox team working on a real-time high-quality film/TV previs and rendering pipeline. Before joining Crytek, he worked for Autodesk, Microsoft, and INRIA in computer graphics and animation. His major research has been published in IEEE CG&A, Computer Graphics Forum, ACM/Eurographics SCA and Computers & Graphics. You can follow him on Twitter @CGRealLife or send him an email at [email protected].