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MCV Pacific Women In Games: Sarah Smith

MCV Pacific Women In Games: Sarah Smith

A veteran of the industry, Sarah Smith has been developing games of all kinds since the late 90’s.

Sarah started her BSc (Comp Sci) in 1998 part-time at the University of Queensland while working nights in a call-center to pay rent at my student share house. She would join QUGS and got into D&D which I loved, and also helped me meet fellow geeks.

She created her own HTML (then PHP) website “Story Bridge Games” which was a collaborative publishing platform for table-top game modules and material. Some of the original content is still archived off Sarah’s blog, along with some D&D stuff that came along later. A highlight of that time, was when a number of college women in the USA emailed her about how they were playing her material. Sarah would then run a few game convention modules & wrote a few articles for PTGPTB, a ground-breaking syndicated online game ‘zine published out of UQ.

Out of all of this, Sarah met Raymond Smith who would later become her husband and co-founder of Smithsoft.

In the early 2000’s Smith got her first paying IT job, whilst still completing her degree. The lab she worked in had a number of networked machines, with Sarah organising regular lan games of the original Warcraft and Starcraft.

Sarah then moved to Trolltech, the makers of the Sharp Zaurus. She began her first day with a heavily bandaged hand after a compound fracture which she received in a Tae Kwon Do tournament. Smith tells us, “I had to talk my way in as they didn’t believe I could do the job: and after 3 months (instead of the promised 6) they gave me a raise & got rid of the probationary status making me permanent – and the only female engineer there.”

In 2006 Sarah eveloped the Safe Execution Environment for Qtopia (the basis of the Zaurus) which was a native application download system for running sandboxed apps on mobile devices. This was 18 months before both Android & the iPhone appeared on the scene in a time when games were only able to be run as Java midlets. The work theydid on Qtopia and the Greenphone (a cell phone running Linux developed by them in Brisbane) led to Nokia acquiring Trolltech.

In 2007 Smith accepted an offer from Google and went to work in their campus in Mountain View, California. There, she got one of the first iPhone models as her work phone at Google. Sarah tells us, “Working there was exhilarating and stressful. My (now) husband Raymond came with me and we both enjoyed the Silicon Valley lifestyle, buying motorcycles and touring the countryside.” Whilst at Google, Sarah 20% of her time to volunteer in Google’s “Hiring Intergrouplet” with the goal of improving diversity in hiring.

Prior to the launch of Android, Sarah Andy Rubin about working on the team, and the response was one of several frustrations that ultimately – along with some family illness – led to them heading back to Australia.

In 2009 she resigned from Google and accepted a job at Nokia, back in the premises in Brisbane, Australia, occupied by Trolltech, but now working on Qt3D an OpenGL rendering framework for games and apps using the Qt cross-platform toolkit. By the time she left four years later, Sarah had committed many thousand lines of C++ source code to the Qt3D project, which ran on Nokia’s N9 and other Linux devices from Nokia. She then travelled to places like Munich, San Francisco and others, presenting and teaching the framework. Qt3D was eventually completely rewritten as the fortunes of Nokia changed and its Linux phones were cancelled. The project lives on today in V-Play.net – native cross-platform system for game development.

Ever since returning from Silicon Valley Sarah had been yearning to do her own thing with her software and game development skills. She couldn’t afford the time to go back to University to study games, and knew despite her experience it would be a massive step backwards to work as a junior developer in a game studio. Together with husband Raymond, they established Smithsoft. Sarah tells MCV, “My inspiration here was Ken and Roberta Williams who took Sierra Online. We did quite a bit of contract work, and in late 2013 I moved to River City Labs and did some client work on mobile for start-ups there.”

After establishing the company Saraj voraciously learned everything she could to bridge the gap between just knowing how to code, and what was needed to make games. She built her first game “Ethex 2080” in Cocos2D – Objective-C for the iPad, and in September 2013 she presented it at the IGDA “Game On Symposium”. Sarah would also present on a panel at the event

In October 2014, Sarah published her first full title, Bot Alpha. She had learned a lot from being alongside folks like John Passfield of Right Pedal, James Bowling and Cameron Owen of Attract Mode and many others at River City Labs. Bot Alpha was then featured by Kotaku.

2014 also saw Sarah present the title at the Apple Store to a huge crowd along side others. She would also judge the 48-hour Game Jam that year.

In 2015 Sarah learnt Unity and C# by building a prototype. She presented on working as a developer over two days to young women at Mt Alvernia College and began organising Women Who Code (Brisbane) MeetUp group, running coding tutorials & professional skills workshops for women.
Sarah also ave several panel talks, and seminars on Game Development, Tech Project Management and other topics, as well as completing some consulting work, including; delivering a five day training session to engineers from Boeing & other firms on Qt & C++.
2015 also saw Sarah take on a her first student intern for 6-months.

This year Smithsoft has gone from strength to strength, adding Wren Brier (ex-Half Brick) and Jane Dyson (of Sakana studios) to the team. The launched their Internal Beta target for the inner core game loop of Pandora’s Books, with 2016 set to be huge for the project and the team.

Looking back of her career to date, Sarah told MCV Pacific, “The path I took to becoming a game studio founder via professional software development has been tough, but it’s also meant that independent game development is totally real for me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

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