Faculty Spotlight: Tommy Mitchell (Game Development)

This month we wanted to showcase another of our amazing instructors on our blog, and our spotlight is on Tommy Mitchell. A Game Development instructor with many years of direct experience in the field, Mitchell’s knowledge of the game industry has become a huge advantage for Coleman University students. Having been a fan of gaming since he was six years old, it is more than safe to say that this subject is a passion for him; one that he shares with our students.
We sat down with Tommy to discuss how he got started in Game Development and what it takes to be successful in the industry.

1. How did you get into Game Design and Development?
Well that’s a bit of a long story. I have played video games since I was 6 years old so I’ve always been pretty active with that. I used to play about 2-3 days per week and it just became an obsession. However traditional art became my forte. When I graduated from high school, I had a partial scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Texas for their art program. As I was going through my courses I was approached by a professor who had recently established a game design program on campus called Guild Hall and she wanted me to join. I went through those courses for two years which put me in the pipeline for a game development degree. So I have a traditional art background, but I went from painting canvases to digital art and sculpting.

2. How did you apply your degree after you graduated?
Once I graduated I was called up to work for a small gaming company in Austin Texas called Midway. During that same time I was hoping to pursue more education in game design, so I applied to schools in San Diego that offered higher degrees. Once I had been accepted, my company offered to hire me back once I had finished my education. So I moved to San Diego in the hopes that I would have a job waiting for me back in Texas once I was done. I attended ITT Tech for their Digital Entertainment and Game Design program. I received my bachelors degree, while also doing freelance work. In 2009 I was lucky enough to get an interview with Sony and I was hired on as a game tester. I did game testing for about a year and a half.

3. Wow. So you lived every teenage gamer’s dream then?
A lot of people think that with game testing you’re just constantly testing games and having fun, but it is serious software testing. You have to look for bugs and issues, marking their coordinates in the game, and making sure that you are sending that information to the developers. Your job is to find as many ways as possible to break the game. After a year of testing I was promoted to being a character artist. The first game that I worked on for character design was God of War 3, just small portions  of the background design, which was really fun. Then I was put onto the teams for MLB The Show, and Star Hawk. After a couple more promotions I was given a project management role, around 2011 for a game called PS All Stars. At that same time I started working at Coleman University.

4. So how did you become an instructor at Coleman?
Once I had graduated with my bachelors I was interested in getting my master’s degree, so I came to Coleman to pursue my degree in Information Systems Management. I was going to school and working at the same time. I graduated in July of 2010, and continued working at Sony. After a big project that I was working on was finished, I stopped in to talk to Career Services and catch up with my instructors. I found out that Coleman had started a Game Design (as it was called at the time) program and they were looking for instructors. Career Services took my information and forwarded it to the dean of the program, who called me ten minutes later asking for me to come in and interview. Two weeks later I was a full-time instructor for Coleman.

5. What classes are you teaching now?
I instruct Level Design 1, Intro to Digital Sculpting, the Programming Capstone, and Fundamentals of Game Design. Mainly I teach students the basic structures of game design. It is a very fast and competitive career path to go into, so you need a strong knowledge of every aspect of design.

6. On that note, what are the misconceptions that incoming students have about getting into the Game Development field?
Whenever we have student orientations I am the first person to tell students that if you think that you’ll just walk into a studio and start testing video games, you should throw that idea right out the window. This program is not about that. You are learning a skill set that is very complicated. Even when you’re done with a class meeting, you still have to do more work on your own outside of class. The industry’s first question in an interview will be “what else have you done?” You can create a portfolio that includes your class assignments but companies do not focus on that, they want to see how you applied your skills to an outside project. You need to develop more than programming skills. Game Developers have increased hand-eye coordination, critical thinking, and problem solving skills due to the requirements of this industry. In this industry you will be asked to work long hours and even work overnight to meet deadlines and finish projects, so putting in more hours for professional development will only benefit you. In our program there are really two tracks. The first is more of a programmer role, and the other is the designer role. Each one takes a lot of time to master and you have to do it all of the time, which includes participating in game focused events. Luckily for our students Coleman hosts the Global Game Jam every year, and that has a huge impact. Organizations look for that specifically, as well as your online presence through LinkedIn and Twitch. Networking is a lot more involved in job placement than people realize. Passion is important in this field and students need to have that in order to succeed. I would also recommend that students be prepared to freelance while they are looking for work. Once a project is over you may not have a residual income coming in so be prepared by getting into other projects ahead of time. Be willing to learn as many skill sets as possible. Ask peers who may have a better grasp than you to help you learn more. As long as you communicate the desire to learn, people will be willing to teach you.

7. What are your opinions on the rise in online celebrity gamers, or the professional gamers that compete in world competitions?
Well, social media and online exposure is actually a huge boost to developers looking to get hired by a company. These feeds and uploads are being watched 24/7 by companies looking for new hires. If a studio likes a candidate they will be brought in for testing or interviews. Having a vlog or Twitch channel is a big help for getting yourself noticed. I had two students who were invited to work with famous game vloggers and were flown to a vlogging convention in San Francisco because of their popularity online.

8. Considering your passion for art and your background in it, what are some of the recent games that have come out that you feel are visually/artistically incredible in their style?
I’m going to be a little biased with my answer. I would have to say two of the games that I actually worked on within the last five years. I was an Associate Producer for The Last of Us and I really loved the artwork that was developed for that. Even though I was brought in around the third phase, it was my first big title as Associate Producer and I was freaked out because I was working on that and teaching at the same time! My second choice didn’t do so well commercially, but I really liked Order 1886. I consider that one to be a steampunk version of Van Helsing. You were acting as a werewolf hunter and it was almost like its own cinematic movie. I helped design some of the Demon Dogs that were within the game. The other game that I can think of is Unfinished Swan, you are playing as a little boy who falls into an open world through a book which is all white. As you work your way through the game, colors and structures start to appear and you create your world that way. The first color that is initiated is black so you can create figures and outlines then add color as you go. We tell students when they are applying to a company and want to showcase their best work with a demo, that if you can turn down the volume and run through it and still understand the story no matter where you are, then you have done a great job. I look for that specifically when I am hiring for studios.

9. Can you tell me the most important traits that you look for in a potential Game Development student?
Definitely, I look for a student who is passionate for Game Development and who is an open book. They don’t come into the classroom thinking that they have everything handled, that they only have to learn to do a couple of things. You have to be very motivated and hungry to achieve your goals because this field is very competitive. You have to realize that you and 20-30,000 other people are applying for the same jobs at any given time. Challenge yourself every day to get better; you can’t stay in the same place. You have to reinvent yourself, and the best thing about being in the game industry is that it is not hard to find something new to learn every day. There is no ceiling on what you are capable of in a work position, because the technology in this field is constantly changing so you have to change with it. Confidence is also really important, being able to look someone in the eye and provide straightforward answers will help you stand out from the crowd in an interview and in class.

10. Last question: tell me about your favorite project that a student or group has produced at Coleman?
It was a capstone group in 2014. It was a very unique group with plenty of colorful personalities that also had a lot of motivation and passion for what they ultimately wanted to do. They created an amazing 2D game, with almost every aspect being hand drawn and conceptualized by this group. The project lead was a really shy and laid back student so I purposefully put him in a leadership position. Within hours of their first meeting they came together and completed their concept. This group came in every day that they could and worked on this project, which was incredible. Once they had a finished product, they published it online and received a lot of praise for their work from other developers and programmers. I use this group as an example to motivate students, because it is this type of project that they should be striving for. The capstone is a great way for students to really figure out what it is that they want to do.

If you love gaming and creative art, think about joining our Game Development program! Tommy is just one of the amazing instructors that we have in the program and there are opportunities here for you to grow and establish an exciting career. Call Coleman today at (858) 499-0202 for more information and to schedule a tour! 

Faculty Spotlight: Thomas Byrne (Cybersecurity Program)

Part of what makes Coleman University so unique to San Diego is the incredible faculty that we have on our campus. Technology and its development are not pastimes for our faculty; their careers and passions are built around it. We sat down with one of our Cybersecurity instructors, Mr. Thomas Byrne, to talk about his passion for technology and teaching. Hopefully we can show you something new and exciting about your instructors!

Mr. Byrne (far right) stands with his First Robotics Team at the Central Valley Regional in March of 2016. This photo was taken after the team had secured a spot in a semi-final for the second time that month!

1.So, Mr. Byrne, what drew you to technology and network security?

I grew up with technology and thinking back here are some of my memories: I was literally amazed at my first RED Led watch in the mid 1970’s as well as PONG, which I had hooked up to my TV. I thought to myself “this is the future, these digital readouts.”  Then one day in 1982 my father, who worked at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach as a Branch Chief Engineer, brought home a Compupro 8/16. It ran CP/M off of 8-inch floppies. One of my favorite games to play on the computer was “Colossal Cave Adventure,” which was a text based adventure game that made you visualize the world you were exploring. I spent a lot of time exploring that cave and one day I got stuck in the cave and actually phoned the author for a game hint in the help file. That was cool, knowing that I could phone the creator of the game. The hint was “Did you get the axe? Did you throw the axe at the Minotaur?” Ooops! I also read a lot when I was a kid, and I eventually came across tech magazines in the electronics store. I read an article and found out that you could punch a hole on the back of that huge floppy to make it double sided; it was so exciting to learn that I could double my storage!  I learned to program in Assembly, which meant manipulating the CPU stack, and I watched my dad write code to track expenses and even predict when airplanes were flying overhead as they landed in LAX. I also received my HAM radio license back when you had to learn Morse code and was communicating with people in Japan and Germany… so that’s how I sort of got hooked on technology, it was my fun time. As for network security, I like to be secure and wanted to learn how to maintain my systems against threats. I saw all the virus activity and did not want to lose my data, so I researched how to stay safe online and really liked understanding how the hackers think and what motivates them. I also learned how vulnerable this technology is, and I wanted to do something about it.

2.How long have you been teaching at Coleman? What inspired you to become a teacher?

I was hired as an Instructor in August of 2010. Before that I was a corporate trainer for Luxottica. I always was someone who could learn and then explain almost any topic and gain insights on it. I really like helping people understand difficult concepts in cybersecurity. This is a huge positive, as a lot of the material can be difficult until you understand it. I try to make it easy to understand, so that my students can remember the material down the road and make use of that knowledge. I try my best to cut through the noise to the essence of what’s really important to know.

3.Do you have a piece of advice or information that you want all of your students to know before they graduate?

There is a job for you, as the world certainly needs trained cybersecurity professionals. It will not be handed to you though. One piece of advice I have is to be very flexible in your careers and gravitate to the areas that interest you. Learn everything you can about security and technology; we live in amazing times and the whole world is going through a digital transformation right now. The world needs your help, so study hard and keep up with all the changes in technology and security. The Internet is a great human resource, so use it; learn how to find good sources of information and never stop learning. It’s very important to learn to interact with others in a positive way and become a good communicator. Be a positive person. Technology is hard for many so help them understand it.

4.Where do you go for the most accurate and up-to-date information on what is happening in technology?

I take advantage of my commute time and listen to podcasts. I’ve got my podcast apps, and I can tie into any podcast out there. I listen to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Security Podcasts, etc. It really comes down to about five companies that are at the head of technology development. It is all interesting to watch and hear, like a big game to see who will come out with the next trend.

5.What are some basic tactics that you would recommend to the public, who may not be fully aware of online cyber risks?

First of all, don’t believe in total privacy online. If you’re on the Internet regularly, you are not doing it privately. If you’re using the Internet you’re going to be in some database somewhere. In regard to keeping your own computers and other devices secure, try not to click on links that you don’t recognize, use two-factor authentication whenever possible, have a password manager for your personal emails and other log-ins, keep up with the news, and don’t go to websites that you can’t verify. Most importantly, don’t allow any action on your devices that you do not personally approve. So if an email comes up with a link that you do not know, reverse it, call the company directly and ask if they contacted you. You need to initiate the connection instead of assuming a provided link is good.

6.What are you involved in outside of the classroom that involves technology development?

Well, I am a mentor for First Robotics. My son wanted to start a robotics club at his high school with two friends, after seeing that other schools around the city, such as Hi Tech High had them. They started a robotics team for Mission Hills High School in San Marcos. I met with them and let them know that I wanted to help out, so I met all the parents of the other students and we worked together to start a robotics team. It’s a lot of work! You have to form the team, and it costs about $4000 to compete in these competitions, so that takes a lot of fundraising. You’re given parameters like the weight of the robots, which has to be 120 pounds, and the cost, which has to be less than $4000, and so on. So you need to get sponsors. We got started in the robotics competitions in San Diego four years ago, and our first project was a defensive robot which was required to have the ability for aerial assist. In that first competition we placed 23rd out of 60 teams, which was pretty high for a rookie team, considering that some of the other teams had been doing this for at least ten years. From there we ended up going to St. Louis to compete, because we won Rookie All Star; we were up against teams from across the nation, but there are also about 30 countries that do this every year as well. Right now there are about 6,000 teams globally that are a part of this competition. We were up against the best and that motivated us to come back even better the next time. So in the following years we have been semi-finalists in both the national and international competitions. This year we were semi-final and quarter-finalists. There are a lot of scholarships attached to this, so students can get money from Boeing and other companies who are looking for engineers to sponsor. Our team is so successful because we have so many mentors who specialize in every aspect of building and implementing.

7.What is an up and coming technology or technology trend that you are really excited about?

Well people like to say that my head is in the clouds, because I am so invested in cloud computing! This is the next paradigm shift in major technology. A cloud service run by major corporations like Google and Microsoft provides the advantage of a powerful storage facility, with massive processing power, and servers that can shift their computing power to adapt to any situation. In regards to hacking, people are going to start seeing the value of the cloud, because it offers more security at less expense, and it is consistently updated. The ability to share and store information will connect the world and give everyone access to technology.

 

We want to thank Mr. Byrne for taking the time to tell us about himself and his passion for technology. Keeping students motivated and engaged is a full-time job and there is a lot more beneath the surface here than you might think. Join us again next month for another spotlight on our incredible faculty at Coleman University! If you would like to know more about First Robotics and the team that Mr. Byrne is mentoring follow the links below.

https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/frc

https://www.facebook.com/team5137/

 

Faculty Spotlight: Jonathan Rodley

Faculty Spotlight: Jonathan Rodley

Faculty Spotlight: Jonathan Rodley

Jonathan Rodley is a part-time adjunct instructor at Coleman where he teaches English Composition and Creative Writing at Coleman University. Rodley says that creative writing is a way of life for him and he wants to share this passion with his students, whom he greatly admires.

“It takes a certain caliber of person who can work full-time during the day and come to class in the evening, fully prepared,” Rodley said. “I appreciate the experiences that Coleman students bring to the classroom.”

When he is not teaching, Rodley participates in poetry readings, book making, and attends conferences in writing and pedagogy. His other pursuits include spear fishing, surfing, and working as an ocean lifeguard for the City of San Diego during the summer. He served as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army from 2010 to 2014, spending time in both Georgia and Korea. As a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, he is involved in the Psychological Operations Company, or PSYOP.

In the past, Rodley worked as a freelance reporter for the former North County Times, and a tutor/mentor for the federally funded Upward Bound program. He is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. His combined experiences make him a valuable contributor to the Coleman faculty team.

Faculty Spotlight: William Reid

Faculty Spotlight: William Reid

Faculty Spotlight: William Reid

Bill Reid has been a part of the Coleman University community for four years. He is Program Director of the Colleges of Cybersecurity and Software Development.

Reid gained his love for teaching while in the military as an instructor in Advanced Electronics. Upon retiring from the U.S. Navy after almost 25 years, he spent thirteen years as lead contractor for mission planning support and information assurance at Naval Special Warfare Command, Coronado.

Reid is a certified Information Security Manager (CSM – 2007) and is known for his expertise in cybersecurity, software engineering, project management, and program management. He was a panel speaker at San Diego’s Cyberfest2015 and serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Systems Audits and Controls Association (ISACA – 2007). Reid is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM – 2011).

Faculty Spotlight: Randall Cornish

Randall Cornish

Randall Cornish

Randall Cornish is an instructor in the College of Graphic Design at Coleman University. He teaches Graphic Design Principles, Layout and Typography.

Mr. Cornish has worked professionally in the field of graphic design since 1976. He is an award-winning educator who has been teaching graphic design part-time since 1998. He is a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and an Adobe Certified Expert.

In 2016, he received an Award of Distinction (http://tinyurl.com/j5wfanr) for logo design from the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts in New York City. In 2008, he received an American Graphic Design Award for poster design from Graphic Design USA magazine. Mr. Cornish is an honors and holds a degree in Visual Arts and Communications.

“As an educator, my dream is to encourage and inspire students to pursue excellence and unleash the power of their imagination,” says Mr. Cornish.

Faculty Spotlight: Leticia Rabor

Employee Spotlight: Leticia Rabor

Faculty Spotlight: Leticia Rabor

Leticia worked as a professional Software and Systems Engineer in the Defense and Aerospace industries for over 13 years such as BAE Systems National Solutions, Lockheed Martin, and Science Application International Corporation (SAIC). Over the years, she has designed, implemented, and tested various image formation subsystem components for ground system development. She has done full object-oriented designs in C/C++ and Java, as well as developing test procedures with inter-process and multiple process communication. Leticia has drawn up and continues to develop some Mobile apps that are currently in the Google Play Store and Amazon Marketplace.

She has been working for Coleman since 2012 and has produced more than half of the courses within the Software Development Department. At Coleman, she teaches Programming Concept and Logic, Object-Oriented Programming, Mobile Development, Systems Design and Implementation, Software Testing, and Client-Side Scripting. She is currently developing a Coleman University mobile app that will provide access to its academic student services including course registration, financial aid, career services, and academics. She is also the faculty advocate for the Software Development Club. She currently is proposing a Software Code Jam that will allow students to imagine, code, and learn together in a team-based environment during a 48-hour development phase.

Leticia also conducts yearly external one hour workshops in mobile development and JavaScript/JQuery including the Geek Girls Tech Conference of San Diego, California. She also participated as one of the panel experts for “The future of mobile development” topic in June 2015 which was videotaped and published on Geek Girl TV.

Dr. Rasha Roshdy Is The New Director of Research Programs

Dr. RoshdyDr. Rasha Roshdy has joined Coleman University as the Director of Research Programs.

In her new capacity, Dr. Roshdy will coordinate and conduct research activities for the University, manage the Institutional Research Board (IRB), and help develop our ability to receive and manage grants.  Previously a part-time instructor in Graduate Studies, she will now be a member of our full-time faculty.

Dr. Roshdy started her career as a French language instructor. She held the position of Assistant Professor for seven years at Kansas State University and the University of Arizona. In her 11 years working for the federal government, she has held several positions: teacher trainer, curriculum developer and academic coordinator. In her last government position, she became the Academic Dean of the Foreign Language Program for Naval Special Warfare. This program won an award for excellence for two consecutive years under her leadership.

In 2014 she created Maven Connections Consulting and focused her career on research, including work with higher educational institutions from Saudi Arabia. She was named a research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Language at Norwich University in Vermont and was nominated as a mentor last summer by MiddCore, the leadership and innovation summer program of Middlebury College.

Dr. Roshdy obtained her doctorate in Educational Leadership from San Diego State University, her Master of Arts degree in Education and French from Kansas State University, and a higher diploma from The Sorbonne in Paris.  She worked as a journalist in Egypt, her native country, and continues to write for several Arabic magazines and her own blog on Facebook, which has more than 37,000 followers.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Ghassan “Gus” Hanna

emp_spotlight_gus_hannaI have four years of teaching experience and another 26 years of high tech industry experience managing hardware and software system design groups. I am an avid reader and enjoy researching new, emerging technologies in electronic systems as well as IT database design.

I have published three papers addressing the factors impacting decisions made by management of multinational corporations when investing abroad. I am also on the editorial boards of five academic journals where I review the quality of papers submitted for publications by authors from around the world.

My formal academic education includes a (2013) PhD in Business Administration from Northcentral University – Prescott Valley, AZ, an (1991) MBA from University of Redlands -Redlands, CA, and an (1986) MS in Electrical Engineering from University of Arizona – Tucson, AZ.

Dr. Ghassan “Gus” Hanna, Adjunct Faculty, College of Graduate Studies.

Virtual Reality Comes to Coleman, Thanks to Mr. Jeep & Harvard University

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jeep from Valve during a January event which Coleman University hosted. Valve has teamed up with HTC to develop a VR headset system which can be used for both development and consumer use. Mr. Jeep brought with him a prototype of the HTC Vive which the participants of the IGDA Game Jam event could use for development.

After the event I sent Mr. Jeep a courtesy email thanking him for his contribution to the event and inquired further how Coleman University could benefit from a development device like the HTC Vive. Without hesitation, Mr. Jeep replied and offered to send me an HTC Vive VR system which I could incorporate into the curriculum. This was a generous offer seeing how the HTC Vive retail for $800 per unit.

With the contribution of the HTC Vive, I was then encouraged to contact LayoutVR which is located at Harvard University, who in February, was given a grant to develop curriculum for VR development in the Unreal Engine. Teaming up with LayoutVR, we redeveloped the curriculum for DSN353 Level Design II to include VR development, with this new partnership I took the responsibility to convert their VR curriculum which was catering the Oculus Rift and redesign the curriculum to work with the HTC Vive. Once this research project is complete, I will then share my finding and redevelopment with LayoutVR, Stanford University, and Epic Games. The major outcome to sharing the research is to be considered for a grant which Epic Games gives out twice a year.

Travis Vasquez is an instructor in the Game Programming Development & Design program at Coleman University.