Brittany Melnyk

Pump up the (Game) Jam

Brittany Melnyk is doing her part to change how people think about working in the field of computer science and programming.

"It can seem very intimidating," said Melnyk, the academic programs and internship co-ordinator in the Department of Computer Science. "There are a lot of misconceptions about it. Everyone thinks about the guy alone in the basement with the lights off, just coding away."

The reality, she said, is that it is extremely social and collaborative. "You're always working with people and solving problems as a group for this greater thing that you're making."

That social spirit will be explored at Game Jam starting Sept. 25, as part of STEMfest—the conference celebrating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Game jams are high-energy gatherings of game developers and designers to create a video game based on a secret theme, typically in a  set amount of time—in this case, over the course of a weekend. "Essentially, you make a video game in 48 hours," said Melnyk, who is also serving as the event co-ordinator. "It's a fun twist on promoting programming and computer science."

Computer science students have organized two successful game jams in recent years, letting their creativity run wild. Last year's event resulted in many notable gems, including Get Down Mr. President (where you must protect the president from assassins); Killer Bunny (featuring a side-scrolling rabbit facing various obstacles); and The Good the Bad and the Burritos (a modern take on a wild west-style shoot-em-up).

Thanks to extra financial resources from STEMfest, Melnyk has been able to put together workshops throughout the month of September to familiarize participants with Unity (the software used to create games) and Processing (a programming language used in game development). She has also lined up industry speakers and mentors to attend and provide guidance throughout the jam.

"The developer community here is very close and supportive," she said, adding that a lot of computer science alumni (herself included) stayed in Saskatoon and remain connected to students in mentorship roles. "Everybody in Saskatoon kind of goes above and  beyond to share knowledge and to support people."

Aside from her work in the college, Melnyk is also an advocate for getting women more involved in the computing, which has a sizeable gender gap. She and her friend (and fellow computer science alumna) Marli Bells are the Saskatoon chapter leaders of Ladies Learning Code, a national non-profit that provides digital literacy workshops for women and children who want to learn coding.

Melnyk acknowledges that it's a relatively new field compared to, for example, biology and chemistry, but a background in computer science can open a lot of doors.

"It's like learning core French—you're just learning the language! If you like Sudoku, you can learn to program."
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