Kaitlin currently works as a Producer at Uken Games. I was introduced to her by our mutual friend, Kelly, who thought she would be a perfect fit for the blog! Within less than 10 minutes of meeting her, I felt a connection to her as we shared laughs throughout her photo shoot. I was super excited to learn more about what exactly a Producer does, her journey from engineering to her current role, and her thoughts on how we can continue to push for gender parity in STEM. 


 ♦ On Life  ♦ On Career  ♦ On Women

On Life

Tell me a bit about yourself and your journey so far.

My name is Kaitlin and I’m a producer at Uken Games. I went to McMaster University for Astronomy, originally; I completed a semester and loved my courses but, from what I learned, I would need a Masters and probably a PhD to become an astronomer. I couldn’t picture myself doing that so, after talking to the guidance counselor, I applied to Computer Science and Software Engineering. I ended up studying Software Engineering with a specialization in Game Design. Once I finished school, I started working at Uken, and here I am today!

Outside of work, what are you most passionate about and why?

Knitting – it’s really my biggest pastime [laughs]. My mum taught me how to knit in my first year in university, and there was just something about it that really stuck with me. It’s just something I really love – and I love that you get something tangible in the end. So that’s kind of my biggest passion outside of work.

And of course I love playing games! It’s what I probably spend the other 50% of my free time doing.

Looking back at your life so far, are there any pivotal moments that helped shape your life or who you are today?

The night before my grade 12 prom, my mum found out she had brain cancer. She’s doing fine now – she’s part of a study so they’re really closely watching her, which is awesome. When I found out, I’d already gotten into schools; if I left, she would have only had my little brother with her since she’s a single mum. I really wanted to stay back with her but, even just for prom, she insisted on me going and didn’t want me to worry about her. That was really hard, but it was probably one of my first real life decisions – I had to decide what wanted and what I was going to do next. It also made me appreciate everything more, in general, because she’s a really healthy person so it was totally unexpected. It really changed my trajectory.

Another moment would be making the decision to go from Astronomy to Engineering. I wouldn’t be here at all if I hadn’t made that decision [laughs]! I’m really glad I changed my mind; I’m doing something I really love and it’s a really cool industry. On the other hand, I always wonder where I would be now if I had just decided to tough it out because I’m still very interested in it.

Who inspires you and why? 

There’s a lot of people in my life – like my mum, for example. My parents split up when I was in grade 4, and at the time she was a stay-at-home mum so she had to find something to do. I remember she got a job as a waitress and then went back to school for Linguistics. She had one class in Audiology and she just loved it; so after getting her undergrad, she went on to get her Masters in Audiology. She did all that as a single mum while my brother and I were little. We even went to university classes with her – she was all about doing what you had to do! On top of that, she ended up getting her doctorate in Audiology while I was in high school – and that was all online too. She really inspires me for buckling down and just doing it – even with two little kids in tow!

I’m also really inspired by the people I work with, especially the women. The gaming industry is not always friendly towards women, so it hasn’t always been easy, but pretty much ever woman I’ve worked with has been awesome and supportive. I’m so glad I get to be a part of that too.

What is a saying that you live by?

I’ve never really had one until recently, when one of my co-workers, Jen, found this beautiful embroidered patch online. It’s by an artist called Tender Ghost, and it says “Do no harm, but take no shit”. That really resonates with me, especially within the feminist gaming world; be a good person, but don’t let people walk all over you. Jen ended up buying a couple of those patches and gave one to me, and I love it so much [laughs]! It’s so simple, but makes so much sense.

In my About section, I spoke about the various barriers I put up for myself. Is that something you relate with? 

Definitely! I had similar doubts when I first looked into co-ops. Co-ops are especially weird because on one hand, you have no experience, and on the other hand, many companies don’t know what they’re looking for in a co-op student; so you’d find postings opened to second-year students asking for four years of experience. I ended up applying to so little because I felt like I had to meet all this criteria. Looking back, nobody meets all that criteria – it’s like a wishlist.

Also, at the beginning of my career, I had a really hard time speaking up. I’ve always been so afraid of saying something wrong and either losing my job or creating a negative perception. I would even have problems asking questions out of genuine curiosity! It wasn’t until recently when I became a producer, which is more of a leadership position, that I got more comfortable with that. It’s still a work in progress, and I figure it will be for a long time, but I’ve gotten much better at just doing it.

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On Career

What inspired/nurtured your interest in engineering?

My parents always really encouraged me to do math and sciences – I think they were worried about me being pushed into a stereotype of a girl. I even remember that the only barbies I was allowed to have had careers. So science was always something that was very much encouraged, especially in high school. Their argument was that you never really know what you might want to do in the future.

Also, growing up, I remember my dad was really interested in computers. One of my earliest memories was using DOS; my brother and I had this Mickey Mouse game that you’d have to load up on a floppy disk, and I’d always ask my dad to load it up for me. There was a point where he just decided to teach me how to do it, and it kind of went from there. I thought it was pretty neat that I could tell a computer what to do! I never got into programming itself until around grade 11 – I took one Turing class, which is solely a teaching language. So when I went to university I felt like I couldn’t do it because for every other person, programming was a hobby. For me, it was just a thing where I always thought computers were kind of cool.

STEM, in general are subjects that women typically avoid as a career choice. What was the experience like for you going into Software engineering?

I didn’t think a whole lot about it at first. I knew there were stereotypes and that women did face challenges, but I never really experienced it in Astronomy – there was a pretty good split of men and women there, and in science in general. But as soon as I went into Software Engineering, it was very obvious.

I had a basic engineering design class in my first year where they split up groups for the class by figuring out how many women were in that class; they would use that as the number of groups, just so that they could have at least one woman in each group. And then, going into Software Engineering, with the Game Design specialization on top of that, I was one of two women in my year. So going in, I knew it existed but I’d never seen it myself until I was right in it.

Can you describe what your current role entails?

Most of my job is project management. The product team comes up with high level ideas for the game, and then the developers figure out what’s needed and split up the tasks. At that point, I make estimates, figure out what kind of artwork or sound they need, and come up with schedules based on my estimates of how much time everyone needs to complete their tasks.  A lot of the development is dependent on the pace of the art side – and that process can involve a lot of iteration. So it’s my job to figure out that cut-off point, and then get the art to the developers who make it all happen.

We also do some outsourcing – typically if we can’t do something within a certain amount of time – so we have a couple of studios that we work with. I’m the liaison between those studios and ours. Very recently, I became the manager for our in-house artist; so I’m slipping into this new people manager role too. At first I was super nervous about it, but I couldn’t ask for a better person to manage for my first time!

What’s been the most amazing thing about your career that makes you want to stay in this field?

One of the coolest things was that I actually started as a developer. As much as I liked programming, I preferred planning out what I was going to program. I really enjoyed getting requirements, talking to everyone, and planning what I was going to do, but the actual programming wasn’t that fun to me. At the time, there weren’t any Producer positions, but I worked up the courage to tell my manager that I wanted to move in that direction. I was so worried that he would take it the wrong way, or think that I hated my job and was threatening to leave. Luckily, he was very understanding. It’s cool because I don’t know if that could have happened if I wasn’t in a startup environment. So I really like the flexibility – the fact that I had the opportunity to recognize what I really wanted to do, and was able to prove myself in my new position.

Thinking back on your career so far, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced that pertain to being a woman?

There have been moments, but I think I’ve been really lucky – both in university and my job. In university, I made friends with some awesome guys who’ve been almost like brothers to me and never treated me any differently because I’m a woman. There was one time, in the design class I mentioned, where this guy in my group said to me – “Why are you in engineering? You should be in nursing or something like that.” It was one of those excuse me? moments, and a couple of the other guys  were just as angry about it. So the guy got really flustered and dropped it. The next day, he brought me an engineering mug, thinking it would solve everything, but the damage had been done.

I’ve also been to recruiting events where I’ll be with a male co-worker and people will line up by him and not by me. I have to tell them that I can answer questions too, and then someone will finally shyly come over. I try not to take it to heart – I hope when I interact with these people they realize that I know stuff too and that they shouldn’t stereotype.

In the spirit of embracing failure, can you tell me about a failure you’ve gone through in your career, and what you learnt from it?

I wonder if I could have gotten to where I am sooner if I just had more courage. I had this fear that if I told my manager that I wanted to do something different, he’d start thinking about finding another developer who was more passionate to replace me and I’d eventually be out of a job. So that’s a failure on my part for not bringing it up sooner – sometimes it’s hard to make that leap.

There are many studies that have shown that more women than men tend to quit tech. How can we encourage more women to stay in tech?

One of the things is probably finding organizations for women in your field, especially if you’re feeling alienated or alone. They exist in every industry and a lot of them exist just to serve as a community or safe space to have conversations with other women about how things are going.

I’m a member of one called Dames Making Games; they are an awesome group of generally underrepresented people in gaming, not just women, and they are a good space to be in if you like games or want to learn how to make games. So these organization exist everywhere – you just have to seek them out.

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On Women

What is your definition of feminism?

My definition of feminism is making sure that everybody, regardless of their gender or how they express their gender, has the same opportunity as anybody else. So, as a woman, I should not be limited by the fact that I say I’m a woman. And for men, it means that they can have feminine qualities without it affecting any part of their life – like showing emotion, for example.

Why do you think there’s such a gender disparity in the STEM fields, particularly in engineering?

I feel like it starts really young, where parents have these ideas of their children. They have a daughter and they envision what their daughter’s future should be like; but I wonder whether they forget what success might actually mean for their daughters – it could mean so many different things! So I think it just might be the ideals we have for women when they’re very young, and how we subconsciously encourage them to do certain things. We tend not to encourage them to get dirty in the same way we encourage boys to; eventually girls get to an age where they start to see this too and feel like they shouldn’t do certain things because more boys do those things. We just put so much emphasis on gender sometimes such that it becomes very deeply ingrained in us.

In your experience, what proactive considerations should be put in place to allow for women in tech/engineering to thrive and grow within their companies?

That’s really hard – there’s a lot of weird  built-in tradition that favors men, for example seeing them as leaders. Companies, in general, need to drop this notion of male vs. female, and focus more on seeing their employees individuals.

I also wonder if a lot of it has to do with being upfront with maternity leave too; a lot of women I know have dreams of growing within the industry, but there’s no information about what happens if they want to become mothers or have families. It almost forces them to choose whether they want a career, or they want to become mothers. So just being really upfront about maternity leave policies could be really attractive to a lot of women. I’m not thinking about a family right now, but it would be nice to know exactly where I stand if that were to come up. It’s funny because they’re upfront about everything else; they advertise all these awesome perks like free lunch, or beer in the fridge. Well, what if I decide to have a family? That’s kind of a big decision. So I think part of it is just recognizing the unique challenges that women have because they are women; and one of the uniquely-woman experiences is having a child.

What advice would you give girls/women looking to pursue a career path similar to yours?

I think the key is just to do it – just go for it! There’s nothing holding you back and, if anyone gives you a hard time about it, there’s groups like Dames Making Games to help you get there. Don’t let anyone bring you down – they don’t have anything to do with your career. Your career is all yours and if you find something you like to do, you’re going to find a way to make it happen.

Do you have any book, blog, video, etc. recommendations that have inspired you as a woman in tech?

I don’t have any specific recommendations other than just finding friends or surrounding yourself with people with similar interests; these people have all these cool things they can offer you, even just a sounding board. Making friends with like-minded people is the best way to go.

 

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2 thoughts on “Kaitlin Smith

  1. This is definitely the best thing I’ve read in a long long time … Congratulation Kaitlan on such a wonderful introspective look at your journey … It will no doubt serve as a wonderful inspiration to many … in fact have tears in my eyes … Your folks can be very proud … I can’t wait to see what you create in the next quarter century … Bravo and congratulations. Ves 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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