Thinking outside the box at Weta Workshop

Chrissy Macdonald, a Master of Software Development student, is doing her internship at Weta Workshop working on an upcoming AR (Augmented Reality) experience.

Chrissy MacDonald is staring at the camera with two laptops behind her on a desk.
Master of Software Development graduate Chrissy MacDonald

“VR/AR experiences have not been around for long. This is especially true when you compare them to traditional 2D platforms such as films or PC games,” says Weta Workshop's Communications Specialist Dianne Pulham. “Developers of VR/AR projects are required to think on a whole new level. When you cannot predict where your audience is going to walk, or even look, you need to think carefully about how you will guide them through your experience.

“Fresh eyes and minds are incredibly valuable to our work. Outside-the-box thinking is why we turn to the Industry Alliance Programme…Having a team with people from all stages of their careers creates an environment where new ideas can thrive.”

The final part of the Master of Software Development programme is an internship where students are placed in local tech businesses to apply the skills they’ve learnt and get practical experience. The skills Chrissy learned in class like rapid prototyping and CI/CD (Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery) have been crucial during her internship. She says, “it’s a lot easier to make relevant changes when there’s feedback that is both regular and actionable. This keeps our work moving in the right direction.”

Chrissy had just started working at Weta Workshop in early March when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world and New Zealand went into lockdown. Thankfully, Chrissy and the Weta Workshop team are able to work remotely from home.

“Luckily for us, we love technology and our ‘number 8 wire’ attitude helps us leap over any hurdles. For example, if your laptop dies during a video call, just jump on your phone to finish the meeting,” says Pulham.

“We’ve seen online gaming take off during this time of isolation. People are using games for entertainment and as a fun way to hang out with their friends. This is likely to grow demand within the games industry, as more people adopt these habits.”

We asked Dianne what skills are important to have in the industry. She said, “it depends on what aspect you want to focus on…Something we’re seeing more often is the need for cross-platform design. This enables both coders and developers to translate the same idea. It’s becoming a necessary skill for communicating within teams. In terms of soft skills—creativity, passion, focus, a bug for learning and growing, and a can-do attitude” will take you a long way.

Chrissy shared that every day is different working at Weta Workshop. But “we generally start each day with a stand-up meeting. This helps everyone understand our priorities for the day, what we hope to accomplish and what might be holding us up. From there, my day could encompass any combination of coding, collaborating, reviewing, discussing, documenting, or anything in between.”

The most important thing Chrissy has learned during her internship so far is that, “it’s okay to not know everything, as long as you’re willing to learn! Flexible thinking and perseverance go a long way—but so does knowing when to ask for help.”