Electronic Arts may expand girls in gaming program

An Electronic Arts program started in Maitland that pairs high school girls with women working on some of the bigger video games in the company’s portfolio could make its way to some of the game giant’s other studios.

Professional game developers have been leading the company’s “Get in the Game” program, which is in its second year.

This year, it brought 15 students from across Central Florida to its Maitland studio, where the company builds big-name titles including the iconic Madden football series, for daylong workshops with professional women who help make the games.

That number was up from the 10 the company hosted in its inaugural year.

“It’s a question of how big can we grow this,” said Daryl Holt, vice president and group chief operating officer for Electronic Arts. “It has the potential to grow, not necessarily in size but certainly in reach.”

Holt said the company gathered feedback after its first year and then compared notes with its Redwood City, Calif., counterparts, who hosted a group of minority students in its own Spawn Point program, which also launched last year.

Electronic Arts is the largest video game development studio in Central Florida.

Because of that, Holt said the company can try initiatives that might resonate in the industry.

“It’s similar to what we do in game development,” he said. “We leverage the size of EA. You just try something and say, ‘How do we apply that to other games?’ I absolutely can see this growing bigger.”

Mentors from Electronic Arts worked alongside the girls as they put the finishing touches on video games they built.

Edgewater High School student Lyla Lovett, 17, raised her hands in triumph after plugging away on a glitch in her group’s game and successfully discovering a potential solution.

That trial-and-error is something that EA software engineer Alanna Berklund says happens every day in game development.

“Building games is not simple,” said Berklund, who has been a mentor for both years. “You have to try a lot of things, and most of the time it’s a matter of changing something and seeing what happens.”

On tours while she was in college and high school, Berklund would ask hosts at tech companies whether their business tried to hire women.

“They would say, ‘We just hire the best people,’” she said. “Tech has always been a boys’ club, and it’s about not keeping the status quo. That’s why I love that EA is doing this.”

The gender gap in technology goes far beyond the video game industry.

The percentage of science-based degree students who are women dropped from 37% to 19% between 1985 and 2016, although that number was a slight increase over the 18% in 2015, according to the National Center for Women in Information Technology.

It’s one of the reasons non-profit groups such as Girls who Code and Black Girls Code have emerged and proven sustainable in recent years.

As more industries look to fill tech jobs, Berklund said it’s important that women are represented in the new hires.

“If you have the same people, it becomes an echo chamber,” she said. “You’ll see the same stuff. But if you have a different perspective, you can appeal to different people.”

That’s especially important in consumer markets like video games.

Lyla said spending a week at Electronic Arts with women engineers has convinced her to pursue a career in the industry.

“It sparked a lot of hope in me,” she said. “It’s intimidating when you see the overwhelming amount of men in the field. To see them do it successfully, it makes me think it’s possible.”

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