Showcasing careers beyond academia
Stephen Bedford

Stephen Bedford

DPhil, Mathematics, University of Oxford (2015)
Gameplay Programmer
Rebellion Developments

Job highlight: Getting to work from start to finish on projects, which are challenging and interesting to make, and ending up with products enjoyed by millions of players around the world.

My research training has set me up to… participate actively in an industry where creative and reasoned thinking are valued and required. Above all else, theoretical research gave me the patience required to focus on and enjoy projects that can take years to come to fruition.

What’s your background? Why did you move away from academia?

I completed both my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Oxford between 2007 and 2015. I had been strongly considering a career in academia during that time, although that might have been to do with a lack of other solid inspiration. However, during the final years of my doctorate, I found that I began to lose interest in the finer details of abstract research, which are of course essential, and started to look about for other options. I felt that the idea of working in a very narrow field would have been too constraining over the course of a career. I decided that I would prefer a profession that offered a greater breadth of challenge on a daily basis. Additionally, the prospect of being a postdoc for many years before perhaps attaining a permanent position was also a strong disincentive.

Is there anything you miss about academia?

I do miss the undergraduate teaching that I was able to do during my doctorate. It was always a pleasure to see the students develop and improve as the terms progressed.

How did you get this job?

When I decided I would be moving out of academia, I was looking for a technical industry where I would still be challenged mentally with a wide variety of problems, but where I would be working towards tangible goals or products. So programming of one form or another seemed like a natural fit. I started to learn how to code by attacking mathematical problems, following online tutorials and even making silly little games using freely available game engines. My development in coding even managed to help my doctorate, as I was able to use some numerical calculations and simulations in my thesis. I had always enjoyed playing video games and I realised that I could combine that long-time hobby with the coding skills I was gaining. Once I had developed enough confidence and practice in my coding ability, I was able to apply for a junior role at Rebellion and the rest, as they say, is history.

How did your PhD prepare you for your current job?

The skills that I developed through my doctorate that helped prepare me for my job were more practical than technical. The ability to manage myself and my goals for the duration of a lengthy project was certainly useful and not something that I learned during my undergraduate studies. The collaborative work that I did with my supervisor was also useful experience of working in a team towards a collective goal. It sounds simple but isn’t to be underestimated. The mathematical knowledge that I developed throughout my doctorate was of course not directly applicable to my current job. However, I still have the pleasure of being confronted with mathematical problems on a regular basis, which require careful examination and thought, as well as the use of undergraduate level mathematics on occasion.

What’s the workplace culture like? What are your favourite parts of your job?

I would say that the my favourite part of my job is the variety of the work; no two days are the same. You are always presented with different problems and tasks. One day you could be developing a large system tool for game designers to use to create the game. The next you could be tracking down a mysterious bug that only manifests itself in unusual ways. Problem solving really is required each and every day. The result is a working day that is consistently interesting and engaging. It is particularly satisfying when you have considered a problem for some time and finally find that elusive solution, which balances all the requirements that you were juggling. Rebellion in particular also has an admirably friendly and welcoming atmosphere, which makes it a very pleasant place to arrive at each morning.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?

Be brave; there is life outside of academia! It can seem daunting to leave the familiar, comfortable surroundings of university but there are lots of interesting and stimulating careers out there. Academia certainly isn’t the only place that you can be fulfilled and challenged intellectually. Ask yourself what you enjoy and would enjoy doing day after day. Look to your strengths, find an area that interests you and make that career your new goal. You will probably find that you develop some new skills along the path to reaching it.

Founded in 1992, Rebellion is one of Europe’s leading independent game developers and publishers. Whether it’s the breathtaking intensity of Sniper Elite 4, the face-hugging terror of Aliens vs. Predator, or the grindhouse frenzy of Zombie Army Trilogy, the Oxford-based studio is known for creating stand-out games that thrill players.