The expression “atypical career” suits her perfectly. After eight years of study in the field of organic chemistry and a thesis on the subject, she went back to school to start programming. A change in direction that now allows her to work as an online programmer at Ubisoft Ivory Tower. For Stories, she looks back on her career.
After studying and completing a thesis in organic chemistry, Justine took up programming before joining Ubisoft Quebec as an online programmer. Today, she works at Ubisoft Ivory Tower on games such as The Crew 2.
She likes: “Animals, which deserve a lot of love because they bring it themselves to many people”.
She doesn’t like: “Endives with ham”
HOW DID YOUR PASSION FOR VIDEO GAMES COME INTO YOUR LIFE? WHAT TYPE OF PLAYER WERE YOU AT THAT TIME?
JUSTINE DESROCHES - I think I was about ten years old when my cousin, who was older than my sister and I, brought Age of Empires back to us. Our parents didn't like us being on the computer though, so we had a limited time to discover video games. I did spend more time outside, but I still discovered Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia and Harry Potter. I really got into it as an adult when I left home for school. I didn't have much time to go out, so I had to find easy activities to do, and video games were perfect. I explored online games a lot because it allowed me to share social moments with my friends.
ALL THIS WAS COUPLED WITH A REAL INTEREST IN PROGRAMMING. WHAT WAS YOUR INTEREST IN THIS FIELD AND HOW DID YOU RELATE IT TO VIDEO GAMES?
J. D. - What I liked right away with programming, when I discovered it in class, was to be able to display something on the screen. A Christmas tree in ASCII, for example. I liked to be able to translate this kind of thing through code and all the logic behind it. It was later that I made the link with video games when I realized that they were also computer programs and that you could translate a lot of things in a lot of different languages.
YOU WENT ON TO STUDY ORGANIC CHEMISTRY, AND EVEN DID A THESIS IN THE FIELD. VERY FAR IT WOULD SEEM FROM VIDEO GAMES AND CODE. WHY DID YOU FINALLY CHOOSE THIS FIELD OF SCIENCE AND WHAT WAS YOUR SPECIALIZATION?
J. D. - I liked everything about science and logic. Also, I find that chemistry is a mixture of programming and cooking. We want to obtain a product and we have to find out which ingredients to put in a mixture, under what conditions and with what logic - I felt like I was creating things and it was fascinating. I went as far as a thesis in Canada, where I could really practice “getting hands on with it”. It's something I find in code now: immersing yourself in a machine or a compound to understand how it works.
AFTER EIGHT YEARS OF STUDY, YOU CHANGED DIRECTION TO STUDY PROGRAMMING FOR ONE YEAR. WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO UBISOFT QUEBEC IN 2018, ESPECIALLY AS AN ONLINE PROGRAMMER?
J. D. - I think I was very lucky and applied at the right time! I was looking for a job in computer science and programming. And although video games were becoming more and more important in my life, I thought it was a field that was out of my reach because I didn't go to a dedicated school. So, I applied for this online programmer job without much hope. To my great surprise, I was contacted again as they liked my atypical background. They felt that my lack of programming experience was not a big deal because I was able to demonstrate that I would learn quickly and that I understood the overall logic of the language they were using.
HOW DID YOU BECOME A PART OF THIS NEW ENVIRONMENT? HAS YOUR BACKGROUND AS A DOCTORAL STUDENT HELPED YOU TO TAKE ON BOARD NEW DUTIES AND SKILLS?
J. D. - The onboarding went extremely well, I was lucky enough to start in a small team, my colleagues were really open to answering my questions. I immediately wanted to learn a lot and prove myself. The doctoral thesis helped me to think by myself, to be autonomous, to learn how to persevere, and to have very useful logic for programming. This does not mean that you cannot be a programmer without having done a doctoral thesis, of course! But although the semantics are different between these two fields, the rules that govern them are quite similar.
AS PLAYERS, HOW CAN WE FIND YOUR WORK WHEN EXPLORING A GAME LIKE THE CREW 2 FOR EXAMPLE? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SCOPE OF YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN CREATING A GAME WITH AN ONLINE DIMENSION?
J. D. - The Crew 2 is a game made to be played with several people, hence “crew”. Online can be found everywhere. For example, to keep a record on the servers, of the progress of the players and the vehicles in their possession, inviting friends to play too. And of course, replication: i.e. making sure that the player sees the same thing at the same time as the other players present next to them. This is a real challenge for online, and we will always be looking for more ways to compensate for potential hardware problems and to move towards near real-time.
ARE THERE OTHER ISSUES, IN YOUR OPINION, FOR ONLINE, WHICH IS BECOMING MORE AND MORE IMPORTANT IN THE PLAYERS' EXPERIENCE?
J. D. - Not all games and players have the same needs regarding online. But we realized that we tend more and more towards experiences where the players are simply not in the same geographical area, they are in countries very far from each other. An American must be able to play with an Australian. Moreover, we have more and more cross-platform games so we must allow someone on PS4 to play with someone on Xbox or PC. It's very important that we can provide a global experience for everyone, at any time of day or night, and with servers that hold up throughout.
HOW DO YOU TEST A GAME'S ONLINE AND ITS ABILITY TO HOST THOUSANDS OF PLAYERS, EVEN BEFORE ITS RELEASE?
J. D. - There is the “unit” test of the code, simply to make sure that it fulfills its function. We also do small-scale multiplayer tests, to make sure that the invitations work, that we all see the same thing on the screen, etc. To test the general infrastructure and make sure it can handle a large number of requests at the same time, we have two options: either ask everyone in the studio to run the game at the same time or use bots that we program to do load tests and isolate potential problems. Of course, we can't test everything, and that's also why we do alpha and beta phases with some players around the world.
WHAT DRIVES YOU AND EXCITES YOU TODAY IN THIS PROFESSION, WHICH IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM YOUR INITIAL LIFE IN THE FIELD OF ORGANIC CHEMISTRY?
J. D. - What I like is that each project is different, that online is a very varied environment, with a very wide range of skills. So, I learn a lot every day, new techniques, new tools. This is what keeps me stimulated and passionate, project after project.