Jethro Schoppenhorst

Game Programming (BS) '21

What would you say was the most surprising thing you learned at Columbia?

As I've worked on larger and larger projects at Columbia one of the things that continues to surprise me is just how difficult it is to take a vision and turn it into accomplishable milestones. Managing the vision in a team environment is much more demanding than I ever thought. The amount of attention that needs to be paid to organization and communication is critical. I have learned and come to respect that high-quality interactive media is much more nuanced than simply bringing a bunch of creative ideas together. It’s about organizing and acting upon those ideas in a meaningful and agile way. 

What experiences or courses at Columbia do you feel have been most beneficial?

The tech focused major classes in Game Programming were the bread and butter of my time at Columbia. Classes like Game AI, Graphics Application Programming, and Game Studio challenge you to not only learn about the material but also test how well you understand the complexity of it. These classes require you to scope out your own projects. Learning from what was and wasn't achievable for me was a key insight into the broader design process. There are times where you over or underestimate the complexity of a task. These moments build your critical thinking skills and require you to accept and work with the reality of your medium. 

From a social perspective, the study abroad program I spent in China was eye-opening. I cannot overstate how much the experience of being in a foreign culture broadened the way I think about social interactions and creativity. Having never been abroad before I had my own preconceptions and stereotypes. While an obvious part of being abroad is disproving some of these generalizations, I was shocked at just how much of culture and communication I had always taken for granted. A lot of the nuances in cultural differences I never would’ve thought of. After returning I have felt more empathetic towards others, trying harder to understand rather than to scrutinize. 

What are your plans for after graduation?

After graduation I hope to find a career in the game industry. The job hunt has been tricky, but I don't back down from a tough challenge. I'm hoping my career will take me somewhere new and challenge me to adapt to a new lifestyle once again. Aside from the career side of things, I hope to continue learning and experimenting outside of the academic space. There are a lot of fields of math and science that I still want to explore, even if they serve little purpose to game development. To put it simply, I am really looking forward to working on side projects just for fun again. It will be a refreshing mindset compared to where I am currently trying to mold everything I work on to fit my career goals.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Especially within the context of this unprecedented year I think it is more important than ever to push ourselves to engage with others. Talking with other creators helps ground your ideas so that you're approaching goals that are meaningful and enjoyable. Isolation has haunted me and many others this year and I recommend taking a step back from time to time to evaluate whether your choices and lifestyle facilitate meaningful interactions and engagement. Surrounding yourself with positive and determined creators will reflect positively on your own character. Another thing I would recommend being mindful about is how we engage with social media. Multiple times in my life I’ve noticed phases where consuming ideological content has made me more abrasive. The ways that social media algorithms deliver content to us are very effective at engaging our tribalistic instincts. Much of social media is harmless, just think critically about whether it might be distorting your view of the world. 

If you were going to sum up your experience at Columbia in one sentence, what would you say?

A transitionary phase from a naïve hobbyist to a critical thinking and empathetic creative professional.