Christina McSherry, Program Manager/Producer at EA Sports
by Kristi Charish
I want to thank my friend Christina McSherry at Electronic Arts for taking the time to chat with me about her career path. For those of you out there who don’t know, Electronic Arts is one of the most successful video game companies in the world. Their studios include EA Sports and Bioware, the makers of the Sci-Fi RPG classic, Mass Effect. Check out our interview below where Christina shares how she got to where she is and gives some great advice pertinent not just to entering the game industry, but career paths in general!
Q. What is your role at EA and what do you do (i.e.: on a daily basis?)
A. I’m a Program Manager/Producer with EA SPORTS. I work within the central online product team, responsible for developing digital properties and programs such as easports.com, EA SPORTS Game Face, and EA SPORTS Season Ticket. I work with many talented folks whose roles include software engineers, technical artists, web developers, designers, and QA. These are the folks I work with directly day-to-day, but there are many other EA teams we collaborate with such as Product Marketing, Legal, and of course the fabulous folks on game development teams. When people ask me what I do each day, I like to show them this video which is a pretty accurate description of what a producer does at a game studio. In addition to managing products, people, and resources, I ensure my team communicates, is clear of all roadblocks, and stays on schedule. That means, I take a lot of calls, attend many meetings and keep my ear to the ground on anything that affects my products including industry/consumer trends. My favourite part of the job is measuring how successful our products are. I spend a significant amount of time establishing KPIs (key performance indicators) for our products, and monitoring overall program health. Armed with data, I make recommendations of how our products can be improved based on what the numbers are telling me.
Q. What was your career path? Where did you start and how did you end up in the video game industry? What was your background?
A. I studied earth science/geology at the undergraduate and graduate level. While doing my MSc. at McGill University, I volunteered to work with the school’s teaching assistants union doing marketing and communications. I enjoyed it so much, that I took an intensive program over a summer at Concordia University to hone my skills. By the time I completed the program, I was offered my first job in Toronto doing online marketing. That was the end of geology, and the start of a career in the digital/interactive space. I’ve since worked at digital marketing agencies, Breakthrough Entertainment, Black’s, Penguin, and now EA SPORTS taking on increasingly senior roles.
I attribute much of my success and analytical skills to the time I spent studying science. Classes like analytical chemistry, igneous petrology and structural geology were among my favourites because of the hands-on lab work and “puzzle-solving” nature of subject matter. The lessons learned in the lab still serve me well to this day. And truth be told, every now and then I still pick up an interesting-looking rock and try to deduce its mineral composition.
Q. If you could think of one career obstacle, what was it and how did you overcome it?
A. When I made the decision to work in the gaming industry, I was living in Toronto, where there were far fewer development studios compared to cities in Quebec, British Columbia, and the US. Although my entire personal and professional network was in Ontario, it wasn’t a goal I was ready to give up on. Thus, I started applying to studios in other cities. When EA Canada called me, I was ecstatic and knew if they offered me the role, I’d be ready to make the move across the country to pursue my dream job. I’m now in my 3rd year with EA, and it’s been an awesome experience.
Q. When interviewing new candidates what are some of the major (and general) mistakes you see on resumes or in interviews?
A. There’s the obvious for resumes: typos, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Those go straight to the trash, especially if the job description calls for someone who is detail-oriented. Also, be sure to highlight your accomplishments from past roles. Best if it’s something measurable, for example increasing sales year-over-year or optimising a process that saved your company money.
In interviews, be prepared to tell us some of your favourite games and why. I look for folks who can articulate why they found a game enjoyable and how they’d improve it. Also, show your enthusiasm for the role – nothing kills an interview faster than someone who has a “meh” attitude. Believe it or not, it happens!
Q. Video gaming is still perceived as male-dominated. What is the game industry like for women now?
A. The men definitely outnumber the women at our studio, but there’s never been a time where it’s factored into or affected my work. Everyone – men, women, gay, straight, young, old, intern, VP – is given the same amount of respect and opportunity. I’m really proud to work for an organisation that emphasises inclusion and diversity. Meet a few of EA’s superstar women in this video as they describe just how challenging, rewarding–and fun–it is to be a part of the EA team. I’m seeing more and more roles being filled by women, and an increasing number of female students attending workshops and industry events, which is really encouraging.
Q. If you could leave off with one piece of career advice for women in tech and/or students reading this what would it be?
A. Embrace the unknown. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Volunteer for the jobs no one else wants. Earn a reputation as being a problem solver. Never stop learning.
Q. Final point- favourite video game, and/or favourite female video game character and why?
A. Favourite Game: The Dragon Age series. I spent my entire Christmas break in 2009 playing Dragon Age: Origins. I was seriously hooked to the point where I quit my job, and moved to Vancouver to work at EA.
Favourite Character: Princess Peach, because she can kick serious ass while wearing a dress and tiara.