Justin Lara

B.S. Computer Game Science, 2014

Why did you choose this major?

It was rather serendipitous. After high school, I studied at Orange Coast College, where I stumbled into CS and eventually earned an A.S. degree in Computer Programming. I had always had a passion for video games in particular, and it turned out that I was applying to universities as a transfer student the very first year that transfer applications were being accepted for the new CGS program. I had already been eyeing the Bren school for its growing prestige in the field of Computer Science, so it was an easy decision to make.

What has been your career path since graduating with your B.S.?

I have been working fulltime as a Junior Programmer at the local financial software company MeridianLink for nearly half a year now. I also maintain a connection to the games industry through volunteer work as a member of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Scholarship Program Committee, which provides opportunities for students in game-related fields to attend major industry events such as the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco or the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

I get to go to work every morning knowing there are interesting problems for me to solve. Even though I’m in a junior role I feel that I get plenty of challenging tasks, that my ideas are considered fairly, and that I’m constantly improving as a developer. It’s been a great experience so far.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

This isn’t going to sound as interesting on paper as it actually is, since I can’t really discuss the specifics of my work. I’d say about 80% of my time is actually spent coding, with the rest devoted to things like scheduling, meetings, and coordination with the project designers and other team members. I have some really smart colleagues and it’s a privilege to be able to work with and learn more from them every day.

My IGDA volunteer responsibilities vary week to week. We have a small operations team, so I wear a lot of hats. A major part of that work consists of managing the application process, so I spend a lot of time writing social media copy and working behind-the-scenes with judges and our collected applications. Once the winners are selected, a lot of effort goes into preparing them for the conference and scheduling events like studio tours at local game companies and other fun activities to make their experience unforgettable.

What was the best part of your experience at UCI?

I could talk all day about the great experiences I had at UC Irvine, it was such a transformative time in my life. If I’m picking one, though, it’d have to be the time I spent as Chair of the student organization Irvine Queers. Students in STEM fields often tend to shun the Humanities, and consequently lack exposure to social issues related to race, gender identity, sexual orientation, and similar topics. My involvement in both worlds has provided me with valuable perspectives that I would not have otherwise.

In what way(s) did your studies at UCI prepare you for your career to date?

This is a bit of a hard question to answer, because it would be so easy to just pay lip service to various classes that teach particular programming languages or disciplines and leave it at that, since most of my day consists of coding. One standout class, though, was the CGS capstone project course. While it was guided at a high level by the professor, we had unprecedented freedom within the classroom to select teams and create whatever project we wanted, using whichever technologies we deemed best. Having such an open project domain and being thrown into the development process for two straight quarters taught me a lot that simply doesn’t come up in more tightly-scoped classes with predefined assignments.

What would be your advice to incoming students who might want to follow a similar career path?

My career path has been a little unconventional and I’m not sure I’m experienced enough yet to give valuable career advice. Nonetheless, for anyone who wants to be a programmer in the games industry or elsewhere, remember that there’s more to the field than what you’ll learn in the classroom: working on a passion project or learning a new technology outside of class can go a long way. But more importantly, no matter what your career goal, don’t be afraid to venture outside the field entirely from time to time. Take classes that are outside of your comfort zone. Get involved in a student organization unrelated to ICS. You might be surprised at what experiences end up being useful down the road.


“One standout class was the CGS capstone project course. We had unprecedented freedom within the classroom to select teams and create whatever project we wanted, using whichever technologies we deemed best.”