Q&A with Robert Schmidt - Part One
Meet Robert Schmidt, a Columbia College graduate now living in China and working for Ubisoft. Over a three-part Q&A series, we'll "talk" with him about his experience living in China, his work, his thoughts about gaming and how students today can find success.
My name is Robert Schmidt, I was a student on Columbia College’s main campus in Columbia, Missouri, from Fall 2007 to Fall 2009. I finished up my degree in the online program in May 2013, with a B.A. in General Studies. I worked in medical records from 2011 until the end of 2013, when I enrolled in an MBA program with Webster University. I started classes at the campus in Chengdu, China through the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in 2014, and finished my degree in summer 2017.
After arriving in Chengdu, I also got a one-year internship with the Ubisoft studio, and have been working here for almost four years now. After completing my internship, I was hired as a Project Assistant in the Casual Games Department. This is part of the Project Management career path, and my main focus was to assist the Producer of our project/game in the day-to-day management of the team. I worked in this position for two years, and was promoted to Project Coordinator in early 2017. This position is usually responsible for small-scale games or a specific feature of a game. In September, I transferred to a new department and also changed position to Project Manager. This is a design and marketing position and not involved in the management of the team.
How did you align your undergraduate degree with your career goals?
When I was on the day campus I was in the political science program. In many ways, I found what I learned there to be incredibly useful. For example, you’d think that political science would have nothing to do with my current job in marketing, but actually it was incredibly useful and relevant. Political science is mostly the study of people and behavior, and explaining why organizations or societies act the way they do by finding the cause. Marketing is almost the exact same. In political science the product is to create a new policy or perhaps an NGO to solve that problem. In Ubisoft, we’re creating a video game to solve a “problem.”
Strangely, I found that some of the information I learned about China was inaccurate. I would attribute that mostly to the rapid pace of change in China. The area I work in was farmland 10 years ago, now it’s a district of 2-3 million people. I’ve also discovered that China varies greatly from province to province, and even within a province. Most of China is a male dominated society, but I feel that Sichuan Province is far more female dominated than I could have ever imagined.
How did you end up in China?
I needed a change from what I was doing in the U.S., and wanted to go study overseas. I wish I'd done it a lot earlier.
Did your undergraduate degree prepare you for graduate studies?
I’d say my undergraduate classes at Columbia College were harder than my graduate classes…part of this due to Chinese education culture. The Chinese study extremely hard in middle school and high school. This is in preparation for the “Gaokao,” or final exams for college. In college, the culture is very laid back and not much is learned in college. It’s more about making connections with other students.
When did you know you wanted to work in the gaming industry?
To be honest, I wanted to work in the computer hardware industry or the automotive industry. It was part of why I came to Chengdu, as they have many research and manufacturing facilities for those. Unfortunately, they usually require engineering degrees and prefer that you are fluent in Mandarin. Since I don’t have either of those, I got lucky enough to get the internship with Ubisoft. I am a gamer, and I was very familiar with the company, but didn’t think it was what I wanted to do.
I wasn’t sure the job was right for me, but thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. About a month after joining the company, the Studio Manger sat down all the recent hires and explained the “company culture” to us and the company expectations. To paraphrase, it went basically like this, “If you go from job to job succeeding, you aren’t doing your job right. I want you to fail, if I see you failing then it means I know you are trying something new and learning. If you only succeed, then it means you are only doing what you know.”
Coming from medical records where failing at something in your job can usually mean immediate termination, and you are told not to try anything new, this was a shock. Ubisoft isn’t always a fun job, and often it can be incredibly frustrating, but I’m getting to do a lot of things I never thought I would or could do.
All images provided by Robert Schmidt.
Continue the series: