From GIS to video game software: Alum’s dream comes true at PlayStation

Open up the PlayStation app on your phone and you’ll find a list of your friends currently online. Small avatars will be listed next to their names, alongside an icon showing which game they’re playing.

Ben Schroeder is particularly proud of that one.

“That (screen) was my first major contribution since starting work at PlayStation,” he said. “That was really cool to be part of something that millions of people are going to see when they open up their phones.”

Schroeder is about to mark one year as a software engineer at PlayStation, and he’s contributed to several projects, like the app’s friend list, during his time at the company’s California offices. Software engineers are workhorses at PlayStation. Some work on developing video games while others work with the PlayStation console itself. Still others, like Schroeder, work on PlayStation’s mobile platforms.

“My division is focused on how we can make PlayStation sort of the one-stop-shop platform for all of your gaming life,” Schroeder said. “How do you connect with friends? How do we keep you engaged? How do we keep you in tune with the latest goings-on of games you play or games you might be interested in?”

Projects are completed in two-week sprints, he said, with project managers working closely with engineers to implement new ideas with an eye toward user experience and marketability.

But every now and then, Schroeder and the other engineers get to spread their creative wings and work on pet projects. PlayStation periodically holds “Hackathons,” where all meetings and regular work are cancelled for an entire day, and sometimes longer. Teams of engineers collaborate to build an entirely new project and show off their work at the end of the event. A surprising number of PlayStation features have been born during a Hackathon, Schroeder said.

Working alongside other engineers at PlayStation is something of a dream come true for Schroeder. The Green Bay native grew up gaming on the PlayStation console. He has especially fond memories of games like “Final Fantasy VII,” and he’s currently playing through “God of War: Ragnarok.” Working at the company that has made some of his favorite games has given him a new appreciation for the process and creativity needed to make them, he said.

Schroeder has some of that creativity himself, and he credits his UWM education. He’s always been interested in maps and geography, and the Urban Studies program, along with the GIS certificate, seemed to be the perfect fit. As he learned more about GIS technology, he applied his new-found knowledge at a job in the College of Letters & Sciences’ IT office. After graduation, Schroeder landed a job at Esri, a company that makes GIS software, before he moved to Olo, a company that makes management software for restaurants.

Then, one day, Schroeder was applying to video companies on a whim.

“One of them was PlayStation, which is a brand that I think so many people including myself kind of grew up with and you know it’s been kind of a fixture throughout our lives. And when they called me back and said, ‘There’s a place for you here,” that felt like the logical culmination of everything I’ve been working towards,” he said.

One thing that made him stand out from other candidates was his study abroad experience during his time at UWM. Schroeder spent a semester in Frankfurt, Germany, and heartily encourages current students to do the same.

“I think, especially when you’re working with a global company, in what is now like a more globalized world than ever, that just having that one semester abroad on your resume shows an employer that you have empathy, that you can communicate in an intercultural kind of context, and that you’re mature and ambitious, a self-starter,” he said. “I think the best return on investment among many that I had at UWM was my semester abroad.”

So, if you’re thinking of a career in the gaming industry, consider a liberal arts degree.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science