Liberal arts in tech: Two alums take an unconventional route to the video game industry

Computer science, software engineering, or animation – these are some of the most common majors for those wanting to work in the video game industry.

But two UWM alumni say it was their degrees in liberal arts that helped them build their careers with two of the biggest companies in the field. Ben Schroeder, a software engineer for PlayStation, and Timothy MacKenzie, a localization specialist at Nintendo, both attended UWM and graduated with majors in the humanities and social sciences. Each of them credits their education and skills in critical and creative thinking for their success in what is traditionally a tech-heavy vocation.

“I think (a liberal arts education) is attractive to employers because it shows a well-roundedness and empathy,” Schroeder said. “Not to downplay the computer science curriculum at all, but those tend to be skills that can be learned well into one’s career, whereas I think a lot of the liberal arts skills like critical thinking, seeing the big picture, and understanding the nuances of different ideas of perspectives, are important to learn early on.”

Schroeder majored in urban studies and earned a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS involves attaching data to points on a map – the types of fauna in a particular natural area, for example, or when various equipment was last serviced at General Mitchell Airport. For Schroeder, those classes were where he first began to realize that the liberal arts and STEM weren’t entirely separate disciplines.

“You can combine the liberal arts and social sciences side with technology,” he said. “That’s an intersection I’m really interested in and it got me into the tech sphere.”

MacKenzie’s job is less technical but no less important. As a localization specialist, he works to make Nintendo’s games accessible to an American audience. Nintendo, like Sony (which owns the PlayStation brand), is a Japanese company and its products, games, manuals, and more are produced in Japanese.

MacKenzie majored in Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies at UWM and minored in Japanese. Soon after, he completed his Master’s in Language, Literature, and Translation, specializing in Japanese-to-English translation. He uses his skills now to not only translate Japanese game dialogue into English, but also to help smooth out cultural nuances that might be unfamiliar for American audiences.

“There is a lot of push-and-pull. Can we do this; can we adapt that? Do we stay closer to the original text or go in our own direction? There’s a lot of discussion, but it’s really rewarding to do,” MacKenzie explained.

He relies heavily on his understanding of both Japanese and American culture to remain close to the original text while still getting the meaning across to an Englishspeaking audience. Those are skills that he learned in his work at UWM. A liberal arts education has been invaluable, just as it was for Schroeder.

“If you’re looking to get into a technical field, on the surface, it might not seem like a liberal arts or social science education would be conducive to that,” Schroeder said, “but I think you’re stacking the odds in your favor if you choose to pursue it.”

Learn more about Schroeder, MacKenzie, and their jobs in the articles.