How to make the most of Learning Days at Sumo Digital

19th November 2021 Featured

Here at Sumo, we’re incredibly proud to be able to offer each of our talented team members five learning days per year to pursue passions and upskill, in addition to role-specific training.

This popular benefit is being used across all our studios to bolster and broaden at-work skillsets, nurture and expose hidden talents, and boost engagement with charitable causes.

The crack programming team at Sumo Warrington are no exception - especially in such a competitive, challenging and fast-moving field - and have shared some of their learning day thoughts and experiences below.

Jon Philpot
Senior Build Engineer, Sumo Warrington

I’m currently assisting multiple projects with their continuous integration needs. I’ve been working in this area for many years now and I’m a firm believer in every team having at least one Build Engineer, if not several! The advantages are clear: development velocity is increased and the whole team benefits from a stable, well-tested game.

Sumo Warrington offers all employees five paid learning days a year for personal development – not necessarily related to your job, or even to the games industry.

This year, I’ve split my learning time across a few different areas:

I spent my first day acclimatising to Blender. At University, I studied a split degree that covered both content creation and programming (the course taught 3DS Max). My first role in the industry was as a Tools Programmer, which was a good fit as I’d been equipped with some appreciation of how content creators worked. I’m hoping to revisit Blender and experiment with procedural geometry and embedded Python scripting in the future.

Subsequent learning days were focused on Unreal Engine 4 and various studios’ approaches to automated testing in games. It’s always fascinated me to get an insight into the workflows of other developers. At Sumo Warrington, we’re working on several UE4 projects, and you can rest assured that the lessons learned will be highly valuable going forward.

For me, learning days are a great benefit that allow exploration of subjects you might not otherwise by exposed to… and if you do choose to study something that positively impacts your work, that’s just a bonus!

My top recommendations of presentations and articles to further your learning:
• Splash Damage – Growing a healthy UE4 ecosystem
• Epic Games – Workflow on Fortnite: Collaboration on large teams with UnrealGameSync
• Media Molecule – Tools to Reduce Open Bug Count
• Rare – Automated Testing at Scale in Sea of Thieves
• Improbable – Continuous Integration
• Wube Software – The automation of Factorio (part 1, part 2)
• Game Developer – Automated Tests and Continuous Integration in Game Projects

Patrick O’Halloran
Programmer, Sumo Warrington

At Sumo Warrington, each project brings new challenges. My background has been mostly physics, character animation and general engine work and I wanted to be prepared to work in a graphics programming role. I decided to use my learning days to read and understand "Introduction to 3D Game Programming with Direct3D 12".

The book takes a tour through the rendering pipeline, from input assembly through to output merger and then follows up with deep dives into each stage of the pipeline. Having only written vertex and pixel shaders in the past, it was interesting to see how to use hardware tessellation, geometry, and compute shaders.

It goes on to discuss how to implement a variety of rendering techniques such as lighting, cube mapping, normal mapping, shadow mapping, ambient occlusion, and several others. These chapters really expanded my knowledge of techniques that I was only loosely familiar with beforehand.

The learning days have been a great opportunity to spend a chunk of time filling gaps in my knowledge.

Andrew Jones
Technical Director, Sumo Warrington

Sumo's learning days are a brilliant way to acknowledge the difficulty of continual learning and development in game dev. As a field it is has both deep specialisations and a huge breadth of diversity. It's impossible to learn everything "on the job", especially in areas where foreknowledge is vital. Learning doesn't stop the day you start work, and game dev continues to evolve at a breath-taking pace. I've had some fun with my learning days, but in very different directions.

I've delved into VulkanRT to play with some of the fundamentals of ray tracing and get in depth contact with an unfamiliar API. One high level ray tracing issue is how to handle branching and recursion - it's a key concept in tracing multiple-bounce ray paths but is also very limited on some current RT hardware. I chose to push this to the max by looking at tracing internal rays for gemstone rendering. Here, long multi-bounce internal paths with high optical depth and wavelength dependent refraction is key for visual "flare". It's nice to go from juggling the unrolling of multiple bounces into iterative form in the top level raygen shader to seeing the shiny results!

Then, a more basic change of tack... C++ is a language that has changed almost beyond recognition since I first used it. Even though I feel I'm up to speed as far as C++ 17, I still have some gaps AND the working group doesn't rest on its laurels - C++ 20 continues the march with C++ 23 lurking.

Sadly, it turns out Tech Directors don't have knowledge acquisition superpowers, so it's reassuring to be able to park up day-to-day work and just sit with a blank project experimenting with language features both new and old. How nice to finally say hello to the likes of string::format - only 30 years overdue!

Scott Kirkland
Studio Director, Sumo Warrington

This year, I spent one of my Learning Days exploring LinkedIn’s Premium Recruiter functionality to better understand how our recruitment team operate and how I can help as head of Sumo Warrington. Through a combination of watching LinkedIn’s own education materials, experimentation and discussing experiences and best practices with our team, I was able to identify and reach out to candidates myself who I thought were a great fit for our team. So far, I’m seeing a really positive reaction!

Beyond what's been talked about above, the team have also explored debugging and defending against memory overwrites and gaining a deeper understanding of physics systems and how they can exploit GPUs.

As tech specialists, we love expanding our knowledge! Whether we’re applying it to the top-secret AAA projects we’re working on or using it for inspiration or a change of scenery, learning days are a fantastic benefit and I’m delighted that the whole team are taking advantage of them!

Sumo Warrington is on the lookout for talented and experienced tech-biased Programmers to join them. Find out more about current opportunities here.