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Perfect Landing: One Grad’s Journey from DigiPen to Lockheed Martin

It’s an accepted fact that most students attend DigiPen to break into the game industry. That was certainly true for Chris Tallman, class of 2010.

One Grad’s Journey from DigiPen to Lockheed Martin“Four years ago when I started going to DigiPen, I was kind of thinking, ‘I’ll probably work at Microsoft or EA or one of these big-name game studios,’” Tallman says. Instead, he ended up on an entirely different (yet surprisingly related) course: programming the next generation of flight simulators for Lockheed Martin.

Tallman took his first steps toward his new career without even realizing it when he enrolled in a pair of high-level computer science classes as an upperclassman. The first was CS399, Special Topics in Computer Science, which that year included units on performance and optimization.

“It prepared me for debugging, tools, being able to write profiling libraries where I can pinpoint slow areas in the project and make them faster—that kind of thing,” Tallman says. Then, last year, he took CS420, Graphics File Format and Data Compression Techniques, with professor Jason Hanson. “I got to learn about encoding and compression techniques, which I’m using more than I was expecting,” he says.

The final piece of the puzzle came in March of this year, when Tallman met with a recruiter from Lockheed Martin at the annual Career Day. He gave the recruiter his resúmé and (evidently) made a solid impression, but didn’t hear from the company for a while. Then, a couple months after graduation, Tallman got a phone call: A position had opened up on Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Simulation Center in Bellevue, WA, and would he like to come in for an interview?

He quickly found that the experience he gained during his studies at DigiPen was exactly what the company was looking for.

“I was hired for my knowledge of graphics and algorithms, in addition to my performance and optimization skills,” Tallman says. “They really wanted me to dive into the graphics code and make it run faster.”

"I love being on the edge of new technology."

Four years after setting out for a career in the game industry, Tallman couldn’t be happier with where he ended up. He’s now working on a piece of software called Prepar3d that Lockheed Martin intends to sell to government agencies (and, perhaps someday, to consumers). “I got the best of both worlds,” he says. “I’m not strictly limited to video game programming, but it’s close enough that I’ve got a lot more skills that I can apply to it.”

Indeed, he’s found there are definite advantages to working for a company that produces training technology rather than consumer entertainment. “My branch does a lot of R&D work for many projects,” Tallman says, “and I’ve always wanted to move into a position that would be more research oriented; I love being on the edge of new technology.” Furthermore, he gets to do the same type of work that he would at any other game company—“and to top it off, I don’t have to worry about mainstream critical reception of my project,” he says.

It’s not the gig at Microsoft or EA that he expected—it’s something better. “I’m super lucky to have found a job that fits so perfectly with my skills and passions,” Tallman says. “In retrospect, I should have sent my resúmé to them first. I love my job!”