Grad finds sweet spot in video game industry




Follow Mindy Mozer on Twitter
Follow RITNEWS on Twitter

When Anna Sweet ’04 (computer science) was in grade school, her favorite toy was her friend’s Speak & Spell.

The girls played Hangman on the bright red and yellow device, which they liked to call a computer.

“That year my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said a computer, meaning the Speak & Spell,” Sweet said. “On Christmas morning when I woke up there was a Tandy 1000 under the tree. I was like, ‘What is that?’”

Sweet learned that her new home computer with more game options was cooler than the Speak & Spell, and she wanted to know how the technology worked.

Today, Sweet is still hooked on the video games industry and has helped transform it at Valve Corp., where she is responsible for business development.

The Penn Yan, N.Y., native started at RIT in 2000 and was able to take some of the first game programming courses offered by Professor Andy Phelps, now founder and director of the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC). That was before the master’s degree in game design and development was created in 2006 and the bachelor’s degree started in 2007.

Those courses led to an internship at Microsoft Game Studios with the Xbox group and a full-time job in Microsoft’s shared technology group after graduation. That group helped build the infrastructure that would become Xbox Live.

But after a few years, Sweet realized she didn’t want to write code all day. She took a job at MySpace in 2006 as a head of project management, where she led a team of 40 project managers across three offices in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

She liked working with people but missed the games industry, so in 2008 she moved to Valve to work on the company’s game platform called Steam.

“At the time Steam was just getting started and they were looking for someone who could bridge the gap between the technical side and the business side,” she said. “They hired me to do that and I have been there ever since.”

When Sweet started at Valve, Steam had about 8 million customers with a catalogue of about 100 non-Valve games. Today, there are 100 million customers and almost 4,000 non-Valve games on the digital marketplace.

Sweet has recently been working on the Steam Machine rollout, which is a specialized gaming computer designed to be played on a television.

At Valve, she said, about 15 percent of the employees are female. Sweet said she has never felt out of place in the male- dominated industry. But she has had some interesting experiences, especially during business meetings.

“Someone will inevitably ask a technical question and they will turn to one of my male counterparts,” she said. “Then those male counterparts will turn back and look at me and then I’ll answer the question. Everyone always looks confused when that happens.”

She is encouraged that the number of women is increasing and she hopes to encourage others to join the field.

“For me it has been both an incredibly enjoyable job but also something I am really proud of,” Sweet said. “It was always the thing I wanted to do.”