Career Profile - Richard Huddy, Manager European Developer Relations group, ATI

Richard Huddy used to be a freelance coder but now runs ATI’s European Developer Relations group.

20-year old ATI is a prime supplier of graphics processing chips to the PC and related markets.  It produces ‘Imageon’ graphics chips for the embedded and handheld markets as well as the Fire GL processors for high end workstations.  In digital TVs ATI also holds substantial market share producing DTV decoders used in many high end consumer TVs such as Sony’s Wega range. 


Richard Huddy runs ATI’s European Developer Relations group.  That means that he’s the guy responsible for explaining and evangelising ATI’s new technologies to games developers and anyone working in 3D.  He’s technical enough to go into depth with games developers about soft shadowed parallax bump mapping, best practices for using DirectX graphics and other tough technical areas.  On a good day he can even recall all the important differences between Shader Model 2 and Shader Model 3 including the wild and crazy bits like the minimum numbers of temporary registers exposed in the various pixel shaders and the correct syntax for HLSL...



Q: What education did you have?


I left school with 3 good ‘A levels and went to Imperial College in London to study for a degree in Chemistry.  After two years I was surprised to find that I didn’t really much like chemistry, so I ventured out into the world of employment instead.



Q: What was your first job?


I authored quite a few games as a freelance games writer back in the 80’s and early 90’s.  These were mostly released on the Z80 based home computers which were popular at that time.  After a few years of that I moved to coding for the exciting new IBM PC with its hugely impressive 4.77MHz 8086 processor!


Realistically it was a kind of a half-job.  When it worked well it was a really terrific experience, there were intensely productive times and projects typically only lasted 4 to 20 weeks.  That makes for a rich variety, and I enjoyed that a great deal.


The down-side was that doing the work didn’t always guarantee payment, and in the early days it was a genuine struggle to make much money from writing what are essentially cheap and simple games.



Q: How tough did you find it and did you embark on a new career direction once starting real work?


The experience of working for myself was a mixed blessing.  It’s great to get up in the morning and know that you’ve chosen the day that’s in front of you.  But it’s also a little scary knowing that you won’t get paid unless you deliver.  And in fact, one of the turning points in my decision to get a proper job was the experience of working with games publishers who went bust just after I had worked hard to write games for them.


The thrill of taking your destiny on your own hands is somewhat tempered by the observation that actually you are too often at the mercy of customers and suppliers and their failures are sometimes capable of doing you great damage.



Q: What was your second job?


After working as a freelance coder for a few years I settled down to a “proper job” with a small company called Magnetic Scrolls that produced illustrated text adventures on machines like the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, and the early PCs.  I spent five years with Magnetic Scrolls, and one good thing for me about that was that I started as a contractor for them - so I was able to get a good feel for what the company was like.


Magnetic Scrolls were a good employer and I stayed with them for around five years, but eventually they gradually wound down due to delayed deliveries of their own projects and worst still because they failed to anticipate the change in the market.  If you continue to produce illustrated text adventures when the market has moved on then sooner or later you’ll hear the sound of the bailiffs at the door!



Q: How did your career develop to your current status?


When I started to work as a developer relations evangelist I did that only because I created the role for myself.  I had taken a job with 3DLabs (now part of Creative Labs) working in their driver team, and it quickly became apparent that most of the games designed for hardware at that time were running on DirectX 3 and ran slowly.  There were several common problems that surfaced time and time again, so I quickly developed a knack for figuring out what the most likely problem was.  Taking that message out into the game developer community seemed to me like a useful thing to do, so I started working with the lead DirectX guys at Microsoft to arrange conferences and technical meetings where they could explain their decisions and the sometimes very subtle consequences to developers.


Once I had done that for 3DLabs for a couple of years I was head-hunted by NVIDIA.  I moved there and worked for 4 years originally setting up their European Developer Relations group.  Then I moved to ATI just over three years ago and I’ve done similar things here at ATI, though I have a somewhat broader role now too. 


These days I’ve taken advantage of the fact that my technical knowledge combined with my communication skills makes me a fairly rare breed.  So I do a good deal of technical marketing work including quite a few web interviews and general technical PR for ATI in Europe .



Q: Did you embark on a career plan or did you just progress naturally into the new role?


I don’t think I really embarked on a career plan initially, though I would say that from an early age I knew that I wanted to work with computers.


Since that early foray into programming I realised that a career plan would be a good idea, and recently it has become a routine part of the way I think.


Nowadays my plan extends roughly one year ahead in detail, and about five years ahead in its more general aspects.



Q: What have been the highs and lows of your career?


I’m pleased to say I have more highs than lows!


My quick-fix highs tend to come from being on stage and talking to a well informed and very bright technical audience such as those that we find in games programming.  Presenting new technical content to such an audience is both challenging and rewarding.  Being rated highly at these events has done wonders for my professional confidence and ambition.


One of my favourite long-term highs would be the 6 month period when we put a plan for product launch into position and followed it to its natural conclusion.  We did that so well around 5 years ago that my small group of just four people (including myself) delivered around 85% of the content which was used at a world-wide product launch.  When that happens (and we were heavily out-numbered about four to one by the members of the US team) then you just can’t help feeling great.


Probably my deepest low would be when I felt that I had to leave 3DLabs and go and work for their new and aggressive competitor.  Doing so was a good career move for me personally, but I don’t think you can do something like that and not feel like a traitor when you leave all your friends behind.



Q: What advice could you give to anyone starting out who wants to do what you are doing now?


I don’t generally like to give careers advice, but if I did it would be to find work that makes you happy instead of just accepting work that will pay well enough.  I’ve seen too many people in humdrum jobs that put up with it for year after year because “it’s a job” and because the world out there is too frightening to them.


So, look within yourself, decide what you want to do and commit to making that happen.  And if you want to evangelise PC gaming hardware or to work as a part of the games industry then you really have two routes in.  If you don’t have a solid background in 3D graphics then get in touch with your local games publisher and see if they have any openings for testers, games designers and programmers - working through games companies is a favoured path for people in my kind of position.  If you already have the experience in 3D graphics then go to our web site and start looking around for openings.  We’re always on the look out for bright and creative people, and that’s generally true of our competitors too because we work in such a dynamic environment.

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