Pushing the Boundaries of Digital Media: MDM Alumni Interview with Karin Schmidlin

Pushing the Boundaries of Digital Media: MDM Alumni Interview with Karin Schmidlin

As the number of alumni grow from the Master of Digital Media program, it’s fascinating to see where they take their degrees. The assumption is that MDM alumni work in the video game industry and, while there are many alumni working in gaming, there are also many more who are doing something completely different—like running an online scuba diving community, working as an interactive designer at a marketing agency or developing their own startup companies.

Karin Schmidlin is an alumni who has taken a unique path with her degree. A member of Cohort 2, Karin was a faculty member in the Digital Arts department at BCIT before coming to the program. After graduating from MDM, Karin moved to Waterloo, Ontario where she teaches User Experience at the University of Waterloo’s Stratford campus

We corresponded recently via email to talk about her experiences in the MDM program, how she struggled to find a job after graduation and what she would tell students who think that the MDM program is only for people who want to design video games in Vancouver.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I am a faculty member at the University of Waterloo’s digital media campus in Stratford, teaching courses in Applied Leadership and User Experience. I’m also developing a virtual incubator for entrepreneurs with a small team of very talented developers and designers. 

2. What was the Master of Digital Media program like? Are there any experiences that stick out?

For me it always comes down to the people. Be that my MDM classmates, faculty or staff, they have all made an incredible difference to my learning and the time I spent there. Many have become close friends over the years.

My time at the MDM goes all the way back to Cohort 2 when we were still in the old building, didn’t have a coffee shop, and frantically had to pitch game ideas every other week to Tom Frisina and his EA colleagues flying in from California. 

I had no prior experience (or interest) in video games, so that was a tremendous challenge and opportunity for me. I ended up making a couple of games while at the MDM. The multiplayer game WOMP!, developedwith Bryant Drew Jones, Salvia Dhall, Dave Marhal and Bryan Clarke got a bit of funding from Microsoft Game Studios and an award for best student game at the Canadian Video Game Awards.

3. What did you do after graduating from MDM?

I’m not going to sugar-coat this and talk about all the fantastic successes I had, I struggled tremendously after graduation. 2010 wasn’t a particularly good year to be looking for work in the games or digital media industries in Vancouver. Studios closed left right and centre and the outlook wasn’t much better. It was a pretty dark year for me. But everything always changes and things got better when I took an interaction designer job at Allegra Vancouver, a marketing & print company, and then ended up building their new multimedia department. When I left Vancouver to take my current position in Waterloo, I had a team of 8, mostly former BCIT students of mine. I learned so much in that position about what it means to implement change in an established business, and how to get everybody on board with a new business model that might jeopardize people’s positions, or dramatically change how things were done.

4. Are there skills that you learned in MDM that you use in your teaching?

I had been teaching long before I enrolled in the MDM, but everything we approach with an open mind shapes how we do things and sharpens our skills. The MDM definitely added a couple of tools to my teaching belt. In a sense being a student again was a great eye opener to understand what my own students might be going through. Sleep deprivation, sitting in a chair all day and having to juggle multiple projects simultaneously definitely influenced how I plan my courses now. Also, having a sliver of game design experience is great for creating an engaging learning environment and bringing fun into the classroom.

5. Can you tell me about the virtual incubation program that you’re developing?

The virtual incubation program is 5 year project we’re developing at the CONRAD Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre at the University of Waterloo with generous funding from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the organization that brought you the GMAT test. It’s basically a virtual environment for budding entrepreneurs providing them with a 3 phase process, access to short learning modules, mentorship and design tools that allow them to successfully launch their ventures or entrepreneurial endeavours. 

We are 2.5 years into the project and have launched it internally at the university and by January 2015 internationally in collaboration with a university in Kenya. It’s been a great opportunity to develop something that is useful and meaningful and pushes the boundaries of how a virtual learning environment of the future might look like. 

6. What would you tell students who think that the MDM is only for people who want to design video games in Vancouver?

I would say they’re missing out on an entire world out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vancouver and making games is a great way to spend the day, but I’m really happy that my partner dragged me to Waterloo. Kicking and screaming at first, but now I feel very fortunate that I ended up here. Waterloo is an incredibly vibrant place and working for a university that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in digital media and engineering is truly exciting. 

There are so many opportunities for people who can connect the pieces that we have been introduced to at the MDM. We need people that are willing to push what is possible and develop innovative solutions to our current challenges. Be that in healthcare, publishing, education, business or any other industry. So I highly encourage you all to think beyond the things you already know and venture into new territory. And if any of you would like to check out Waterloo, I’m more than happy to be your tour guide!

To find out more about Karin, including her teaching

philosophy and the projects that she’s working on,

visit her website schmidlink.com

or connect with her on Twitter via @k_arin.