This is the ninth year that Wargaming St. Petersburg has been conducting internships. The studio attracts non-core young specialists on a competitive basis and trains them. The goal of the program is to grow professionals independently. We talked about the specifics of the internship with Anna Posazhennikova, head of HR at the St. Petersburg branch of Wargaming.

Note: this project won in the nomination “Innovation” at the event of game HR specialists “Game Dev HR Awards”, organized by the recruiting platform Talents In Games.

World of Warships

Alexander Semenov, Editor-in-Chief : Anna, hi! At the beginning, please tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been in the industry and what do you do in the St. Petersburg division of Wargaming?

Anna Posazhennikova

Anna Posazhennikova, Head of HR at Wargaming St. Petersburg: Hello! I have been working in the HR field for more than 15 years. I started with conducting trainings, training and development (L&D), as well as recruitment. I continued — already as a manager — building the work of HR teams.

In the St. Petersburg office of Wargaming, I started with the tasks of recruiting and evaluating a team. I have been working in the studio for more than 8 years. I joined it in the summer of 2012, when we were just developing our flagship project World of Warships (WoWS). At the same time, we were still engaged in casual games in the hidden objects genre. At that time, 62 employees worked in the studio, including two cleaners.

Now more than 700 people work in Wargaming St. Petersburg. We can safely be called a multi-product studio. We are engaged in the operation of 3 projects — WoWS, WoWS: Legends and Bowling Crew. In total, we have more than 5 projects in development.

And how big is the HR department in St. Petersburg Wargaming?

Anna: There were two in 2012. There are 15 of us now. These are specialists in HR BP, Staff Records, and Work Safety.

And the tasks of the department are not limited to hiring and accompanying employees at all?

Anna: Of course not. In parallel, we are engaged in project activities:

  • Wargaming Academy is a non—profit project in which experienced developers share their knowledge on creating games, and “students” learn how to make games. The project was launched specifically for those who want to get into the industry, but cannot do it due to lack of specialized experience. It exists and has been actively developing in St. Petersburg for more than 5 years.
  • WGDF is an international forum for the exchange of knowledge and experience of specialists in the gaming industry. It was launched in 2016. This project has evolved into the organization of thematic events for developers and creators of games in areas (from art and game design to technology and BI).
  • Also, my team oversees the internship system in St. Petersburg Wargaming. Internships help us to “grow” professional specialists in the most popular areas.

It’s good that you yourself have just touched on the topic of internships. Before we tackle it tightly, can you specify what is meant by an internship in Wargaming?

Anna: We at Wargaming St. Petersburg understand by internship the retraining of specialists with strong basic professional skills to suit our specifics. It is important for us that they are able to perform specialized tasks on our projects after completing an internship.

The internship involves consistent systematic training in processes, technologies and communications, as well as adaptation in the company. We strive to ensure that after its completion, interns can work with us as junior specialists in the direction in which the internship was conducted.

Okay, that’s sorted out. Let’s turn to history a little now. 8 years ago, St. Petersburg Wargaming decided to launch an internship program. Why did it have to be done, why, for example, couldn’t we just focus on hiring low-level specialists?

Anna: It was an interesting time. Then — at the start of WoWS development — there were not enough people. We needed professionals with work experience. Junov, in turn, the team leaders were not ready to take. Where do I get the time to train them if I have to figure out a project?!

It turned out to be a vicious circle. On the one hand, there were specialists on the market with the skills we needed. On the other hand, they still had to be retrained to suit our specifics. And we were not ready to teach the staff: we did not have enough specialists with the required skills to implement work tasks, not to mention mentoring.

At the same time, it was necessary to solve the problem somehow.

The head of the art department, Vladimir Gremitsky, pushed us to create the first internship program. He noted that the initiative will allow to grow 3D artists for the tasks of the department in a situation where even the most experienced external candidates cannot perform test tasks at the required level.

After calculating all the pros and cons, we launched the first internship. It was attended by 8 people. We taught them modeling, texturing, the history of the navy and the construction of warships. The next internship, which we launched six months later, was already organized for 12 interns.

Now most of the girls and boys who successfully completed those first two internships are working on studio projects. Many of them have taken leadership positions in the field of creating art content.

What difficulties did you encounter when you first started the program? What kind of rake did you stand on then and what conclusions did you come to?

Anna: We had to work out the technology of training, as well as think about how to document internships in order to be able not only to pay for the work of students, but also to complete employment relationships with those who could not demonstrate a sufficient level of learning ability. It was also necessary to think over copyright issues for the content created by interns.

Initially, due to lack of resources, we could not allocate mentors, whose work would be limited only to the management of interns. Our mentors were “playing coaches”, combining the training of trainees with the practice of implementing tasks for the development of a game project. Later, we began to allocate curators to conduct internships, who at a certain stage can be more engaged in mentoring.

If we talk about the problems of the program itself, then we gave the first group three too difficult tasks. One intern couldn’t stand it and quit. The rest are still working.

At the next internship, we have already applied a scheme with a simple first task for mastering the pipeline. We also simplified the second task. This allowed the trainees to gradually adapt to new tasks and build up their skills more effectively.

What does the internship program look like now, what stages does it have?

Anna: All internships involve a theoretical course combined (in parallel or sequentially) with the implementation of tasks in practice. The complexity of the tasks implemented by trainees is divided into stages as they master the program.

Depending on the specialization (art, programming, quality assurance or UI/UX), theoretical training has different duration. The timing of the transfer of interns to development teams also differs.

Are there any fundamental differences in the admission of an intern from the admission of a full-fledged employee?

Anna: I don’t see any fundamental differences in hiring interns and candidates for myself.

When recruiting interns, we follow the same steps: a request for a test assignment, a short Skype acquaintance, a face-to-face meeting with the head of the department and technical experts for a deeper analysis of the applicant.

But there are also nuances. We try to optimize the time spent on recruiting interns. Therefore, after evaluating the completed test assignment and an optional Skype interview, we invite potential interns to a group meeting to get acquainted. This allows us to evaluate the communication features of potential interns, their “compatibility” with each other and with the team.

With this format, we reduce the level of tension and remove the effect of the “exam situation”, and also give the opportunity to benefit from communication even to those applicants who, for some reason, will not get an internship.

In fairness, I note: we usually hold such group meetings with any mass selection.

But in the final (it does not matter whether it is an internship or a full–fledged device) – individual interviews of selected candidates with the heads of the development team in which the internship or work will take place are always held.

You have just noted that interns are accepted as part of a group recruitment. How many people do you usually have internships?

Anna: We organize group internships, the number of groups can be from 5 to 15 people. It seems to us that teaching a smaller and larger group size is not very effective. This is the golden mean in terms of the ratio “cost of effort” / “quality of specialist training”.

How do you decide in which specialty this year there will be an internship, and in which not?

Anna: Internship programs are a purely practical thing. Their launch is related to business development plans and the needs of project teams. That is, the “customers” of the internship are development project directors and studio management.

With the availability of resources (first of all, if there is an opportunity on the part of development experts to supervise interns), we can launch narrowly focused internship programs “for growth” without the task of transferring applicants to a specific product team in six months.

For example, this was the case in 2020 with the summer-autumn internship for programmers, in which we worked with students of technical universities in St. Petersburg. We were prepared for the fact that the interns would not then work with us full-time, but would remain in “part-time mode” to implement R&D tasks and prototyping.

Interesting. This has been sorted out, but how is the work with the interns already accepted?

Anna: At the first stage, trainees study together. According to our experience, this way the adaptation of new people is faster and easier. And it is more convenient for experts with curators to work with a group of interns at once.

After mastering the primary tasks and basic theory to the level of independent performance of simple tasks — at the second stage — we send interns to teams where they work side by side with experienced developers. Here they can get feedback and support and at the same time will not significantly slow down the development process by asking colleagues naive questions.

Throughout the internship, its participants are given a theory. How many of these lectures are there?

Anna: We have focused the learning process on practice. During the working day, interns do practical tasks, and theoretical inserts are evenly included in the workflow between practice. Feedback from mentors is an important part of mastering knowledge. One of its tasks is to encourage trainees to try new technologies for them, to study additional materials on their own in the chosen direction.

As for your question, there is no universal answer. Depending on the specialty, the size of the theoretical part varies.

By the way, I recommend everyone who is interested in adult education to familiarize themselves with D. Kolb’s four-stage cyclic learning model.

Are there any figures on the conversion from interns to employees?

Anna: We carefully select potential interns, so our conversion rate is consistently high: about 11 interns out of 12 remain working in the company.

As far as I know, you have conducted a total of 27 waves of internships, which 250 specialists have completed. At the same time, most of the internships concerned 3D art, and the least was in interfaces and programming. Is it possible to say that internships are better suited for some specialties than for others?

Anna: I will immediately note that I am not an expert in training programmers and developers myself.

As for your question, then…

It was really more difficult for us to organize an effective internship for programmers. It was not possible to make this training universal from the start (there was no such problem with other directions).

The reason is obvious: we are a multi—product studio. We have different projects… Yes, even in different “parts” of the same projects, a very wide range of technologies is used. These are proprietary solutions, Unreal Engine, Unity, C++, C#, Python, Typescript/JS, PHP, and React/VueJS as part of the frontend.

So it turns out that in order to implement project tasks in the field of programming, in addition to the breadth of thinking and the ability to find non-trivial approaches to solving, a fairly broad system knowledge from various fields is required.

As a result, our technical experts are not ready to take interns for training at all. They need specialists with higher basic training. This doesn’t quite match Wargaming’s approach to the internship program. Here we are talking, rather, about the adaptation of employees, and not about an internship.

Now we are looking for unique approaches to training trainee programmers.

Can you give advice to those companies that are interested in your experience in terms of internships?

Anna: To start internships, of course, we need a request from business to conduct them, we need ambassadors among managers who will support the project with resources, personal participation and help convince doubters.

So, first of all, I recommend going away from the company’s goals and, before launching the initiative, enlist the support of those who will implement the program.

At the start of the program, we were very lucky that the leaders of the art direction were ready to experiment. They immediately supported the artists’ training program. And not only morally, but, above all, practically, by allocating specialists from their teams to supervise interns, to write the theoretical part of the program, to conduct lectures and master classes.

Also, before launching the initiative, it is necessary to calculate the effectiveness and cost of conducting an internship for the company. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind: the first — test — internships are likely to be more expensive in terms of resources than you planned. And the conversion to interns may be less, and more experts will have to be connected.

But internships are always reputational benefits for the company. In addition, managers and curators of such programs are usually more willing to hire juniors at the starting positions (their fears of losing time go away).

As a conclusion, let’s sum up some kind of internships with you.

Anna: Internship programs and training of novice specialists in general are a return of our debt to teachers and mentors. So let’s actively build a cycle of knowledge exchange in a professional environment!