Yang Wen is the principle data scientist at Zynga. She is working in the role to bridge the gap between game development and analytics. Her major responsibility is to use AI/Machine learning technologies to build analytics tools that will help the game development work more data-driven. Yang is also a part-time game engineer who develops mini casual games for fun in her free time.

Name: Yang Wen
Vocation: Principle Data Scientist at Zynga
Years of experience: 7 years
Location: San Francisco

Shipped game titles:
Empire and Allies

1. What are you currently reading and/or playing?
I’m currently playing some co-op games including Unravel Two, Rayman. and Overcooked. I’m a big fan of co-op games especially playing with my friends. I feel like it’s a great opportunity to build trust with each other (though sometimes it might ruin the trust among friends instead).

2. First time you knew you wanted to work in games was…?
When I was five, my dad bought me my first video game console in my life. One of the happiest childhood memories I have was playing Super Mario and Contra together with my dad. But that was not my first time I knew I wanted to work in games considering I was only five at that time and was too young to think about my future career. When I grew up, I grew tremendous amount of interest in math and data, and in the meantime, I was still crazy about Super Mario (I just cannot get over it, can I?). And what kind of job can be more suitable for me than being a data scientist at a gaming company.

3. What was your favorite mistake?
When I was little, because my parents were busy with their work and had to fly to other cities very often, I spent most of my childhood staying with my grandparents and grew a deeper bond with them of love and appreciation. When I grew up, I chose to study and work here in the US and was far away from home in China. After I got my full-time job, I was so busy that I became less caring to my grandparents and hardly visited them until one day my parents called me and told me my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer at last stage. Though I immediately flew back home and spent the last few days with my grandfather before he passed away, I felt so shameful and regretful that I did not do so earlier. This is not my favorite mistake, but this is definitely my most regretful mistake. Nowadays so many people are using busyness as their excuse for neglecting their loved ones, and this is totally wrong. Keeping busy can help you to thrive in today’s world but being overworked can bring nothing but damage to your relationship with your loved ones. Nowadays no matter how busy I am, I will always put my family in the first place and make sure I will never ever make the same mistake again in my life.

4. What was your favorite success?
My favorite success was when I successfully developed a block game all by myself for the first time. It was my little weekend side project, and the initiative of the project was just to escape from my daily data science full-time job and push myself to step out of the comfort zone to do something I had never done before. I started to learn Unity and game engineering stuff in my free time and built the game piece-by-piece, and eventually developed a decent playable game (I wouldn’t say it was a polished game due to my limited game arts skill, which is the next skill I’m going to learn). I take this experience as my favorite success because it reminds me to step out of my comfort zone more often and keep doing new things. I have to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and that is the key to my personal development.

5. What’s the best advice you ever got?
I used to enjoy planning things with ambitious goals. Making new year resolutions was definitely one of my favorite things to do every year. I had a long list of books I planned to read, places to travel and skills to learn, yet I’d never been able to cross off any of them. It seemed like my enthusiasm only existed when I was making those plans and then no more left when it came to executing the plans. The list kept getting longer and longer over the years until one day I read an article talking about the idea of “One is better than Zero”. To achieve your goal, all you need to do is keeping doing one small thing every day, like keep reading one single page of a book every day if your goal is to finish a book. It is better than reading hundreds of pages in the first day then gave up. One is greater than Zero. All the little things you keep doing everyday will eventually pile up and help you to achieve success. I started to follow the principles of “One is better than Zero” to keep doing one small thing each day that would lead to my final goal (I started to care less about the result and became more focused on the journey I took along the way). By the end of the year, I was able to cross off almost all the items on my list without feeling exhausted. And that is the magic of “One is better than Zero.”

6. Share one thing few know about you.
I love sketching and painting when I’m free. I am planning to take some art classes especially in games in the future. Hopefully I can develop a more polished game when I get some art skills.

7. What’s one thing or trend you’re most excited about in the industry?
More sophisticated AI technologies have been adapted to the lifecycle of game development to help build a more immersive and intelligent game. I’m excited to see AI becoming more like a collaborator to help game designers, artists and engineers make AI-driven games.

Bonus: 8. Anything else you want to add?
The current game industry is a male-dominated workspace. When I first set my foot on the game industry, I was working with a game team with 40+ people and sadly I was the only girl on the team. Such a situation has not been improved over the course of my career in the game industry, and instead I’m losing more and more female colleagues in the field. There is a stereotype around game creatives/development jobs being more of a “male” job. Women, especially young female professionals, are negatively impacted by the industry stereotype and are reluctant to choose their first career in gaming because of that. While gender discrimination in the game industry is the biggest issue we all need to fight together, we also need to launch more initiative programs to encourage women to join the game industry and seize on more creative/leadership roles that have more significant/direct impact on the game development. If we have more female leaders/influencers in the industry to set an example, young female professionals will more likely join the force when they make their career decisions.

Feel free to reblog with a link back to this post. If you are a lady dev who’d like to be profiled or would like to nominate one, please contact wigsig [at] igda [dot] org