Despite a deep interest in gaming, and the desire to be a part of one of the fastest-growing industries worldwide, Shaylyn Melin felt like she wasn’t able to pursue a career as a game designer.
Instead, Melin brushed aside that dream to focus on something more practical, and ultimately unsatisfying in college—interior design.
“I’ve been interested in video games since I was very little. I think I played my first video game when I was about eight and since then, especially when I was around 10 to 12, I wanted to be a game developer,” she said.
“But I felt like I felt like no, ‘I’m too stupid, I can’t code.’ A lot of that was to do with the fact that I was a girl and that coding is a thing that boys know how to do, and there’s no way that I could learn that. So I just kind of accepted that.”
Now half-way through the Advanced Game Development Program at Bow Valley College’s Centre for Entertainment Arts, she said that a renewed confidence in herself along with a bursary that helps women to enter tech programs at the college helped her to follow her dream.
“I got the confidence in myself to actually try to apply for this program and see how it went, because I started to feel like maybe I can learn how to do things,” Melin said.
“Funnily enough, programming has been one of my favourite courses.”
Province funds way to help women find meaningful careers
Launched in 2022, the Women Pivoting in Tech Bursary helps to remove barriers for mid-career women, along with Indigenous women and newcomers, to enter STEM diploma and post-diploma programs at the college.
The government of Alberta provided $400,000 for the bursary program though the Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation, with the intent of helping to cover tuition, but also aspects needed to support women transitioning careers like technology, child support, and covering basic expenses.
Bow Valley College said that so far, 42 per cent of the available bursary dollars have been distributed to eligible students in programs such as cloud computing, data management analytics, software development, and advanced game development.
For Melin, the bursary made it possible to feel like taking the chance on her dream of being a game designer wouldn’t be a risk not worth taking.
“It was like if for some reason this doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to be so in debt that I’ll never be able to pay it off. And it allowed me to actually take that risk, even though I was afraid of doing it,” she said.
“It really did change my life, because I don’t think I would have been able to practically say ‘yeah, I can do this’ and not have to worry about money if I had not gotten that bursary. It would have been a lot more stressful, and really taking a huge risk just hoping that I would get a job right out of college to start paying it off.”
Changing the narrative about who gets to be a part of tech
Emma Gallaher, an Educational Assistant with the Centre for Entertainment Arts, said that the bursary opened the door for women to enter what can at times be seen as an industry dominated by men.
“It’s a huge door opening up, and it’s really awesome to see a hand being held out to women as Shaylyn said,” said Gallaher.
“It feels like a risk, especially in an industry that feels so dominated by men, even though almost half if not more of gamers are girls. It’s just so important to get more girls interested in tech, not even just interested, but letting them know that they’re welcome and then telling those stories themselves.”
She said that the number of women who are entering the game development program at Bow Valley has been on the rise, with about half of the classes for this year made up of women.
“I think the challenge is making sure that they know they have a voice as well, and their opinion matters just as much as the boys that have been told all their lives that they’re totally welcome in video games. Girls are still kind of gaining that confidence to speak just as loudly as them,” Gallaher said.
Gallaher herself was just recently hired by a major international game studio, something she said she hopes is a positive message to her students.
“I really hope this makes it a tangible and achievable goal for all of my students to know that they can they can graduate this course, and hit the ground running,” she said.
More information on the Women Pivoting in Tech Bursary, and other bursaries offered by Bow Valley College for women, is available at bowvalleycollege.ca/student-resources/financial-services/scholarships-and-bursaries.