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Derek Detweiler
June 27, 2022

Beyond Tech-Savvy — Berry Alum Takes the Lead in Game Design

When computer science and math major Derek Detweiler ’03 describes the impact Berry College had on his career, he remembers a community of people who enjoyed challenging one another. He talks about a place where he honed his raw ability into a set of powerful transferable skills. Berry gave Detweiler necessary training for his field but also fostered a love for learning and creative problem-solving that has extended far beyond college, ultimately helping him become a video game designer. Today he is the lead creative engineer at Makefully, a game design company building learning experiences for partners like PBS Kids and LEGO Foundation.

Detweiler’s technical interests started early. At age 8, he coded games for his siblings, and by college, he was finding ways to code games for class assignments. But he did not just find connections to the video game world in his computer science major. Detweiler met a professor who shared similar interests. Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Eric McDowell invited him to struggle with math concepts instead of memorizing them, according to Detweiler.

“Rather than a typical lecture,” Detweiler says, “he was on the journey with us to learn mathematical concepts. In a small way, that's how well-made educational games teach, by participating in a learning journey with a child instead of a lecture of concepts.”

McDowell modeled creative problem-solving, which proved to be important for all sorts of technical jobs Detweiler encountered. “Take game design, for example,” explains Detweiler. “It starts with a creative idea, but turning that idea into a playable game involves layers of math, logic and a significant helping of problem-solving.”

As he strengthened his knowledge in the classroom, he also had on-the-job experience in the Berry Information Technology Students (BITS) program. In this apprenticeship work, Detweiler was pushed in other directions. He used his technical skills and became competent in a team setting and in working with different types of people.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but BITS laid the groundwork for the kinds of interpersonal and communication skills I need in my current career,” he says. “I am constantly collaborating with producers, partners and co-workers to finalize game designs and produce engaging educational experiences for kids.”

After college, Detweiler was hired as a technology manager at Appalachian State University. But during his tenure there, he never stopped practicing new code languages or building games on the side. In 2010, his hobby took off as a career when Google chose one of his experimental games to promote the early Chrome Web Store, laying the groundwork for his current position.

Looking back, Detweiler believes his career trajectory is a testament to the power of the Berry experience. He came away from college with more than field-specific knowledge. His opportunities to explore academics with career preparation and personal development grew him into a lifelong learner.

Photo Credit: Christopher Smith

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