Panel with Zynga

On Tuesday, March 23rd, IGNITE Worldwide held a virtual panel and interactive Q&A discussion event with Zynga, a social gaming company. Students learned that Zynga’s mission is to connect the world through games. Zynga’s creations include Farmville, Words with Friends, and a new Harry Potter game. It’s a very dog-friendly company; it’s actually named after the founder’s dog!

Students also learned that Zynga has clubs for its employees! For example, Women at Zynga encourages broad participation in STEAM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). STEAM careers provide high pay and good job security,  and are also useful in all industries. So, with a STEAM background you can find an opportunity to do whatever you are passionate about!

After the engaging intro, the panelists then shared their stories:

Mandi Liang is a Principal UX (user experience) Designer. Mandi’s high school was very competitive, and she studied 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. Her only entertainment was video games at an internet café. She found that she was very competitive and loved to beat the boys at video games, especially because there were very few girls who were playing. After getting her MS in Multimedia Design, she realized she wanted to work on games. She enjoys making every user’s life a little bit happier.

Whitney Mak is an Engineering Manager. Whitney codes mobile games and manages a team of software engineers. When she was young, she loved to play games, and design and build websites. She took coding classes and eventually joined her school’s robotics team, where she was Team Commander of the 40-person team.

Gabrielle Heyman is the Head of Global Ad Sales. Gabrielle grew up playing Pacman and Ms. Pacman. She was insecure because she didn’t feel that she was born with a calling, but eventually realized that she loved games and was good at sales. Sales roles are often portrayed negatively, but if you love something you can sell it, and it’s a role that exists at every company.

Elizabeth Beinke is a Design Director, working on Star Wars: Hunters. Beth creates the visual design of the games, which determines how the player feels when they’re in the space. She enjoys working collaboratively with artists and programmers. Growing up, she was interested in art, design, math, and sports, and is happy to be in a field that merges these interests. Beth grew up without a console and without cable, and the only technology classes available in high school were typing classes. When she started college, she felt far behind, and also out of place because of her gender. She worked persistently to surround herself with technology. Beth says that if you feel like you think differently or look different from the people around you, it doesn’t mean that you don’t belong—it means that you bring something to the table that no one else brings.

Maggie Caswell-Bick is a Game Designer. Maggie gets to decide what the rules will be for a game. She plays-tests games and watches other people play them, to see what works and what doesn’t work. Maggie always liked math in school but didn’t know what she wanted to do. She was an auditor, and then a web designer, before getting an MS in Entertainment Technology that merged her interests in math and art. Maggie says to follow what you’re interested in and it will take you somewhere interesting.

The students asked great questions:

Q: I am interested in creative writing. How can that be used in STEM?

A: Writing teaches you to think and communicate clearly, which are important in every industry. Many roles in game creation involve writing. For single-player games, the overall story and dialog are written collaboratively. Copywriting is important in the marketing of games.

Q: I want to be a vet. Have you made any games that are related to people pursuing a dream like that?

A: We haven’t made any games specifically about being a vet (Farmville is the closest, since it has animals). However, the industry is starting to design games for real life impact. For instance, games that allow the player to discover what they like, or to work through problems in their lives. A game about being a vet would be cool.

Q: Now that we’re more remote, what’s the best way to get involved in technology and experiment and find what you want to do?

A: There are a lot of free tutorials online. Coding is open-source, and there are lots of kits (for example, Lego) to build your own robot. There are also apps that can connect to your toys.

Q: Is there a right way or wrong way to get into a STEM career?

A: No. It’s OK not to know what you want to do right now. There are many paths you can take.

Q: What kind of opportunities do students have who want to get involved in STEM?

A: Listen to podcasts, talk to people in the industry (people love to talk about themselves). Take advantage of internships and ask lots of questions.

Q: What kind of on-the-job support is there?

A: Zynga (and lots of other companies) offer internships and mentoring for students. Zynga has special-interest groups, such as Women at Zynga, that provide support and activities. There is also outreach to the broader company, such as education for Black History Month.

Q: Lightning round: what do you wish you had known in high school?

Whitney wishes she had known how broad the technology field is. She wishes she had talked to more people to know what is out there.

Gabrielle wishes that she had known that everything was going to be alright. She wishes she had known to be observers, because even little subtleties matter.

Mandi wishes that she had cared less about how other people thought of her. She says that other people’s opinions of you do not matter. You define who you are.

Maggie wishes that she had known that you don’t have to be good at something to pursue an interest. Not knowing something can actually be an advantage—fresh perspectives without baggage are valuable in a conversation.

Beth wishes that she had known that failure is a lesson, and fear of failure holds you back. Failure teaches you to be resilient.

Thank you to the tech host, Michelle Del Rosario and the facilitator, Alicia Gallego. Thank you to blogger, Anneka Boccio. Thank you to all the panelists and the students and teachers who attended. Together you all created an inspiring event. IGNITE Worldwide appreciates your work!

After attending this event:

Take STEM Class


of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

“It was really wonderful hearing all of the advice at the end. I really liked when Mandi said to not let others define you and to define yourself.” – 9th grade

“I always thought that I was not made for the STEM/STEAM career path but after hearing everyone’s stories, I think that I might be interested in the STEM career path.” – 10th grade

“Today’s event made me feel better about my future because everyone on the panel is very happy in their jobs.” – 12 grade

“Girls working in cool jobs makes me think I can too.” – 9th grade

“It was nice to hear from people that aren’t the traditional engineer but who work at a gaming company.” – 9th grade

“Thank you so much for sharing your stories and about all that your job entails because it is really inspiring and gives me hope that I could succeed in a male-dominated field.” – 10th grade