EA summer camp helps address oncoming tech workforce shortage

When Naibys Alzugaray heard that she had been accepted into Electronic Arts’ “Get in the Game” summer camp, she couldn’t help but get emotional.

The University High School senior says she shed some tears and then immediately told everybody.

“I ran out of my room and told my mom right away,” she said. “I texted my close friends that I had been chosen.”

Twelve Central Florida high school students, including Alzuguray, participated in the camp, which made its return in July after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

The camp serves as one way EA has launched to address a growing concern in tech: that workforce has not kept up with demand.

This skills gap has become the most crucial issue tech businesses – from startups to legacy companies – have had to face.

Addressing the Skills Gap

As more industries adopt technology it becomes imperative that they hire skilled workers.

However, a study this spring from the tech-staffing firm TechServe Alliance characterized the situation as “high demand, low supply.”

“We are on the precipice of a severe shortage,” EA Vice President Daryl Holt said recently. “Within 18 to 24 months, we’ll be dealing with an even larger gap and demand for this talent. More companies are trying to take a more active role in understanding how to develop this workforce.”

Ron Weaver with a student at Electronic Arts.
FiEA Technical Design Director Ron Weaver helps University High School senior Naibys Alzugaray during the Electronic Arts’ “Get in the Game” STEAM camp at EA’s new downtown Orlando campus. – Submitted Photo

One of the larger tech companies in Central Florida, EA recently announced that it employs 1,000 people in the region.

So having the company’s buy-in into growing the area’s workforce could be crucial.

Holt said he understands that and that EA shouldn’t shy away from the responsibility.

“It’s imperative that we take a leadership role,” he said. “If we are just sitting on the sidelines, hoping things change or hoping they go the way we need them to, that’s highly irresponsible of us as a company. We should be sharing our knowledge.”

Electronic Arts recently announced that it now has 1,000 employees in Central Florida. As one of the larger tech employers here, eyes often turn to the company as it launches initiatives.

Recent efforts by Orlando’s tech community – the Orlando Economic Partnership’s Orlando Tech Council, in particular – have encouraged communication among Central Florida’s tech ecosystem.

Holt said that has been mostly by design.

“We should be sharing in those opportunities that energize us and find moments where we can step in and work with each other and not work against each other” as an ecosystem,” said Holt, who sits on the Orlando Economic Partnership’s board of directors. “We should be rowing in the same direction and I think that happens very well here.”

Students tour EA with Holt

Electronic Arts’ highest-ranking executive in Orlando spent a recent afternoon addressing the STEAM camp, taking his time, walking the students through the company’s new 175,000-square-foot facility.

He showed off the huge, five-story tall mural that adorns the wall of the new building’s staircase.

It includes an homage to the late John Madden, whose name is as closely associated to EA as any other, having been the namesake for its legendary football video game franchise that is mostly built in Orlando.

The company’s new motion-capture studio is four times as large as the one they had in Maitland.

During the camps, Holt had a chance to sit and chat with some of the campers.

Oftentimes, that meant hearing about how others discouraged the stud

That sometimes meant stories of discouragement from others.

Sanaa Douglas of Evans High School tries out some virtual reality at EA’s headquarters in downtown Orlando during the “Get in the Game” STEAM camp.

“That part of it becomes almost more important than the instruction,” he said. “Ultimately, these camps are different in my mind because it’s the beginning of their journey. I emphasize that if someone needs someone to believe in them, they now have ‘Electronic Artists’ and mentors here that do.”

That mentorship and experience with the camp helped Lisa Reichelson, a University of Florida junior studying computer science and English.

She said she would not have majored in computer science without the camp.

“At first, exploring a career in computer science was intimidating,” said Reichelson, a Lake Brantley High School graduate who now interns for EA. “I knew I would be the only girl in a lot of my classes. But the EA team taught me that fighting through those tough moments is worth it.”

She said seeing this year’s students brought her back to her time at the inaugural 2018 session.

“By participating in this camp, they have already taken a big step forward in a career path where many people expect them to fail,” she said. “This experience will make them so much more prepared for the future and what’s to come.”

A New Path For Campers

For the campers, it was an opportunity to go behind the scenes at one of the more tech-forward companies in the industry.

Apopka High School’s Erika Nunez said that seeing the diversity in EA’s Orlando workforce left a positive impact on her.

“It really showed me that even if I don’t look like a stereotypical coder, I can still have a future at a company like EA,” she said.

And, while Electronic Arts hosts camps to potentially grow its workforce, students like Alzuguray also benefit.

They get to envision a path that perhaps they had never considered.

“It confirmed that I want to have a future at EA,” she said. “The studio is really comfortable and welcoming. I just really loved being there. The camp lived up to all of my expectations. I hope I can be part of the EA family one day soon.”