The talented Andrea Levinge is behind what might be the next big video game
Andrea Levinge’s programming prowess will change your perception about the gaming world
We beg your forgiveness when we say that video games and tech have traditionally been the domains of men. Yes, we can hear the groans that just came from all the girl gamers— we know you exist, we really do, but we’re just stating a fact (or something like it, based on our observations and experiences) or, at the very least, proffering a safe claim: the number of guys who are into video games and tech is greater than the number of girls who are.
But along comes a girl so talented, that not only does she shatter all those expectations and stereotypes, she also turns them to dust. Andrea Levinge, the bubbly 27-year-old Chief Technical Officer of White Widget, a local mobile gaming and web development studio, is all that and more. You might not guess it when you first meet her, but in truth, she’s a programmer who helped make the upcoming White Widget flagship game Face Mountain, a web developer who was behind Scoutmag.ph, and a gamer who once skipped a thesis showcase because she was busy playing DOTA.
“When I went to the [Game Developers Conference] in San Francisco, I was a bit of a novelty,” says Andrea. “‘Oh, look! A female CTO!’ Most people were gentlemanly about it, but I get a lot of surface discrimination, like people assuming I’m a marketing person, not a programmer.”
The Filipino-British computer science graduate from Ateneo ended up on this road through being homeschooled. Far away from peer pressure and factors that could influence her on what she was supposed to do, Andrea grew naturally into her hobbies of tinkering with electronics and computers. She taught herself how to make websites at 11, started making websites for Asian companies at 12 (she first got paid in ice cream), learned how to make web apps at 14, and studied coding for the Android OS soon after.
It doesn’t stop there: other than being a programmer, Andrea’s also got a host of different talents. She’s the vocalist for Hot Skin, a jazz band that covers heavy metal songs (for real), she’s a member of MENSA (an international society of people with high IQs), she’s a fiction writer, a poet, a cosplayer, a sailor, and an equestrienne (all for real). We don’t blame you if you ask what she can’t do.
Andrea’s talent is so great that she was able to parlay it into a very early career in IT. Aside from building websites for companies, she took software
jobs on Craigslist to earn her own cash. She also ran her own small development company and took side jobs to put herself through college, then eventually got an offer to work in New York after graduation as a lead software developer. “When I was in college, I was headhunted by this company in New York, and I was gonna move there. I was set, I had my visa all ready, I was supposed to go.” But she took a detour from what looked like a dream job in the States because after six months of nagging from her college acquaintance Allen Tan, she started White Widget with him.
“My job is overseeing the technical side of things at White Widget, managing development and writing code. I do whatever White Widget needs me to do,” Andrea explains. “[Allen] is our managing director, but he’s also a developer. We act like employees who help manage, since we work at the same level as anyone else.”
We wouldn’t be surprised if the idea of putting in all that work very early on in life sounds totally alien to you, but it’s the norm for Andrea, who credits her British father for instilling a strong work ethic in her while she was young. “My dad is a very self-made man and he was always pushing me to go to work. I have to be able to support myself, and I have to rely on myself.”
It’s all very Western, down to the fact that her parents didn’t even force her to go to college. Her father told her that if she really wanted to go, she should prove it—which she did by paying her own way through 5th year high school so that she could graduate and get into Ateneo.
Now, White Widget is poised to try and take mobile gaming by storm with Face Mountain, an addictive puzzle game that plays like a mix of Candy Crush and an action RPG. If it succeeds, it might just be the very first local game to blow up since the Philippine game industry was born in 2003 with Anito: Defend a
“People are shocked to discover that there’s even a gaming industry here in the Philippines,” says Andrea. “[Helping sustain it is] no grand move on my part there—I’m just worried about sustaining my company, which I hope will influence the industry. I try to work with the Game Developers Association of the Philippines and the DTI, and they do a lot to help sustain the local gaming industry.
“What I hate, though, is going to trade shows and hearing about how the Philippines has inferior programmers. That is not true. We’re way ahead of other countries and we’ve got the skills to prove it. Our kids have placed in the [ACM-International Collegiate Programming Contest] this year.”
And, according to Andrea, the key to getting that level of quality talent in the country is just to go for it and study programming, if that’s what interests you. You don’t have to go to MIT, Stanford, or any other school abroad to be a good programmer.
“To be honest, there are probably more opportunities abroad because the industry is that much bigger there. But if you’re just studying something, then by all means, do it here where it’s cheaper to live and you can spend a lot of time devoting yourself to the craft,” advises Andrea. “You can teach yourself game development. We have the Internet, and it has levelled the playing field for everyone. So the next time someone says you have to study abroad, you also have to think about what you want to learn.”
It’s not just practicality that got her to stay but also a refreshing sense of patriotism. “I chose to stay here because of the brain drain—everyone’s leaving. If we don’t convince people to stay, the country might as well give up on itself completely. People don’t recognize that there’s so much talent [here]. I go abroad and people tell me, ‘Oh, some Philippine programmers we met are not very good! And I’m like, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. We’re excellent.’
“And I’m setting out to prove that to the world.”