#LIFEPEG

The tal­ented An­drea Levinge is be­hind what might be the next big video game

Scout - - INSIDE SCOUT - BY ROMEO MO­RAN PHO­TOS BY PA­TRICK SE­GOVIA

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

Land En­raged.

“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.”

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