Getting an entry level Graphics Engineer job/internship

Hi! I'm Michael, and I'm a junior graphics engineer. I made this page to share my experience applying for entry level graphics jobs and internships. Hopefully, I can provide you with some tips and advice to make your search a bit easier.

Disclaimer

Keep in mind that this is my experience; not everything may apply to your job search. I started applying in August 2019 and stopped in October 2020. Partway through my search, COVID-19 happened, which definitely had an impact on my search. One company I was talking to went on a hiring freeze, and another company had to delay giving me an offer. I'm a US citizen looking for jobs in the US and I am willing and able to relocate. I also had a return offer from my previous internship, so I was able to focus my job search on graphics jobs instead of needing to apply for general SWE jobs.

Summary

Summary of my resume/cover letter: I had two internships at Amazon, along with a bunch of graphics and games projects. I also had familiarity with some DCC tools (Unity, Maya, Houdini, Substance Painter). I took a mixture of CS, game dev, graphics, and art (3D modeling, 3D animation, lighting) classes in school. I also wrote a cover letter template that I modified based on the job. I didn't modify my resume for each job, but I would add new projects when I completed them.

Summary of my job search: I recieved Amazon's return offer in October 2019, recieved a graphics engineer intern offer in December 2019 that I turned down. I recieved a junior graphics engineer offer in February 2020 that was put on hold due to low headcount and COVID. I started at Amazon in July 2020, then officially recieved my graphics engineer offer in October 2020. I left Amazon in December 2020 to join Apple.

Resume

Make sure that your resume is under a page and that it looks appealing by using a nice font and some color. But don't go too crazy with fonts and colors, just enough to stand out. I also bolded keywords in my project/job descriptions to make the important things stand out when someone skims my resume. However, I don't have any evidence that this helps (or hurts) your chances.

I also think it's important to include your hobbies and interests on your resume. As an example, I included Kingdom Hearts as one of my interests. During an onsite, I was interviewed by a guy who worked on one of the games. This got us talking about something non-work related, which is a great way to show off your soft skills and prove that you'd get along well with the team.

You can view my current resume here, or download the resume template I made here.

Cover Letter

You should write a cover letter.

If you take one thing away from this page, it's that you should write a cover letter. I'll go into more details later, but I was over 4 times as likely to get a callback from an application with a cover letter compared to one without.

I created a cover letter template that I would modify for each job. Essentially, it looked like:

Dear COMPANY Recruiting:

Hi! I’m Michael, and I am interested in joining COMPANY as a junior-level Graphics Engineer. My interests are rendering and simulation, although I’m open to any graphics-related role. 2-3 sentences about why I want to join COMPANY.

2-3 sentences describing my graphics background.

2-3 sentences describing my internships.

2 sentences describing my hobbies.

Finally, I encourage you to visit my portfolio website, where I have demos and source code for my projects.

Thank you!

Michael

There is some debate whether or not you should include hobbies in your cover letter. I think you should. I went to an information session for a games studio, and the presenter said to talk about what makes you unique in your cover letter. Since everyone's resumes and cover letters all look the same, you need something to make you stand out. Also, make sure your cover letter isn't a rewording of your resume, it should add new information.

Portfolio Website

I would suggest creating a portfolio website (you're on mine right now!). It allows you to show off your work in detail with text, pictures, and videos, which is helpful for showcasing graphics and games projects. I made my site from scratch with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but you could also make one with Wix, SquareSpace, etc. You can also host a static website (HTML/CSS/JS only, no backend) on GitHub for free. If you want to pay a bit (less than $25 a year), you can buy a domain and host your static website on AWS in an S3 bucket and keep logs of visitors to your website.

School Work

I took a combination of CS, game dev, and art classes in school. I think it would've been nice if I had taken an additional probability and statistics class, beyond what I learned in my discrete math class. My art classes were also very helpful. They allowed me to do something besides coding, and I think made me a more well rounded person. They also taught me how to use DCC tools and what the art creation pipeline is like, which is always good to know.

Finding Jobs

To find jobs, I would think of companies that would need graphics engineers, go to their careers page, and apply for jobs that asked for 0-2 years experience or didn't specify. I looked on LinkedIn's jobs page, but I found that the results weren't very relevant after the first page. Glassdoor was equally unhelpful. This probably isn't a good job finding strategy, since I can only to apply to places I've heard of, which means they're going to be more competitive.

Interviewing

Most interviews would include a question about the rendering pipeline, so have a good understanding of a modern rendering pipeline. Depending on the job, they'd also ask about the rendering equation, PBR, BRDFs, deferred rendering, shadow mapping, etc. Some would ask about C++ stuff, stack/heap, pointers, memory layouts, etc. There'd typically be a coding challenge as well. I was also asked a couple of system design questions. I was usually asked to explain a graphics project I worked on, so make sure to have short explanations memorized and be sure you can answer questions about how you implemented your projects. Additionally, make sure you remember any bug fixes or optimizations you made in your code, especially if you used a GPU profiling/debugging tool. New grads do not have a lot of experience using profiling tools (myself included), so that is one way to make yourself stand out. In general, the graphics questions asked during interview were very basic, very similar to trivia questions. Make sure you know the answers to these questions, or you will not do well in the interviews.

I was also asked about the powers of 2 in at least 2 interviews, so make sure you know those as well.

Interviewing at Apple

I found the most graphics jobs at Apple. I applied to all graphics jobs that didn't specify required years of experience. There isn't a unified new grad hiring pipeline at Apple, so you have to find the openings yourself, and none of the jobs are marked as 'junior/new grad'. Also, if you are applying to Apple, make sure you know about Apple's TBDR GPU pipeline, Metal, and a bit about the architecture of their chips. There are great videos about TBDR, Apple Silicon, and Metal on Apple's developer website.

Job Statistics

I applied to 114 jobs. 18 (16%) of them were internships, 96 (84%) were full time jobs. Almost all (over 95%) of them were graphics programming or graphics-related jobs (AR/VR programmer, game programmer, technical artist).

I recieved a callback (at least a phone screen/coding challenge) from 15/114 applications, which is a 13% callback rate. I applied to 52 jobs with a cover letter and got 12 callbacks, a 23% callback rate. In contrast, I applied to 62 jobs without a cover letter and got 3 callbacks, a 5% callback rate. This is overwhelming evidence that you should write a cover letter.

You may notice that 25% of my applications were to Apple. I applied to 28 jobs and had 6 callbacks (21%), which accounts for 40% of my callbacks. If I exclude Apple applications, I still get about a 20% callback rate with a cover letter, and about 5% without one.

If you click on the company name below, it'll link you to the company's careers page.

Company Number of Applications Number of Callbacks
Apple 28 6
Unity 14 2 (intern)
Walt Disney Animation 8
Adobe 6 1
Pixar 6
EA 5
Epic Games 5
Google 5 1 (Generic SWE)
PlayStation 5 2 (intern)
Nvidia 4
Rockstar Games 4 1
Amazon 3
Intel 3
Nintendo 3
Activision 2 1
DreamWorks Animation 2
Tesla 2
Visual Concepts 2 1
Blizzard 1
Blue Sky Studios 1
Light Field Lab 1
Lucasfilm 1
Naughty Dog 1

This is a list of the applications I got callbacks from, and how far I made it in the interview process. I hope this will let you know where you should apply and what kind of jobs you can hope to interview for.

Company/Job Cover Letter Furthest Interview Stage
Unity - Mobile Graphics Engineer Intern Recruiter call (lol)
Apple - AR/VR App Engineer Phone screen (before coding challenge)
Apple - Graphics Engineer Phone screen (before coding challenge)
Google - New Grad Software Engineer Coding challenge
Visual Concepts - Graphics Engineer Phone screen (after coding challenge)
Adobe - After Effects SWE Phone screen (went on hiring freeze)
Rockstar - Graphics Engineer Phone screen (after coding challenge)
Unity - Graphics Engineer Intern Phone screen (after coding challenge)
Apple - RealityKit Software Engineer Onsite
Apple - GPU Debugging Tools SWE Onsite
Apple - Maps Display SWE Onsite
Activision (Vicarious Visions) - SWE Onsite
PlayStation (Santa Monica Studio) - Rendering Programmer Intern Onsite
PlayStation - Graphics Test Engineer Intern Offer (turned it down)
Apple - AR/VR Rendering Engineer Offer (accepted 😁)

Offer Details

I think it's important to share offer details so you can determine if you are being compensated fairly. Of course, keep in mind that my offers were from large companies in high cost of living areas, so compenstation will vary depending on the size and location of the company.

Software Development Engineer (L4) at Amazon: I recieved a return offer in August 2019 located in Seattle, WA. Amazon offered 112k base salary, 80k in stock vested over 4 years (5%/15%/40%/40%), 36k year 1 signing bonus, 22k year 2 signing bonus, 7k relocation.

Graphics Test Engineer Intern at PlayStation: I recieved an offer in December 2019 located in San Mateo, CA. PlayStation offered $34.76 an hour for 12 weeks, with a 5k 'signing bonus' meant for housing and relocation.

AR/VR Rendering Engineer (ICT2) at Apple: I recieved a verbal offer in Febrary 2020 located in Boulder, CO, which was delayed until October 2020 because of low headcount and COVID. Apple offered 120k base salary, 94k in stock vested over 4 years (25%/25%/25%/25%), 30k signing bonus, 10k relocation.

Conclusion

I hope you've found this page useful. Good luck in your job search!