Three days with Scott Meyers

Part of my role at CA is to develop the programmers on the Total War team.  I was rather delighted to be able to invite Scott Meyers, author of the Effective C++ series, to come and talk to the team at the beginning of December 2014.  This was such a great opportunity that I offered the training to programmers in the CA Console team, makers of Alien:Isolation, and Sports Interactive, our SEGA sister studio in London, makers of Football Manager.

You may have seen talks by Scott from various conference feeds.  He really is an excellent speaker and educator, having spent a long time perfecting his craft.  However, owning him for three days and having him deliver material from his new book, Effective Modern C++, was pretty special.  Since the first print run sold out immediately, he was unable to give us copies of his book, but we got to touch his personal copy.

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C++ has undergone some extraordinary changes since the last standard was ratified.  Type deduction is now a rather more complicated affair now that we have auto, decltype, lambdas and rvalue references.  Indeed, the three days was kicked off with an entire morning on type deduction, which was possibly the only time he could have sensibly delivered that part of his syllabus: it was the heftiest of topics to open the training, but so much of modern C++ relies on this, and understanding that is very important.

Scott covered all the headline features of modern C++ and stopped to answer all questions that arose, however simple or advanced: his stride didn’t break and sometimes he was able to postpone answers to a point further on in a topic.  It was extremely valuable for our organisation as a whole.  Of course, now I have to go and review the coding standards to accommodate all this: we have now moved on to Visual Studio 2013 as our primary compiler, and, for example, the efficiency of std::shared_ptr requires scrutiny.  I’ll keep you posted about our observations over the coming months.

James

About ten months ago, during the summer of 2012, my employers were contacted by The Willow Foundation. A young chap called James was suffering from liver cancer and wanted to visit the creators of the Total War franchise. We were delighted to help and prepared a day for him to remember; you can read about it here.

A couple of months ago we learned that he’d succumbed to the cancer. At the time he visited, he was about to discover whether or not the cancer was inoperable. I have a role in recruitment; on the day, he came to me in my role as coding manager. I talked to him for ten or fifteen minutes about being a coder. He asked me about the best way in to the job, what universities I would recommend, should he do maths or computer science, all the usual questions. I guessed, and I’m sure he suspected, that he wouldn’t make it to the beginning of the degree, let alone the end. However, questions about whether he was showing unicorn optimism, or denial, or love for his carer-brother, all rather flew out of the window as I carefully answered his questions without bursting in to tears, welling up, or showing a flicker of doubt, which was pretty damn hard I can tell you.

I lost my mother to ovarian cancer in April 1999. The day before she died I visited her at home and we chatted away; to be honest, I was so grief stricken that it’s rather a blur. I do remember her talking about visiting the Scillies again and thinking “that’s not going to happen” and admiring her indomitable spirit. I saw that spirit again in James.

I love working in the games industry. The thought that someone, in dire straits, would want to come and watch us at work is quite humbling. If I was working as a developer in a bank, writing front ends for databases, I doubt the same sort of thing would happen. I may earn half as much in games, but the job satisfaction can be out of this world.

The story turned up in a lot of places…