'I Have Never Regretted Entering 'Sociology' Programme'
Alina Kamanina is a graduate of the Bachelor's Programme 'Sociology and Social Informatics' at HSE University – Saint Petersburg. She has been working as a game analyst in 'G5 Entertainment AB' company for two years. We talked to the graduate about how she entered the game industry, what criteria she used to choose a university and why critical thinking is the main university skill, in her opinion.
— Why exactly did you choose Sociology?
— When I was applying to a university, the most popular programmes were Economics and Management. But I did not have enough points to enter these programmes at HSE. The description of the Bachelor's programme in Sociology seemed interesting to me, though at that time I had not known anything about a sociologist's job. I liked that Sociology covers various spheres of life: it was good for me as I could not decide what I was passionate about. That is why I decided that Sociology would be perfect for my future education and development.
Besides, it was HSE, which I wanted to enter: I scrutinised the information for the prospective students before the admissions and found out that at HSE each programme was strong. I wanted to be enrolled at this university specifically.
— What impression of studying on the programme do you have?
— To sum up, I have never regretted entering 'Sociology' programme. Studying on the programme was very interesting for me. If I had to choose one more time, I would hardly choose anything else. The HSE community is strongly united as well—this is a significant advantage. I can say so about both the faculty and the university in general: here people stick together. At the university I met the friends who I still keep in touch with.
— What courses can you highlight?
— The first one is 'Sociological Theory'. It was delivered by Maria Safonova. This course was the most comprehensive and important in the first year of studies. The course was a set of all the things sociologists can examine: you look at the sociology of the city, medicine and art.
I also remembered the courses on Data Analysis, which were taught by Anna Shirokanova. The classes were intense and informative, but sometimes rather difficult. I had a hard time dealing with the tasks in Statistics: I had to spend a lot of time to figure them out. But this course gave me a solid and deep knowledge and became a basis for my profession.
In addition, I have vivid memories of the research seminar on Culture and Inequality. I wrote a thesis on cultural consumption, so this course was important to me as we discussed all the articles I needed there. Besides, it was simply interesting as the course covers fashion, art, museums and so on.
In the fourth year of the Bachelor's degree, I had a course on 'Macrosociology' with Eduard Ponarin. I still go back to some books from the bibliography of the course.
— Which skills did HSE University-St Petersburg give you?
— The most important one is critical thinking, which is essential for any person nowadays. In addition, I have learnt how to find and check information, to see what is primary and what is secondary.
Moreover, now I can communicate with people better, though the university is not the only place where you can gain this skill. On the programme 'Sociology', we worked in groups a lot: we had to come to an agreement and distribute the tasks within the team. Of course, we had to deliver the presentations, conduct interviews, and take the initiative while working on a term paper or a thesis. This profession itself implies that you have to communicate a lot.
R programming language came in handy for me as after the graduation, it helped me with job seeking. But generally, it seems to me that gaining hard-skills while getting your degree is not so important. A university is valuable, not because it teaches you R or Python. A university helps you to obtain general skills, which makes it easier for you to master highly specialised ones. Sometimes it is much more useful to be skilled at critical thinking, to formulate hypothesis correctly and set priorities. This is what hiring managers find valuable.
Beyond any doubt, you will have to study after the university. I think that after the graduation, I acted a little immature. In the beginning, I thought that the university had to teach me all the hard-skills, which are in demand for a job of a hiring manager, data analyst or project manager. But now I tend to think that you have to develop your skills yourself.
— What plans did you have after the Bachelor's degree?
— Firstly, I did not think I would start a career in business. I wanted to engage in science and enter the University of Helsinki straight after the Bachelor's degree. They gave me a scholarship, which covered the tuition, but not accommodation. I did not know how I would be able to make a living: the number of working hours is limited for the foreign students in Finland. There were applicants for whom it was not a hindrance, but it did not suit me. Then I decided to look for a job in business.
— When you started to review job vacancies, were you more interested in internships or full-time jobs?
— From the beginning, I was looking for a job because internships are usually unpaid. But if they are, the payment is often low. It is hard to get some internships, especially in the top companies: you have to go through test assignments and long interviews. But I had to rent an apartment in Saint-Petersburg and fully support myself. I have no prejudices against internships. On the contrary, I believe that if you have money and time to look for a perfect company, you should take that chance. It is better to go to the company, where skilled specialists create products which are important for the market. It would be a great boost for your career and an amazing line in your CV, which would open the doors to other companies for you.
— Tell us about your first job. What company was it?
— I got into the marketing department of a construction company. I worked there as an analyst. My tasks were to create and conduct surveys, interview people, and analyse data at the request of other departments. In fact, I figured out how to improve a product to make the clients more loyal.
In the beginning, it was hard for me to adjust to the new workplace. At the university, I got used to the fact that all the people were around my age, we had almost the same background and similar career preferences. Construction sector is conservative in many ways. For example, all the men opened the doors for me because that's the traditional way. But I saw that it was really inconvenient for them. Moreover, the company had a dress code, which I was not used to. It did not match my values well.
As a result, I had worked for this company for a year and five months. I did not want to stay there that long. But firstly, I was trying to get enrolled in a Master's programme, then I was figuring out what I wanted. I did not know the labour market: where I could go with the skills I had, what industries there were and what suited me. Of course, I could not answer the question 'Where do you see yourself in five years?', which they ask on each job interview.
— What helped you to figure out your goals?
— Thinking of a job, I came to the Career Development Centre at HSE – Saint Petersburg: they provide career counselling for the graduates. When I came there, I was pessimistic: I did not like what I was doing, but I had no ideas about which industry and position to choose. I did not understand which format of work I would prefer—remote or office, with a horizontal or vertical structure. Anna Kotova, the Director of the Centre, held several meetings with me: first of all, we cut off what I definitely disliked, then we found what I was interested in. During the conversation, I understood that I wanted to move gradually to product management in the IT industry. But at that time I did not understand how to get there. I did not have any experience in management, analytics, testing—these are the qualifications with which people usually move to product management.
Then I thought that if I have data analytics skills, I should engage in analytics and gradually move to product management. If I liked the analytics sphere, I would be able to continue working there. It is a very interesting field, which you can develop in.
— How did you start moving to analytics?
— I took interest in retail analytics and got a job at Melon Fashion Group, which includes Zarina, Love Republic and other brands. But there was one problem: I started working on March 11th, 2020. Shortly after that, all the physical stores were closed because of the quarantine and the pandemic. I read the forecasts of epidemiologists—it was clear that the pandemic would not finish quickly. Then I thought that I should find something else.
— What helped you to find a job during the quarantine?
— My well-developed profile on LinkedIn. I added the information about the university, places of employment. Of course, I was extending the network of contacts, sending the friend requests to my course mates. I recommend adding all your university acquaintances to your profile during the studies: the classes will end sooner or later, and you will stop seeing each other, but the contacts will remain. If you need anything, you will always have an opportunity to contact them and ask for a professional piece of advice.
That is how the hiring managers of my current company G5 Entertainment AB, which develops mobile games, found me: they saw my profile on LinkedIn. I went to a job interview and decided that games have a lot to do with analytics: records of all the users' activities get to databases. It is great to develop in the analytics when you see such a huge amount of diversified data.
I also liked the company's corporate culture. In the game industry, people take everything easier, and the colleagues communicate casually. In addition, my job gives me a chance to discuss games with others all the time—that is great as well. I also enjoy being a part of such a creative team: for instance, I regularly see people who design characters for games. It inspires a lot.
— What do analysts study in the game industry?
— For mobile games, the balance is really important. Usually, the players have various resources, including in-game currency. All these things help a user to progress through the game. But if you provide users with too many options, they will not buy anything. On the contrary, if you give nothing and make them pay, people will leave the game. Moreover, we keep track of how the users react to new features via A/B tests.
Besides, we have to monitor how a user copes with the tasks. It is important that a player does not leave the game if they do not understand something. We track the users' behaviour and figure out how to amend the game scenario and interface to make it clear for the people.
Currently, I am working on the analysis of detective projects. In such games, it is essential that a person remembers the whole scenario and understands further actions to solve the mystery. The primary task is not to overwhelm a user. As a matter of fact, there are primary and secondary quests in games, and users should remember which stage they are on. With all this, we should consider the 'old players': it is important to keep their interest.
— How do you plan to develop in the analytics further?
— I want to dig even deeper into the analytics and develop within the industry: study the psychology of the players and games, and give advice to the team based on the analysis. For senior positions, it is not enough to do only what you were asked to. You have to deeply understand the product, which you work with, suggest possible decisions and listen to the opinions of your teammates.
— Finally, the question for the prospective students: how to choose the university to apply to?
— My experience was based on intuition. At that time, the Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Area Studies was Daniil Alexandrov. His view of the programme appealed to me. But I am not sure if I can recommend other people to make their choice intuitively. When you have so many options, you want a few more specifics.
I believe that you should apply to universities where they pursue science seriously. It is important that the lecturers publish their articles in high-ranking journals, and the university should engage in foreign partnership—at least, recently. First of all, a university is about science, and science is international.
Also, I recommend finding out about the professors who work at the university: what they study, in which journals they published their articles and if their research interests correspond to yours. At HSE, it is very convenient to do: you open the lecturer's webpage on the official website and find everything you need. The second option is to look for a media commentary from these lecturers and see what their mindset is.
Finally, I will recommend talking to the graduates or at least the second and third-year students. It will help to understand what you can do after the graduation and which sphere you can work in.