Portrait shot of man
Tuesday, 14 May 2024

In our latest instalment of our Alumni Spotlight series, we speak to Andrew Gordon, an international business leader in the video games industry who studied Mathematical Sciences before completing his PhD with the Maths Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) research group at University of Limerick.

Now based in Finland, he shares how his time at UL gave him the foundation he needed for his future career.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Listowel, but moved to Limerick when I was eight years old. I went to St Nessan’s Secondary School in Caherdavin and the rest of my education was all UL.

I’ve always been an avid gamer of all kinds of games. My father introduced me to our first PC when I was four and ever since then I've been hooked! I tried my hand at a lot of sports, but the one that really stuck is badminton.

I also do some hobby blacksmithing when I get a chance, but the forge has been cold since the pandemic and I haven’t found the time to fire it back up again.

Why did you choose to study the BSc in Mathematical Sciences?

The honest answer is that I didn’t. It was my third choice behind Biomedical Engineering and Business with Japanese, both at UL. I feel so incredibly lucky I did get into the course though, as it turned out that I absolutely loved it!

What did you enjoy most about the course?

It is an incredible mix of challenging and rewarding learning experiences, but the course also gives you the flexibility to focus on your preferred stream.

I chose the computer science stream and it was, without question, one of the best choices of my life. When I finished the course I had such a great foundation for the future.

At the time I didn’t realise just how important the computer science components would be for my career, I just did them because I enjoyed the courses so much.

In fact, the first game I ever built was for a semester project in object-oriented programming with Dr Chris Exton. I have that course to thank for my current career!

Can you tell us about your Cooperative Education experience and your final year project?

For Co-op, I was resolved to go abroad. I was incredibly fortunate that the Cooperative Education Department was able to find a placement for me in Boston, Massachusetts.

It was quite an interesting placement, in Anglo Irish Bank, in 2008, putting me at the heart of the financial crisis which unfolded towards the end of my placement there.

For my Final Year Project, I used dynamical systems to model autopoiesis from Luhmann's theory of social systems, which is a fancy way of saying I was trying to model the impact of different social dynamics on a population of people and how that society would find stability in different ways using equations.

It was the first time I had to create a novel model of a system and while I can’t say I was truly successful, it was a great experience that motivated me to go deeper into research.

You decided to pursue a PhD. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I loved the math sciences course so much, specifically the more applied math courses and mathematical modelling, that when the possibility of doing further study at UL was presented I jumped at it!

I have Professor Stephen O’Brien and Professor Michael Vynnycky to thank for giving me the chance to even start a PhD and for all the support they gave during the process.

It was an incredible time and I consider myself so lucky to have had such fantastic mentors. My PhD story is reasonably straightforward, I researched multiphase flow in hydrogen fuel cells in the MACSI, which was started by Professor O’Brien not long before I started my PhD.

I participated in problem solving workshops with industry partners, attended conferences, contributed to academic publications and got a chance to tutor undergraduates in engineering math courses.

One of the highlights was working for the Math Learning Centre (MLC), helping anyone and everyone who walked in the door. The cool thing about the MLC is that even as a tutor there, you got to learn so much!

I once had an applied cryptography Master’s student drop in needing help with a subject I had never seen before! It really is a resource for everyone at all levels and I loved working there.

What did you enjoy about UL? What is student life like here?

As an undergrad, it was definitely the mix of academics and extracurriculars in clubs and societies.

As a postgrad, it was an abundance of great mentors and fantastic funding opportunities…. and clubs and societies. As a postgrad, one of the most fulfilling experiences was being an exam reader for students who needed one. They were incredibly grateful to have someone read for them who actually knew the mathematical symbols and how to read the equations.

Were you a member of any clubs and societies? 

I was a UL Viking (American Football Team) for four years, played softball, badminton and even was on the clubs and societies executive board for a stint.

Some of the best experiences in my time at UL were through clubs and societies, there is something for everyone and it is a vital part of the UL experience.

How did UL support you throughout your studies?

Professor Michael Vynnycky was an amazing supervisor. He was always present but never intrusive, I could always depend on him for support, guidance and his incredible depth of knowledge… and his patience.

Professor Stephen O’Brien was pivotal as he was the beating heart of the research institute MACSI and gave me every opportunity to succeed. All the people at the Maths Learning Centre and Paul Lee at UL Student Life.

What advice would you offer to students considering studying Maths at third level and what career pathways can they expect?

Maths is challenging but incredibly rewarding. Taking your studies to third level will give you a unique perspective that only very few will ever have while also equipping you with hard skills that are practical and useful.

If I had to go back and start at UL tomorrow, I would choose Mathematical Sciences as my top pick this time around.

Tell us about your own career journey so far.

I started out as a Game Economy Designer in a company that was scaling up very quickly at a time when mobile games were becoming really successful.

After just over a year at that company, I was lucky enough to get to work on new games at King (the makers of Candy Crush Saga) in Berlin.

Four and half years later I was given a chance to be a Game Director making new games for a company in Beijing. It was a huge move, and in late 2019 I moved there with my partner.

Despite the pandemic happening just a few months after our move, I could not have been luckier as it meant I was already in the right country for a dream role making new games at Supercell in Shanghai.

Four years later, my role and location have changed (I now manage live operations of newly launched games from Supercell HQ in Helsinki, Finland), and my passion for creating amazing video games is still monotonically increasing (small math joke).

I’ve been so incredibly privileged to have worked on some of the biggest games (not just on phones) of all time. Candy Crush Saga, Clash Royale and a recently announced new title at Supercell called Squad Busters (which we believe is going to be a hit!) are the biggest ones.

The highlight was getting to run the entire business of Clash Royale, it was intense but there aren’t many times you get to run a multi-billion dollar business operation.

Tell us about your current role.

My current role is Live Operations and Monetization on new games.

It focuses a lot on go-to-market strategy, creating a continuous stream of new experiences for players inside our games and designing novel ways to monetize those experiences (as I work in games which are free to download and play).

It involves a lot of different specialities which include design, psychology, economics, simulation, strategy, planning and a whole bunch of soft skills.

How did your own studies prepare you for entering the workplace upon graduating?

My studies at UL gave me a new perspective and armed me with the ability to learn anything, fast. It made me incredibly hungry for knowledge and seek out collaboration, which is an amazing one-two punch in industry.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

Make more games, have lots of time for my child, fire up my forge again and find ways to give back in a manner that brings me joy.

Are there any lessons or insights you wish you had known when starting your career?

Learn how to listen to others no matter what the situation or your emotional state. I still haven’t perfected it, but the earlier you start, the more likely you will be to excel at it and be an incredible teammate.