Tech art or graphics developer?

Hi there guys,

I have had a bit of a career conundrum lately. I find myself drifting more and more towards development work as of late. I’m doing a lot of training around graphics work, like dx11 and dx12, and general development/engineering. I’m unsure if this is the path I want to go down, or if is better to stick with technical art.

It seems like doing full time graphics development requires a pretty hefty background in phd level mathematics, which is obviously not my background coming from technical art. Although I’m not opposed to learning and improving my mathematics, It is just difficult to have enough time to learn so many different things when you already have a full time job.

I really enjoy technical art, but I really lean into the actual improvement of the technology being used. I love to implement new algorithm’s into engines, using compute shaders to improve mesh deformation ect, which has me wondering if pursuing engineering is more suited for my interests?

In my experience, studios are not always super receptive of technical artists wanting to make low level c++ changes to engines or plugins, they prefer to get their engineer’s to do it, which leaves me feeling a little left out, as I really want to get involved.

At this stage I have a pretty good grasp of c++, I understand the syntax well and can write code to a software engineers standards, I would imagine I just need to find out where my knowledge gaps are and fill them. But even then, I’m already a senior and I’m not sure it is the smart move.

Would be really great to get your guys input of this. Do you think it is a good idea? what are the career prospects like for a software/graphics/engine developer vs a technical artist? Is there more or less employment? And what are the differences in pay?

The graphics engineer path has one obvious pro: more money.

It also has one obvious con: it’s going to be more closely gate-kept.

Generally if you can pass the technical bar and the informal of “one of us” test the graphics dev route will involve more rewards but a narrow range of tasks – expect to spend a lot of time thinking about the GPU but less time on the rest of the universe. You’d also be farther from the social side of TA – less connection with artists and fewer chances to actually make things, since that higher salary also means your time will be more sought after and more jealously guarded. I used to work with a graphics engineer who’d be periodically put into “isolation mode”, forbidden to talk to people because he was heads down solving critical perf problems.

For some people that’s a chance to focus, for others it’s like jail.

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Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate that.

I’m also trying to decide which path I would like to follow between: Tech Art, Graphics Programmign or Game Dev. I worked as web dev for 2 years and then did a Masters in Computer Graphics which was mostly focused on Technical Direction for Animation.

I have some experience with OpenGL, Maya, Houdini, Substance Painter, C++, Unreal Engine, etc.
I like Graphics a lot but sometimes things get too complex and I’m not that good with math, so that’s one part I don’t like, and the other is sometimes the software is too complicated, like Vulkan or things like that when it takes 800 lines of code just to draw a triangle. What I like most from Graphics is using clever and simple algorithms, and some artistic eye to make things that look good, or Procedural Content Generation, things like that, but not where it needs like Ph.D level (sometimes I’ve thought about going the phd route but I think I wouldn’t enjoy it that much)

Lately I’ve been leaning more towards Game Dev in general, I’ve been making small simple games and it’s cool to be able to create small worlds and things that seem so alive. And to create different parts of the systems, not just the graphics.

With the employment I don’t know, I’ve seen many job posts for graphics programming, tech art and such, and it’s different in every place. But I think more of the graphics dev posts have less experience required than those for tech art, maybe because they are harder to find. But some posts ask like at least 5 years of experience in graphics. And I think engineering most of the times pays more than tech art. Also, there is less connection with artists.