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Lead Programmer (Games)

Personality type:


The lowdown

  • Leading the programming team responsible for creating all the computer code which runs and controls a game
  • Producing the technical specification of the game and managing the overall code development process

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • be a team player and a leader
  • be approachable and listen to what people need and want, both from other disciplines and within your own team
  • be able to communicate your ideas and vision to the programming team
  • be able to inspire and motivate the programming team to ensure that everything gets fixed on schedule
  • have a hands-on understanding of all programming roles
  • have advanced programming skills
  • have excellent people management and communication skills, including tact and diplomacy
  • be able to resolve conflicts and solve problems
  • be able to multitask
  • be creative and innovative
  • be composed under pressure
  • have knowledge of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures

What does a Lead Programmer do?

The Lead Programmer leads the programming team responsible for creating all the computer code which runs and controls a game. Programmers have various roles and specialisms including AI (artificial intelligence), game engine development, user interface, tools development and physics.

The Lead Programmer oversees all of this. They are responsible for the technical specification of the game and manage the overall code development process. It is also their job to make sure that the team delivers on time and within budget.

The Lead Programmer manages the software engineering of a game from start to finish. In conjunction with other key team leads (e.g. the Game Designer, the Lead Artist, etc.) they develop the technical specification for the game, and then delegate the different elements to their team of programmers.

They usually compile all the technical documentation for the software produced by the programming team and ensure the quality, effectiveness and appropriateness of all the game code.

They manage the production of the different 'builds' of a game (different versions, each an improvement on the last), ensuring that coding bugs are fixed and appropriate solutions found (or as many as possible within the production time frame), liaising with the Project Manager to make sure this all happens on schedule.

The Lead Programmer must also provide support and guidance to the programming team, making sure that the programmers understand the specification and have the right skills and training to be able to do their jobs effectively. Lead Programmers will also write a substantial amount of code themselves.

What might I earn?

This is one of the highest paid roles in the games industry, reflecting the responsibility that goes with the role and the skills and experience required.

Will I need a qualification?

You will generally need to have a degree to be a Lead Programmer. This could be in physics, maths or computer science. Many new entrants also have a postgraduate qualification as well.

If you are considering taking a games course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the games industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a games career:

Games courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

You will need to be able to programme in C++ and potential employers will usually ask for some kind of demo or ask you to work through a test. You would also do well to have sound knowledge of contemporary game hardware platforms and the latest software development techniques.

The games industry is constantly evolving, both creatively and technically, and you will need to keep up to date with the latest developments. Most training is self-driven and much happens on the job. Experience is the key to this role.

What’s the best route in?

You will usually need at least five years’ experience working in game development as a programmer to progress to being Lead Programmer. You will need experience of working across platforms and on the whole life cycle of projects. This is not an entry-level role.

You will need hands-on experience of different programming roles as well as team-leading experience. You will sometimes have to take on programming tasks yourself in order to complete a project, on time and within budget.

You could apply to be a Games Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all-important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:

More information about Trainee Finder

Where might the role take me?

It is likely you will start off in a junior position, performing general programming tasks, before specialising or moving into a leadership role.

Interested? Find out more...


  • 3DWorld - the magazine for SFX, TV production and game development artists 
  • BECTU - the UK's media and entertainment trade union, covering broadcasting, film, independent production, theatre and the arts, leisure and digital media
  • Develop - the monthly magazine for European developers 
  • e-Skills UK - the Sector Skills Council for IT, Telecoms and Contact Centres
  • Edge - the UK's self-styled bible for UK gamers
  • Eurogamer - European-focused consumer website
  • Gamasutra - website founded in 1997 that focuses on all aspects of video game development
  • GameDev.net - online community for game developers of all levels
  • GamesIndustry.biz - covering breaking news from the game's business
  • IGDA - the International Game Developers Association, a global network of collaborative projects and communities comprising individuals from all fields of game development
  • IGN - internet media and services provider focused on the video game, entertainment men’s lifestyle markets
  • MCV - the weekly trade magazine of the UK games industry, 
  • TIGA - the Independent Games Developers Trade Association - non-profit trade association representing the UK's games industry
  • Ukie - the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment - champions the interests, needs and positive image of the video games and interactive entertainment industry whose companies make up its membership


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