Multimedia programmers need a combination of both creative and technical skills. If you think you have what it takes read on to discover more about this varied role

A multimedia programmer works with different multimedia features such as, text, sound, graphics, digital photography, 2D/3D modelling, animation and video to create products such as websites or computer programmes.

Multimedia products mainly work on the internet but can also be used in:

  • interactive television;
  • information kiosks;
  • DVDs;
  • CD-ROMs;
  • computer games consoles;
  • mobile phones.

Programmers may come from a design or computing background, but the role demands a combination of both creative and technical skills. The multimedia programmer usually works to a designer's specification.

Other common terms for multimedia include:

  • new media;
  • interactive media;
  • digital media;
  • online/internet services.

As IT job titles and descriptions aren't standardised, the work of a multimedia programmer may overlap with the role of a web developer, games developer, systems developer or software engineer.

Responsibilities

Working as a programmer you'll be involved at various stages of the system life cycle including, initial analysis, implementation, integration, testing, debugging and support. The role can include:

  • working with the designer and other creative specialists to understand the design concept, and advising on how it can be implemented technically within constraints;
  • sorting out operational logic and business rules necessary for the feature to be reproduced correctly according to the designer's specification;
  • writing efficient computer code or script to make the various features work, ensuring that sound, graphics, animations and timings work as intended and make good use of processing and data storage capacity;
  • creating and linking databases to the user interface so that information can be retrieved, stored and processed interactively via the application;
  • writing HTML or similar input and using authoring packages where appropriate to create content and effects;
  • running tests of the application to identify bugs that need to be dealt with;
  • solving problems by rewriting the code or adding new code that works around the problem;
  • providing technical support to an application once it is running and making further adaptations, patches or rewrites to the code;
  • researching and keeping abreast of emerging technologies in order to be able to deliver the most up-to-date solutions, including learning new programming languages or technologies.

You'll work in a team with the designer and other specialists, such as animators, video producers and 3D modellers, who create the multimedia features. Because of the size and complexity of some applications, there may be several programmers working on one or more aspects of the application.

In smaller projects, programmers may take on other roles, such as design and animation, depending on their expertise. Programmers may become specialised in particular output formats, such as web applications, mobile technologies or interactive television, depending on their range of skills.

Salary

The title of multimedia programmer can cover multimedia developer, designer and engineer and as a result salaries can differ greatly depending on the actual role.

  • Junior salaries start at around £18,000 to £20,000 a year.
  • With more experience, and responsibility, you can expect to earn in the region of £25,000 to £50,000.
  • With greater experience and expertise in niche areas, you can earn £55,000+.

If training is involved, salaries are generally lower during the initial training period.

The industry supports a lot of potential for contract and freelance work, which may pay well but is balanced by fewer benefits, such as paid leave and job security.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are often slightly later than most office-based work, typically from 9.30am to 6pm. Working longer hours is often needed to complete assignments to schedule, depending on the place of work.

What to expect

  • Work is carried out in teams, usually in an open-plan area. Individuals may be members of several teams and there may be a need to share desks or cubicles with others.
  • There is some client contact, but little travel is needed since most of the work is electronic.
  • Some experienced multimedia programmers choose to set up their own small companies.
  • Women are currently underrepresented in the IT profession. Organisations such as BCSWomen provide information and advice to women interested in a career in the industry. Also see Women in Technology for job information.
  • Jobs are quite widely available but entry-level positions may be more difficult to find. Locations tend to be in major urban areas, particularly London and the South East, and are concentrated where there are clusters of other creative industries, such as broadcast media, film-making and animation.
  • Travel within a working day, overnight absence from home and overseas travel are all uncommon.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree/HND in the following relevant subject areas may increase your chances:

  • computer science/software engineering;
  • engineering or electronics;
  • fine/visual art;
  • graphic design/illustration;
  • interactive/multimedia technology or design/animation;
  • mathematics or physics;
  • spatial design;
  • 3D design or digital art.

Many university courses in multimedia and computer sciences have a placement year in industry. This is helpful for building up a portfolio and gaining hands-on experience, which is valued by employers who are hiring for entry-level positions.

Employers will want to be sure that candidates have a strong programming background so courses in mathematics, engineering, art and design may be a good entry route if you can also demonstrate aptitude and skills in multimedia applications.

Entry without a degree or HND is difficult as there is intense competition, but having a strong portfolio or experience in designing personal web pages will help. Some employers may also stipulate a degree rather than an HND.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not necessary, though an MSc in multimedia or similar may compensate for a non-relevant first degree. Search for postgraduate multimedia courses.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • interactive design skills, such as user/task analysis and interface design/evaluation;
  • programming skills, such as authoring, engineering and quality testing;
  • understanding of layout, design and graphics;
  • endless enthusiasm;
  • ability to work effectively in a small project team;
  • good communication skills;
  • logical approach to problem-solving;
  • ability to manage a complex range of tasks to meet deadlines.

Employers also usually look for knowledge and experience in:

  • relevant software, such as Flash and Photoshop;
  • programming languages, such as C++, Java, .NET;
  • markup languages, such HTML.

Actual employer requirements vary depending on the sector and the platform being used.

Work experience

An employer is unlikely to hire you without seeing examples of your work. Pre-entry experience is desirable and relevant vacation work, voluntary work, projects or placements will be an advantage.

Employers

Multimedia programmers are typically employed in specialist multimedia companies, as well as other organisations that use or create multimedia products.

Opportunities in multimedia programming have expanded as broadband has made more facilities possible via the internet.

Programmers are employed within the following industry sectors:

  • advertising and marketing;
  • IT and games;
  • broadcasting;
  • telecommunications, particularly mobile phone suppliers and networks;
  • publishing and media;
  • education.

Typical employers include:

  • independent production companies and broadcasting companies;
  • facilities houses, offering support services such as post production and special physical effects for the creative industries;
  • marketing/advertising agencies;
  • DVD authoring companies;
  • games publishers;
  • educational institutions and e-learning suppliers;
  • internet service providers (ISPs) and web hosting services;
  • interactive design agencies;
  • interactive museums and visitor attractions;
  • construction developers.

Organisations with in-house websites and/or new media or multimedia departments also employ programmers.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies commonly handle vacancies.

A flash drive, CD-ROM or personal website demonstrating a broad skill set can be used to support a CV or application form. Get more tips on how to create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

It is important to build up a good personal multimedia portfolio to demonstrate skills and creativity. This might include an interactive website, an animated computer game, or a presentation incorporating a variety of media.

With experience, contracting may be an attractive option. While most job sites cover contractor roles, also try sites such as:

Professional development

Skills and knowledge requirements move on very quickly in multimedia and, consequently, the most important training consideration for programmers is to keep up to date with new developments. In most cases, this means adapting existing skills to a new package, learning a new programming language or working with a new platform.

You may learn from other members of a team, attend short courses, keep up to date via newsgroups, follow websites that showcase the newest ideas, and read specialist journals. It's possible that you'll have to take responsibility for your own development. Check out these useful sources of development training:

Career prospects

It is possible to progress into new skill areas such as:

  • the internet;
  • interactive television;
  • games development;
  • e-learning.

As the industry develops, more layers of management are emerging, allowing you to enter into more senior roles.

As a programmer, you may remain focused on the production of multimedia or, with experience, you could move into middle management roles such as:

  • team leader;
  • project manager;
  • production manager.

Depending on the size and structure of the company, these roles may vary or overlap.

Project leader is likely to become a more important job role as the collaboration of skilled professionals for the duration of a project becomes more common.

Project leaders, responsible for coordinating the work carried out by the various team members and ensuring that the project is completed to deadline, require an all-round skill set covering business, content, design and technical competencies.

As the multimedia industry evolves, digital security and online services are becoming major growth areas with the opportunity for skilled professionals to work with larger and more diverse audiences in new markets, such as China. The majority of companies will be small and focus on specialist services and niche markets.