Playing Games at Work – Gamified Learning to improve work practices.
- May 8 2023
- Rich House
When D55 won the AWS Game Day World Championships in 2022, we were just as shocked as everyone else. Not only because we were a relatively small company competing with larger and more established firms in worldwide competition, but because we had only entered as part of our commitment to continuous learning and improvement. That desire to continually expand our knowledge across every part of our organisation, is a central part of D55’s mission to deliver the best possible service to our clients. And one of the ways we do that is by playing games!
Gamification has reached across the Software Development sector to almost every facet imaginable. Progress mechanics, narrative and social connection are just some of the methods widely used within in the industry. Who amongst us hasn’t coveted a Credly badge, or thrown in a few extra commits to boost their Github Contribution Graph? But Gamified learning is its own large sub-set of those ideas; and when I say large, I mean laaaaaarge. It’s estimated that the Market Size for Gamified Learning could be circa $32 billion by 2025, and up to nearly $97 billion by 2030, in the US alone. And the results of Gamified Learning speak for themselves: studies suggest a 14% rise in observed assessment scores after using GL tools, with 83% of employees feeling motivated to learn, compared with 61% for more traditional methods.
At D55 we take Gamified Learning to the next level, not only using GL platforms to help with our learning , but by playing games and entering tournaments which test and expand our knowledge of the industry we work in. As an Advanced AWS Partner we want to have the most up to date and involved knowledge of AWS services and best practices, and so we use their suite of Community based competitions and games as a way of testing ourselves, exposing the gaps in our knowledge and filling them, whilst also developing the social connection both within the company and the wider AWS community, and maybe even having as bit of fun on the way. So let’s take a look at some of these competitions, the skills they strengthen and expand, and the uses we find in them throughout our organisation.
GameDay is 11 years old and has been building in popularity steadily throughout the decade. Using the narrative of a constantly expanding (and often badly managed) startup, Unicorn Rentals, allows the creators to build 3 to 4 hour competitions around a loose story, which is then used to enhance the players’ experience. The tasks revolve around deploying, fixing or maintaining AWS Services, occasionally with the help of 3rd Party software (Some organisations have worked with AWS to complete their own bespoke GameDay’s, with their offerings built in), with a good dose of strategy and resource management too. The sessions are maintained and monitored live by AWS engineers, both to help players who are struggling with tasks and to introduce “chaos events” like altering a configuration of a service, or even deleting entire items from your inventory, meaning that monitoring and observability over your systems plays a huge part of the experience.
It goes without saying that D55 takes every opportunity to take part in these events, not only because we genuinely enjoy them (and sometimes win!), but because we believe we learn an incredible amount in a very short space of time. Although the setting is fantastical, the set up is as close as you can get to a “Real World” AWS environment as you can get, including infrastructure and a high level of traffic, without investing thousands of hours and untold amounts to set up yourself. Teams get to work with services they may never have touched before, and get hands on use with setting them up, deploying and managing at scale, and even a look at what AWS considers best (and worst!) practices when working with them. Navigation of the Management Console, Documentation and Monitoring services under time pressure brings a fluency and understanding that would be hard to gain otherwise. And just as importantly a team’s “soft” skills can be improved – leadership, delegation, communication and working together under pressure can all be tested and strengths and weaknesses, both individually and within the group dynamic, can be highlighted quickly. We’ve never walked away from a GameDay, even ones we haven’t performed well in standings wise, and considered it a loss.
AWS Jams are similar in many respects to GameDays but deviate in some small and large ways. While there are large competition like one-off events throughout the year, there are also constantly running smaller Jams available at any time online, most of which can be played as either a team or solo, and which can be picked up and put down as and when you please. There’s no over-arching storyline to follow through but each Challenge, made up of a few sequential tasks, will have a narrative relating to the area you are working in. Jams tend to centre around a single discipline, such as DevOps, Data or Game Tech, and provide a good way to practice and affirm skills in those areas – it’s easier to predict which services and systems you’ll be working with before you start. Although there are points, a leader board, and often prizes (I won a choice of Amazon home products recently for a second-place finish) the focus is much more on learning and understanding, with walkthroughs and hints along the way to help. There doesn’t tend to be a live team working behind the scenes but there are usually ways to ask for help from staff who will get back to you in due course. Jams are fantastic for short sharp immersion in the AWS infrastructure – again they can expose you to new ideas, services and practices you would not have had chance to try out before, without fear of accruing huge cloud costs by mistake. And they allow you to choose your own learning pace, often with no external pressure and plenty of guidance along the way.
I’m not sure whether you will have noticed but Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are pretty hot topics right now. It’s impossible to scroll through social media or tech news sites for more than a few second without hitting a story about the next huge advance. Leveraging their capabilities and understanding how they function are fast becoming essential skills to establish a career in tech. But starting off can feel daunting and even overwhelming. DeepRacer is here to help.
The premise is simple – use reinforcement learning to train an AI driven vehicle to complete the fastest laps of a track that it can, either in a virtual environment or in the real world using a scale model AI car. You control only a couple of parts of the process – the hyperparameters the AI Agent (the car) will use to train, and the Reward Function which will determine if is doing the right thing or not. AWS setup controls everything else, spinning up the instances to house the ML, the virtual environments and the competition with other challengers. What takes a few short hours to pick up takes a huge amount of time to master as you play with tweaking a hyperparameter here, trying a new way of rewarding the agent there; desperately trying to shave a few seconds of your model’s track time. The competition is fierce, but the potential rewards are huge, and before you know it you’ve absorbed a huge amount of learning about possibly the most important technical skill of the next 100 years of innovation.
That was a whistle stop tour of some of the ways D55 use Games and Gamified Learning to improve our knowledge and skills. Next time I’ll take you through AWS’ ‘Entry level’ Learning RPG CloudQuest, as well as touch on some non-AWS offerings that I use personally to develop my skills, disciplines and even learn new coding languages. I’ll also talk about how writing your own games and competitions can be just as valuable for developing in your tech career.
If you'd like to work for or with D55, talk to us here: https://d55.co.uk/contact