March 30, 2021

WHM Spotlight – Maria Camenzuli

Throughout the month of March, Zynga has spotlighted some of the incredible women that work at our game studios around the world in honor of Women’s History Month. We are concluding the celebration with a feature on Maria Camenzuli, a Senior Software Engineer based out of Zynga’s Boss Alien studio in Brighton, England.

As an avid gamer who had been working as a Software Engineer since completing her Computer Science degree in 2014, Maria took a master’s course in computer games technology in order to pivot towards a career in game development. Currently, Maria works on Zynga’s STAR WARS: Hunters game team, whose game is set to launch in 2021.

Continue reading below to learn more about Maria’s career journey, her experience with WAZ and gaining clarity on her goals, why she is #ChoosingToChallenge internal biases, and more!

Tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to Zynga.

I have been working as a Software Engineer ever since I completed my undergraduate studies in computer science in 2014. However, up until I joined Zynga, I had always worked outside of the games industry. It has always been my dream to make games though, so eventually, I signed up for a master’s course in computer games technology to work on steering my existing software engineering skills towards games development. While doing that, I signed up for a game development challenge and landed several job offers through that, including the one I accepted from Zynga.

What is your current role and responsibilities at Zynga?

I am a Senior Software Engineer working on the STAR WARS: Hunters gameplay team. What that means effectively is that I collaborate with our game design team to build the software systems required to bring the team’s vision for the game to life. We work in an iterative process where we build a feature, have it play-tested to see whether players are finding it fun and engaging, then acting on their feedback and iterating again.

Tell us about joining WAZ (Women at Zynga) and what the group has brought to you & your career.

Being a part of Women at Zynga has been fantastic because the group actively works to provide ongoing support to its members, both on a professional and personal level. I find it very refreshing to be in an environment where empowering under-represented genders and promoting diversity is something that is deliberately being done as part of the regular agenda, rather than it being an afterthought.

One particular event that the group hosted which I found incredibly helpful was a training session on dealing with impostor syndrome, because that is something I sometimes struggle with. I was also assigned a mentor from within the group last year whose insight really helped me clarify my career goals at the time.

How have mentors/leaders helped or inspired you throughout your career?

I think the way I approach my work every day is a direct result of lessons learned from my past mentors, especially the ones I had in the earliest days of my career. I remember being in awe of these people and the confident and skillful way they worked every day, which inspired me to want to be like them. This leads me to believe that having good examples to follow at the beginning of your career is invaluable. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Looking back, I think my younger self often felt like an outsider. Whether it was me being the only person in my group of friends who really just wanted to stay at home and play World of Warcraft rather than going to a party, or me being the only girl in the graphics programming class and the undergraduate game development jam, or having a different style than most people around me. Though this feeling didn’t generally stop me from doing what I wanted to do, it did bother me quite a bit at the time, so my advice to my younger self would be to not let this bother you at all. Find what you like doing and pursue it. It will be very rewarding.

 The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is #ChooseToChallenge (collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. We can choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge). How have you chosen to challenge? Or have you been inspired by a leader or mentor in your life who has chosen to challenge?

In my own life, I choose to challenge by rejecting suggestions such as ones I’ve been given in the past that as a woman, I should act in a predefined way, or have a predefined dress code. Sometime last year, we had some training at work about unconscious bias, which was a real eye-opener to the fact that we all have our biases. They are pervasive in society, unfortunately. So with that in mind, I am also trying to be mindful of my thoughts to try to identify any biases I myself might have against others.

What is your favorite Zynga game (past or present) and why?

STAR WARS: Hunters is my favorite Zynga game without a doubt, and not just because I’m working on it. Since we haven’t shared the gameplay for that with the world yet though, I’ll say that my next favorite at the moment is Harry Potter: Puzzles & Spells. Honestly, I didn’t think match 3 games were my thing when I installed it to check it out, but I was hooked very quickly. I think the game does an amazing job capturing and presenting the magical world of Harry Potter for players to interact with.

Tell us a surprising fact about yourself.

At some point late last year I started learning to sew. I was inspired to try it after watching some of Bernadette Banner’s videos on YouTube. She studies dressmaking history and hand sews a lot of beautiful historically accurate dresses from older time periods. I have no intention of trying to do the same thing, but her videos made me appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making clothes, which inspired me to try making my own. I really just want to make myself trousers, dresses, and skirts with usable pockets!