Sarah Northway, Game Maker and Nomad

Photo of Sarah with a lobster hat
Smiling with a lobster hat
Hi, I'm Sarah Northway!

What do you work on?

I design and program indie video games. My most well known one is Rebuild, a post-apocalyptic strategy game for browsers and mobile phones. It's not your usual shoot-the-zombies-in-the-head kind of game; instead you manage a city of survivors and have to make tough decisions to keep them alive. It's written in Adobe Flash (AS3 / AIR) and took me about a year to make. I'm currently working on Rebuild 3, which I raised money for on Kickstarter.
The Rebuild game, being played on a phone
Playing Rebuild on a phone
I love being an indie game developer because I don't have a boss, so I can make whatever kind of game I want, and I can do it on my own schedule. I also get to wear a lot of hats as they say; I've done everything from art and sound to customer service. It means I never get bored, but some hats are more fun than others. Programming is my favorite part.
The Rebuild game, being played on a phone
Playing Rebuild on an iPad in the Phillipines

How did you learn to program?

I loved computers from a young age in the 80s and 90s, because I loved the games you could play on them. I learned shell scripting so I could run games, learned how to use BBSes so I could download games, then learned HTML so I could make websites about... I'll let you guess. I did my earliest real programming in first year college and fell in love with the world of puzzles and language that sits inside every piece of software. To me, programming is a game.
I majored in computer science, which involved far too much math and theory and circuit boards for my liking. I learned the most from working on projects that interested me, not from books or teachers. My favorite project was a game I wrote with a boy (my future husband!) about evolving insects.
The Rebuild game, being played on a phone
Programming in Panama

What do you do when you’re not programming?

The best, best part of being an indie game dev is being able to travel. My husband Colin and I sold all our stuff four years ago and have been traveling around the world making games since then, living in places like Japan, Thailand, Turkey, Honduras, and (right now) Brazil. We even made another game together called Incredipede, and it's also about bugs... sort of.
Lauren and Colin, living on a canal boat in Scotland
Living on a canal boat with Colin in Scotland
I'm crazy about snorkeling, hiking, exotic places and cultures, weird foods and strange creatures. I like cities and wilderness in equal measure, and I love the other indie game developers that we've met all over the world.
Lauren hiking through the hills of Greece
Hiking through the hills of Greece

What’s your one piece of advice for new programmers?

Today, if I was just starting to learn, I would choose something I really wanted to make (probably a game of course) and take it one step at a time, learning along the way as I go. There are so many free resources now, and so many tools to make programming easier. All you need is motivation, and the desire to make stuff is what drives me.
I leave you with me, wearing a horseshoe crab as a hat:
Lauren wearing a horseshoe crab as a hat