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A push for more women in computer science

At the top of her field in the video game industry, Jade Raymond is helping encourage other women to study computer science through a new bursary at McGill 

When Jade Raymond, BSc’98, studied at McGill’s School of Computer Science, she was one of few women in the program and “I think the only woman I knew in my year who went and got a job as a programmer in computer science after graduating.”

Raymond became a trailblazer in the video game industry, helping create the huge hit Assassin’s Creed, and building studios from the ground up for Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. 

Along the way, Raymond has felt passionate about encouraging women – and young people, in general – in their careers. That extends to McGill’s School of Computer Science where she has established a new undergraduate bursary. The Jade Raymond Bursary for Women in Computer Science will be awarded to up to two women students annually based on financial need and good academic standing.

“I was a woman in computer science. I paid for school, my books, everything myself,” says Raymond, who worked overnight shifts at a hospital as a McGill student.

“I want to pay forward the success I’ve had in my career and hope that I can help other women achieve similar success in computer science and move the needle a little bit,” says Raymond, founder and president of Haven Studios. She also hopes the bursary inspires younger girls to consider studying computer science. 

Raymond co-founded Montreal-based Haven Studios in 2021. She had been leading the Games and Entertainment division at Google’s now-shuttered gaming venture – Stadia– when the tech giant decided to no longer pursue the games industry and it ceased production on its games in development. 

“The time finally felt right to start up our own studio,” says Raymond. “With Google’s agreement to hire anyone that was in my org, all I had to do was go find funding.  It was an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade for the team.” About 25 Google staffers from her former team joined Raymond at Haven Studios, which received funding from Sony to develop a prototype of a new video game. 

A year later, Sony acquired Haven Studios, making it the first PlayStation Studio in Canada.

“My first job was at Sony. So, it’s a full-circle moment that Sony ended up buying my company,” she says. Raymond considers it the best outcome because "the types of big blockbuster games that we make” require hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, Sony respects the importance of each studio having its own creative identity and culture, she says. 

“We have a brand-new franchise that we’re bringing to life,” Raymond says of “Fairgames”, a competitive action heist game.

How was it for her in a male-dominated video game industry early on?

Raymond says she had a great first boss – Jeff Lind – who encouraged her and invited her participation in technical architecture meetings. In one meeting in particular, when facing a challenging programming problem that had stumped the team, Raymond thought back to her data structures and algorithms course at McGill and said: “Oh, we could use a state machine to do that.’ And then my team of senior programmers look at me and say, a state machine, yes! We could use the state machine,” she recalls.

“I had never actually written a state machine in my assignments or anything, but I knew from the coursework I had done that that would solve this problem.”

Raymond found work as a programmer fun and gratifying. She went on to become a producer in technical and creative roles, then a studio lead and a founder – “and I’ve loved my career journey every step of the way,” she says.

In 2019, Raymond received the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s Andrew Yoon Legend Award. “While the games Jade has helped create have been trailblazing, her contributions as an industry leader have been equally noteworthy: Jade has been a clear voice and important example in making the game business more inclusive,” the group said at the time.

Raymond has heard from young women gamers who told her that seeing her in a leadership role helped them realize they could find a place in the industry, too.

“That really warms my heart when I hear that,” she says. 

Increasing access for women to study computer science

The student make-up has changed considerably since Raymond studied at the School of Computer Science: women made up 38 per cent of undergrads at the School in 2022-23. Among universities in Canada, McGill has the highest proportion of women studying computer science at the undergraduate level, says Mathieu Blanchette, the School’s director and an associate professor of computer science. 

Blanchette says the School realized that one of the main barriers of entry for women is the rigidity of programs – at many universities if you don’t know from Day 1 that you want to study computer science, you can’t opt to switch later. 

“We’ve worked really hard as a department to make sure that women students who discover that yeah, computer science is fun, that they have a way to join those programs,” adds Blanchette.

McGill has made a concerted effort to ensure built-in flexibility in programs – to provide ways to enter computer science through non-traditional paths, Blanchette adds. The School assigns top professors – many of whom are women – to teach introductory computer science courses. They’re doing a fantastic job at making all of their students, but women in particular, realize ‘hey, this is something I can do,’ Blanchette says. 

Raymond’s gift to the School will help continue these efforts, he says. 

“Beyond the donation itself, Jade is a wonderful role model for women in computer science,” Blanchette says, noting she is highly successful and has worked to create environments that are inclusive and fun for women to join. 

Bruce Lennox, Dean of the Faculty of Science, thanked Raymond for her generosity and vision in supporting the next generations of women in computer science at McGill.

“There are many ingredients for a successful academic experience and financial support is the cornerstone upon which everything else is built,” said Lennox. “Not only will Jade’s gift enable students to attend McGill, her story also resonates with students and helps open students to the idea that they too can do this. Representation matters.”