What kind of portfolio is good for someone becoming a mid-level gameplay programmer? Is only job projects enough or should I make some games on my own as well?

Let's consider things from the hiring manager's perspective. As a hiring manager, I have a bunch of specific tasks I need to hire and pay someone to do for me. My ideal candidate will have the necessary skills to do these tasks in a timely fashion and be able to work with and communicate with the rest of the dev team. I am looking for candidates who can show me that they can do the work. The most persuasive way to do that is to show me that they've done that kind of work already.

It is obviously most persuasive if a candidate has demonstrated those skills in a professional environment - it means another company was willing to pay them to do that kind of work. However, it is still pretty persuasive (if not most persuasive) if the candidate can demonstrate those skills elsewhere - in an amateur environment, on a volunteer basis, etc. If you have work experience to show - by all means show it. If you have hobbyist experience to show - show me that too. Relevant hobbyist experience (e.g. building your own mod) is still much more persuasive than irrelevant work experience (e.g. two years as a barista).

If you're aiming for a mid-level position, you need to understand the difference between junior and mid-level. Junior positions are usually technically proficient but do not have the understanding to do things on their own. Juniors need direction and mentorship. We rarely leave them to their own devices. Mid-level programmers need to have more autonomy and less oversight. This means that your lead can assign you a task and you'll generally be able to solve the problem through code without a lot of direction. An ideal mid-level gameplay programmer candidate has built at least one or two robust gameplay systems on their own and can talk at length about the problems they had to solve, the benefits and drawbacks of code solutions they wrote, and the things they would do differently if they had the chance. Those gameplay systems should be performant, self-contained, and stable at the minimum. Gameplay systems that are data-driven and have built-in extensibility for adding new functionality are even better - that's starting to creep into senior dev territory.

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