How To Get A Job In Virtual Reality
How To Get A Job In Virtual Reality
It’s impossible to walk 10 feet in Silicon Valley and not run into a VR/AR enthusiast. The space seemed intimidating and ‘fringe’ when I first started my virtual foray five years ago and has since exploded in popularity. With the upcoming launch of Playstation VR, Oculus Touch controllers, cheaper VR compatible PC’s, and Google Daydream, more folks than ever before will have access to immersive entertainment, education, communciation, and much more — with VR. VR’s global hub is Silicon Valley at present, but VR centers in China, Japan, Switzerland, England, Turkey, and France are emerging rapidly as well. I’m not alone in believing VR/AR will be the next great computing platform. With that, I’m often approached with questions on how one can get involved in this burgeoning industry. I wanted to share some answers that I often share for techies and non-techies alike who are interested in joining the VR and AR world.
If you’re a newbie (‘noob’) to the VR scene, check out UploadVR for an initial industry primer. It originally started as a news site for all things VR, but quickly evolved to become much more. Already, the Upload Collective in San Francisco (and soon to be in LA and elsewhere around the world) is a community and expertise hub for all things VR and AR. Whether informal networking happy hours, educational workshops on how to build in VR, raise money for a VR startup, or insightful classes on developer programs at Oculus or HTC, Upload’s events have everything a VR noob needs to get plugged in. Note: I’m an advisor to UploadVR.
Headset manufacturer, HTC Vive, also has various programs that provide investment capital, VR equipment, developer support, and office space as part of its Vive X incubator program. Vive invests between $50k and $350k per ‘incubee’ and the program lasts for 4 months. They have beautiful Vive X offices and ‘hangout’ space in San Francisco, and are setting up similar centers in China and Taipei. They host regular events and outreach efforts to developers and VR entrepreneurs that I recommend attending if you’re interested in getting better acquainted with the VR developer community.
Other events to attend (or volunteer at) are SVVR in Silicon Valley or VRLAin Los Angeles. Key west-coast VR events throughout the year include GDC for game developers interested in VR, VRX, GamesBeat, VR on the Lot, and of course, Siggraph, the leading visual effects and design conference. There are many others, but these are some of the ones I found most helpful as a newcomer.
In addition to UploadVR’s free content, there are plenty of other resources available for primer learning: Road To VR, GreenLight VR reports, The VR Fund’s industry landscape map, CB Insights’ VR report, Traxn’s VR/AR reports, and then just the general tech press (Techcrunch, VentureBeat, Re/Code) which all cover the VR industry. Follow VR thought leaders on Twitter. Friends and co-investors such as Tipatat Chennavasin, Greg Castle, Gavin Teo, and Amitt Mahajan follow the space closely so you should also check out their social media feeds for up to date comments, blog posts, and curated industry news.
Say you’ve done your homework and read all the content on the above sites. You’re ready to level up and learn HOW VR works. Fortunately, there are formal training options for VR-specific curriculums beginning to emerge.
At OC3 (Oculus Connect 3) it was announced that Oculus would roll out a series of training and educational programs to help developers better understand the platform. Online education content classroom, Udacity, will soon offer a ‘nano degree’ in VR over 6 months, in partnership with Google Daydream, Unity, and HTC Vive. Then there’s the UploadVR Academy that is a condensed curriculum offered over eight weeks.
For those with gaming industry experience, VR is a bountiful hiring ground. Having invested in several gaming companies in the past, my partners and I are often asked about VR game development by friends and colleagues working for mobile, PC, or console game publishers.
All major VR headsets are pushing games first and foremost above all other forms of content. Oculus announced that it has invested $250m in content for its platforms and I’d assume that most of this content funding has been funneled towards game developers. Game studios such as Playful in Austin, TX, and Insomniac Games, creators of the upcoming VR title, The Unspoken, are hiring talented developers and designers looking to break into VR. Animators and 3D modelers from the gaming and visual effects worlds are similarly in high demand for VR and AR companies at present. Solid experience in working with Unity and Unreal is helpful, and not only for VR game development. Unity’s recent big fund raise was largely predicated on the belief that Unity would become the virtual world itself — i.e. the base layer of the Matrix, in pop culture parlance.
UI/UX designers will have their moment in VR/AR as the new medium’s user interface and experience are optimized for the first time. No flow or design template has been defined as the de-facto best and designers I’ve spoken to have really been able to let their creativity run wild in defining new interaction archetypes. Bringing a user’s hands into VR through the Oculus Touch controllers, for example, ushers in a new category of input gestures and controls. Understanding input and interaction spaces for room-scale VR vs. static or 360 video will be fruitful fodder for UI/X folks as VR/AR grows in popularity.
Artificial Intelligence & Computer Vision
One longer term area that will grow significantly is the intersection between artificial intelligence and AR/VR — giving ‘bodies to bots’ and populating VR and AR worlds with sentient holograms. Folks with machine (and deep) learning experience are in high demand right now as are those with computer vision expertise to better inform virtual world characters as well as to make better sense of the real world around us as we’re immersed. These skills apply to more industries than just AR and VR though however. For example, as an early investor in Cruise Automation, we saw the impact that computer vision had on autonomous vehicles, with cameras recognizing road markings and street signs with increasing accuracy over time. If you’re a talented computer vision engineer, you have a whole host of exciting job opportunities ahead of you, especially in virtual and augmented reality.
If you’re looking to join a major VR platform company, then ‘Big Tech’ is worth considering. See here for VR jobs at Microsoft HoloLens, Facebooksocial VR (or Oculus for Rift careers specifically), and Google Daydream. Most positions are in engineering, but there are certainly opportunities in legal, UI/UX, marketing, and business development at present as well (though they are fewer in number for sure). In legal, for example, imagine all the questions that arise today around privacy and property rights; if Niantic Labs and a future version of Pokemon Go inspires gamers to trespass on physical property for purposes of capturing an augmented reality Pokemon, is Niantic Labs liable? If a graffiti artist tags the augmented reality ‘real estate’ digital overlay on your company’s building, is he subject to real world laws for defacing of private property? In business development, could you onboard licensed IP into VR or sign corporate customers to develop VR/AR applications for their businesses. In marketing, could you run the launch campaign for a new piece of VR hardware or plan for a new game or cinematic experience in VR, that tied in with a major real world press announcement. These are just a few examples of how broad the job opportunities go within VR right now — it’s not just for engineers!
At a big tech company, your role is likely to be far more segmented and regimented, but you will have access to tremendous resources and lower your risk significantly when compared to working at an early stage VR startup.
Steve Ballmer, ex CEO of Microsoft, once went a little nuts in his ‘developers, developers, developers’ speech. AR/VR is all about ‘community, community, community’ and it’s definitely an open and welcoming one. Conferences and meetups are happening globally in every major city where there is a significant tech hub. Just as you didn’t have to be in Cupertino or Mountain View to become a mobile developer for iOS and Android, so too are you unencumbered by any particular geo as a VR developer. In fact, Oculus and HTC content development grants are by no means restricted to American creators and international studios such as Owlchemy Labs and CCP Games have gone on to create pretty amazing VR titles with Oculus grant support.
You don’t necessarily have to be a jobseeker looking for a job in VR. Other stakeholders also matter to move the community forward. As a hiring manager, you should post your job listings with SVVR, UploadVR, AngelList, and in relevant forums on Reddit. As an investor there aren’t established channels for ‘dealflow’ in such an emerging category as VR and AR, so investing in the nascent community is important — i.e. it’s my job to invest in world class entrepreneurs looking to refashion existing industries within this new computing revolution. If you’re one of them, get in touch!
Sunny Dhillon is a founder and partner at @SigniaVC, an early stage VC fund in Menlo Park and San Francisco. He invests in VR/AR and consumer tech. Follow him on Twitter @Sundhillon and on Snapchat at @sunnydhillon25