Everyone gets excited when a new technological frontier takes off. However, with rapid growth comes uncertainty. When the landscape is shifting dramatically, it can be difficult to identify a reliable plan for building a career in the emerging industry. I’ve interviewed four industry experts who have shared their top tips for starting a career in the emerging augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) industry.

Get to know the content and platforms

The obvious first step for breaking into a new technology platform is to maximize your time using the technology. Thus, it’s crucial to experiment with as many different types of AR and VR devices as possible. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Microsoft Hololens
  • Meta
  • Oculus Rift
  • Gear VR
  • Google Daydream
  • Google Cardboard
  • HTC Vive
  • Microsoft Mixed Reality
  • Playstation VR

It’s possible to get a demo of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift at Microsoft Stores in certain locations.

At this point, keep an open mind and explore as many different types of experiences and content as possible. Reflect upon why certain experiences were compelling and unique and why others were uncomfortable. By understanding virtual and augmented reality at a deeply personal level, you’ll intuitively know which types of content should and should not be created.

Dr. Helen Papagiannis is the author of Augmented Human. She elaborates on why it’s critical to focus on the human experience when creating for immersive technologies: “AR and VR experiences begin with imagining the potential of building fulfilling new realities and thinking critically about how these newfound capacities can enrich, enable, and empower humans. We must approach our work with deep thought, intention, and a commitment to bettering lives. Now that we have all of this incredible technology, how are we going to apply it to create a positive impact and uplift humanity?”

Breaking into AR/VR as a developer

Once you’ve played around with a range of devices, it’s time to start building virtual experiences. If you’re a developer, you may be able to hit the ground running, particularly if you have experience with game development.

Ricardo Parker is the founder of Chronos Global Academy, an academy that trains people to develop for augmented Reality and virtual. This AR/VR academy is based in Seattle and is expanding to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Parker advises engineers to “get started with building environments alongside experienced professionals. Once you’ve become familiar with various AR and VR platforms, you should start building projects as soon as you can and deploy projects rapidly. VR allows you to create a sandbox in which you can inhabit your own virtual world in a single day. Get up to speed on how the software works and then begin working on real projects.

There’s also the option of developing for augmented reality using HoloLens.

Parker continues, “The main thing is really to just get started on an idea that you can deploy quickly and start experimenting with. Work with a knowledgeable instructor to build real experiences. By first learning the basic and most important aspects of a game engine, you can start collaborating with professionals quickly.” Parker notes that with the current demand for talent, students are capable of being hired as full time developers after building an initial portfolio of experiences.

Breaking into AR/VR as a creative

Design and creativity are just as crucial to the success of immersive technologies as engineering. Creatives, in the context of AR/VR projects, are visionaries who can think of unique ways to use a 3D spatial canvas that were previously impossible with 2D screens.

Trevor Jones is an artist who specializes in augmented reality paintings. He provides some advice for creatives who are interested in breaking into the AR/VR space: “Augmented reality has enabled artists to blur the lines of what a physical painting can mean. It enables you as an artist to add creative stories or digital information about your work that changes the way people see your piece. For example, a static painting can become a living narrative, once scanned with a mobile device. What begins as a still image transforms into a video, animation or other digital content that can take the viewer into the mind of the artist; their inspiration, creative processes or to tell a story in a more visually engaging way.”

Jones continues: “Due to the wide usage of devices like smartphones and iPads, artists using AR can reach an audience at a mass scale. Creatives shouldn’t be afraid of technology, and instead view it as a tool they can use to distribute their work. If you’re a creative who is a recent graduate, you’ll have to quickly figure out how to make yourself stand apart from the crowd. AR is a unique and emerging way in which you can do this. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that you should not use AR just for novelty’s sake. Rather, you should think deeply about how AR extends your narrative and breaks creative barriers to enable things that couldn’t be done before. Make new, remarkable, and groundbreaking works of art.”

Breaking into AR/VR as a businessperson

This article will define a “businessperson” as someone who isn’t an engineer or a creative, and fits into a role such as sales, marketing, business development, and operations. Fortunately, many of these functions in a AR/VR company are essentially identical to similar roles in other companies. For example, a marketer could use Facebook ads to distribute a AR/VR application in the same way that she would for a nutritional supplement or boutique iPad cases.

Vinay Narayan, Technology Adviser and Executive Director at HTC Vive, gives advice to business types seeking roles in the VR/AR space: “In the current job market, candidates who lack specialist technical skills as developers or designers may find it harder to break into the industry. But that’s okay. Just like with any industry, it takes a multitude of skills and backgrounds to solve a problem and implement that solution or idea.”

Narayan continues: “Regardless of your technical aptitude, time in headset is paramount. Try the different VR platforms, from mobile, all in one, console and PC based VR. As you move to a more robust VR platform you’ll have a more immersive experience as well as understand the nuances of deploying each. Lastly, find content you love on each type of headset. Your passion combined with your hands on time will help develop a foundation for meaningful conversations. Even if you’re not technical, your ability to handle the business and marketing aspects of the project will show companies that you’re passionate about the industry and able to collaborate with technical types.”

Building a foundation

The consensus from these experts seems to be this: get started now, try as many different devices as possible, and start building things. In doing so, you’ll understand all of the elements of the process: from ideation, to project planning, to design and development, to beta testing, to a public launch. Even if you can’t code, building a basic VR experience from scratch will give you practical experience that you can use to set yourself apart from other applicants.

Michael Park is the CEO and founder of PostAR, a platform that lets you build, explore, and share augmented realities.

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®'s Game Dev program.