It’s really nice to start seeing these little collectives of people that are in the industry getting together to make stuff, and be a support system for one another.
What do you do?
I’m a developer for a new VR platform.
I started as an environment modeler and [since] then have taken on a lot more - mostly asset development, texturing, shading, and some scripting in Unity.
What led you to your current role?
I graduated from UCLA in 2008. I started there in physics, and then ended up in fine art. I took a job basically two weeks out of school with a regional chain of lawn and home improvement stores. I was their merchandise buyer [and] purchasing analytics person. Because I had some computer background, and the physics education, I was very familiar with number crunching and statistical analysis - so I applied for this job and got accepted, and I did that for seven years. Totally didn’t think I was going to be doing it for that long.
We were doing millions of dollars worth of purchasing and inventory turnover - that was always very rewarding to do and to get right. Then at one point I just decided I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.
I had a bunch of friends from UCLA who were tangentially in the video game industry, [and] I decided to go back to school. I went to Gnomon in Hollywood, and graduated in June. The program was Digital Production, but it was targeted specifically for video game development. It’s a very pointed certificate degree.
A former teacher of mine was going to be involved with my current company, and ended up taking up more work somewhere else, so introduced me to that position.
What did you want to be growing up?
My father introduced me to the sciences really, really young and film really, really young. The first movies I remember watching and dissecting with him were science fiction films. It was always along those lines; when I was a kid I wanted to be a physicist.
Did you feel encouraged or discouraged about going into technology?
It definitely wasn’t a friendly environment in my undergrad. Just because it’s a very very different culture and I think not quite - I don’t want to say not accepting of women, but there were just so few women in that program that at that point it was a little strange. It was definitely culture shock.
What is your first memory of being intrigued by technology?
I didn’t have a TV until I was 7; I grew up in a farm house. I didn’t have a lot of electronics.
The physics I was really interested in - and still am - is theoretical astrophysics, particle physics, so you’re relying heavily on computer projections to make judgments on things that you can’t always measure. I think that was really my introduction to it. It’s been interesting, too, because that field is so male-dominated. And then I went to video games - I’ve always been interested in those kind of fields. Math has followed me my whole life. Math and computers have followed me.
Have you had any mentors or champions along the way?
Meg Bittle and Marcia Perry are the two women who run the Youth Arts Collective in Monterey. They’ve always been my biggest support besides my parents, who are just incredibly supportive of everything that I wanted to do.
What do you want to learn next?
I’ve been getting into particle effects for game engines. I very much want to continue that, because there’s not a lot of people who do it, and it’s problem solving. Getting those simulations correct is something I want to explore.
Do you have any hobbies that are unrelated to your field?
I think it all ends up informing your work. I have a ton of plants, I’m really into botany. I feel it’s translated incredibly well into environment work - it all becomes very informative.
What motivates you?
Puzzle solving. VR has turned out to be the best for that, because you have to take every shortcut possible. If you’re doing cinematic film effects, you can use as many polygons as you want, you can use as many texture maps as you want, there’s no limit on asset optimization. With VR, you have to optimize everything. You have to run it at a higher frame rate, and run quicker because of the dual lenses. The puzzle solving aspect of that is what keeps me going.
What advice do you have?
The biggest hurdle I got over was talking to people who were telling me that you couldn’t make money doing art. That was the biggest thing. I would just say to anybody starting out in art fields is there are so many opportunities in special effects and in game design [where] you can make money making things.
It’s been a very friendly environment for me between school and this job, and then everybody I’ve met along the way - it’s a great community. I’m involved with Women in VR, which is a local group. It’s really nice to start seeing these little collectives of people that are in the industry getting together to make stuff, and be a support system for one another.