Tell us what you do!
Day-to-day, I’m programming, writing code, and developing the background logic for 3D or 2D applications. It’s about creating the functionality, how something works behind the scenes. The moment you click a button, what does it trigger, what happens after that? Or you move a character, or an avatar, what happens?
There are different titles for the term - software engineer, programmer, developer, but essentially, it’s coding.
At what part of the project do you get involved in?
In my time at MAGNOPUS, it’s not been in the initial bidding process or proposing ideas. I’m not involved in the proof of concepts - it’s much later down the line.
Once we’ve secured the business and we need to deliver something, that’s when I would come in. How do we actually do this? How do we make it a reality? That’s when my head starts ticking - how would I do this? As you break down the problem you might have to do further research, you might have to draw on what you’ve done in the past, you might consult with other team members. And you ask “Is this the best solution? Is this the most robust solution? Is this going to take forever to do? Am I overcomplicating it?”
I used to work for startups and a larger company called BAE Systems - there’s no visual component, like immersive or 3D applications. It’s number crunching. Now, the work needs to be visually appealing, it needs to have a certain level of interactivity, and it needs to perform really smoothly because it’s being used in real-time. It’s not something where you can just run a query to retrieve some data on a database, and you don’t mind if it takes two hours to a certain degree, and you’ll get a result back. This needs to work 60 times a second. It’s a really good challenge.
Let’s take a step back them – how did you get to this role?
I came out of university with an AI and Computer Science degree. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to become a pure developer, so I joined a company called Detica, which was eventually taken over by BAE, but they were just doing software development within the government and security space. Here I got to work on very big data projects, and it taught me about how to work in large teams, communicate with clients but also good processes and good engineering. But after working there for eight years I wanted to find something I could be more passionate about.
What really pushed me to try something new was when I tried a HTC Vive headset. I was just blown away. So I started teaching myself Unity in my spare time and building games on a really basic headset, Google Cardboard.
I kept thinking, how can I get more of this into my day job? I was craving probably something a bit more adventurous at that stage. I joined a company called Massless.Io and they were making a VR pen – they needed someone to create the underlying software just to demonstrate what you could do with a pen. I was brought in with my Unity experience, and my engineering experience to come in and do that.
I learned a lot there, but soon wanted to further develop my programming skills, and that’s when I came across MAGNOPUS. They were doing very interesting things in the entertainment space with some really interesting partners.
So I have shifted a lot in my career. I think it is possible. There are people who think it’s not, but it is. It does require investment in time and training, and to build your portfolio.
"To a large degree, the coding is similar to other coding domains, but it’s that visual side that is awesome, when you type something in, and then you see something visual come out. That instant feedback, I think, is very different compared to other programming roles."
How did you do that?
I built a VR project in my own time, being at my day job I never would have learnt any Unity skills. I needed to do that to show employers I was genuine and that I was serious about it. It’s a competitive space but you’ve got to start from somewhere.
The shift seems to have been really positive! What do you love about it now?
It’s when you come into work, and you see what the industry is doing – like you see that Unreal has created the meta-human creator, I am just like, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing.” You get excited that we might be able to use those tools. This space is just hundreds of companies doing so many different things, creating all these great tools, and potentially getting access to that, and it seems quite rapid and exciting. That’s not to say the data analysis or Big Data space isn’t exciting, but I think the visual side of things is really interesting. I’ve always loved gaming, and it’s nice when you get to work on things that you are passionate about.
To a large degree, the coding is similar to other coding domains, but it’s that visual side that is awesome, when you type something in, and then you see something visual come out. That instant feedback, I think, is very different compared to other programming roles.
So that’s what you love. What about what’s hard?
I think a lot of coding can be frustrating. It does require a certain problem-solving mentality. You’ve got to be able to get past that problem. Patience is something you have to really develop.
What other skills are important?
Your communication. You have to be able to communicate to those on the art side, the project managers, and sometimes that can be difficult, especially if they are non-technical. You’ve got to be able to argue your case – whether it’s trying to use a particular type of technology or why you are taking a certain approach. You’ve got to be able to receive criticism and feedback too, in order to improve - and know how to deal with that.
Why is XR such an exciting place to be?
Everyone keeps talking about the metaverse and this continually persistent online world. I think it’s a little bit of a way off, but I think possibly the headsets, once that becomes more ubiquitous and affordable, and literally, everyone is doing it or has a headset, I think then you might start seeing some really interesting applications being created. I don’t think VR has had its killer app yet, and so I’m interested in what that’s going to be. Or, perhaps I should be thinking about being interested in creating it. People like us are the ones who have to go and play with the technology, and create that future - someone has to build it, so why not us!