Skip to main content

A Conversation with Charlene Atlas

A Conversation with Charlene Atlas

The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association heard from Charlene Atlas, an Interaction Designer at Meta.

Below is the interview with Atlas.


1. What’s your story?

I love using technology to create magic moments. As a kid, I decided to make video games, so I could recreate the moments I had with my older brother playing games together. I earned a B.S. degree in Computer Science – Games, which is a joint degree program between the Engineering school and the Cinema school at the University of Southern California. While in the industry I transitioned from engineering to design, and from games to XR. To me, XR goes one step farther, putting us really into the worlds we create and also enabling us to bring digital content into our physical space. I really care about the “why” for the technologies we are building and enabling new capabilities for humanity. When I create new experiences, I look for that moment of delight that happens when someone has just seen or done something they never have before. It can be easy to create in a silo and forget we are making technology for people. There is great opportunity to create magic moments in XR, and my experience in games really gave me a head start. As science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and I work toward that every day.


2. What sparked your interest in working with the XR industry? And what was your point of entry?

While I was a quality engineer at Microsoft in the Xbox division, my test team got assigned to a very new and secret project that today we know as the HoloLens. We joined so early on, that we were doing exec demos every week to get support to keep the project going! That hands-on experience enabled me to learn a lot about XR technology.

During my time on HoloLens, I switched from engineering to user experience design. Working on multiple HoloLens launch applications and then innovating new technologies after the launch exposed me to the many experience and interaction challenges of XR.

With in-depth knowledge on both the technology and design sides of XR, I was in a great position to apply it to something new. As an Interaction Designer in Reality Labs Research at Meta, I work with scientists, researchers, and engineers to envision and create the far future of virtual and augmented reality.


3. How does your background and experiences shape your ability to do your job?

I see things from a unique perspective–my parents are from Haiti, I have a B.A. in Japanese Language and Culture, and I’ve been a musician most of my life. I have noticed instances of bias that others have overlooked, which is what is so crucial about increasing inclusion in XR spaces. If we have the same type of people making the future as who have made the past, we are very likely to create the same inequities and biases. We need to have a diverse workforce and we need to give them a seat at the table for making an impact. Beyond that, I also bring in a lot of new ideas! I’ve filed many patents and created new projects just by having a different mindset and a new lens to apply to long standing problems.


4. How would you describe your job in three words?

Designing better futures.


5. How has the industry changed since you started?

A lot more people know what VR is! The Meta Quest 2 has been a game changer in terms of increasing availability and access to VR. Hundreds of thousands of creators have shared their perspective and art through Spark AR! While my focus is more on AR through a glasses form factor, I am really excited about the power we are giving people today to create. The familiarity we are building now enables us to bring more people into XR in the future.

I am really excited for Meta, and other companies and organizations in this space to work together and bring the world along with us on this journey. I can’t wait for the feeling of presence with others and within virtual spaces that the metaverse will bring. We have a great start with Horizon Workrooms enabling collaborative work and Horizon Worlds providing new shared experiences and opportunities to create, but this is just the beginning. I am encouraged by our focus on the metaverse being accessible not just to VR headsets and future AR glasses, but also devices people are familiar with today, like phones and PCs. We don’t want access to be a barrier. Just like with the Internet, the metaverse should be something that everyone can participate in.


6. If you could give a younger person career advice, what would it be?

Find something you are passionate about and just do it. Don’t wait for having official credentials– just do. If you think you can’t do it, find out what the gap is and fill it. Find role models and review their careers on LinkedIn, read what they read, connect with them as mentors, whatever it takes.

Learn something new every day. Once you find a role, continue learning, and take time every once in a while to reevaluate if you are still doing what you love. Over time you get exposed to new fields, new roles, and new problems. Think about if there is something else that excites you and don’t be afraid to pivot.

None of this will be easy, but something a computer science teacher told me has stuck with me all these years. “If you can imagine something in enough detail, you can make it a reality”. Break down every problem into its smallest component parts, and it won’t seem so hard anymore.


7. At XRA we like to say the XR industry has a limitless future. What does that mean to you?

Limitless to me means that there are no bounds on what you can enable for the world. Right now, we are limited by our content being trapped in flat screens, keyboards and mice tying us down, and distance limiting our ability to be present with the people we care about. What we are doing in XR is creating the building blocks for the new way the world will operate. I can’t think of a more exciting field to be in right now. The work being done in XR will be some of the most impactful work of the next decade.