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 sat down with Julie Smithson, the Co-Founder of MetaVRse. Smithson is also the Co-founder and Board Chair for XR Women.
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Julie Smithson, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. Julie, tell us your XR story.
My XR story started back in 2010. My husband and I created the emulator, the world’s first touchscreen DJ controller. We created touchscreen technology for the music industry and it was excellent. We were on Dragons’ Den and pitched it. We were entrepreneurs back then, just like we are today. That was my gateway into immersive technology. Now, [the technology] seems really simple but back then the Windows tablet wasn’t even launched, and we were designing touchscreen technology to control music.
Then, in 2015, we started a VR and AR company, and we started to design and build all sorts of things to learn about the different technologies, the different applications and 360 videos; we had a VR photo booth; we did AR applications.
Where are we today? We merged with another company, and we built our own game engine. And now we’re producing projects built on our game engine, which is built for the web to deploy immersive experiences. So that’s a bit about my metaverse and my gateway into this realm.
2. Julie, do you have a technical background?
No, not at all. I went to school for Hotel Management. I think that’s one of my key skill sets — bringing hospitality and that personality of being able to communicate and collaborate with others. I am not the coder behind all the magic.
3. In moving into this space right, did you have someone who was an inspirational figure?
So, I think, inspirationally, my husband was always the visionary, sharing his knowledge about what was to come and what the future was like, so I understood and learned from him. [At this time] the people around me were male. The people who influenced me were other males, and only until a few years ago did I start to receive other influential women through the VR arena.
As of right now, every woman I meet inspires me. So I would say, all of the women, including you ladies [at the XR Association], and the many women in this industry, right now, are an inspiration to me.
4. Can you share an anecdote that speaks to what working in an immersive technology space as a woman means?
I talk a lot about women’s skill sets in the industry, which are differentiated from males. I’ve seen some of the skill sets that women offer. Because we’re mothers we tend to put relationships as ‘necessary’ in our world. We also see things from very different perspectives. I think that women will lend themselves to the digital translation of immersive technologies very well in this industry.
Men can sometimes have tunnel vision in designing things, and it’s not until women [get involved does that]creativity to explain things with a bit more sentiment [happen]. They are working to make technology more welcoming and embracing.
There [are so many] leadership skills that women have that many of them don’t know they have. It’s because they haven’t been able to speak up before or have been talked over by men. Hence, I think the most significant accomplishment for a woman is to be able to speak up and voice their opinion.
5. Do you think that the XR industry is a new way to interact with digital technology, which provides a unique opportunity for women?
Yeah, absolutely. There’s so much to do in this realm. I’m working with a medical manufacturer, translating procedures and steps that have to be applied to medical machines. Training that translation alone is educational.
I always said that the essential handbook, and the manual would be the most effective form of immersive translation. I’m working with hundreds, sometimes thousands of steps that you need to go through in an immersive experience to train somebody to explain things differently.
This is where I believe that women will be able to lend themselves to speed up that process of translation because we’re good at education, whether we’re teachers or not.
6. What does that mean when we start buying digital goods in immersive worlds? How does that work?
I’m part of the metadata reversal program where we’re starting to talk about all of these policies and procedures, privacy standards, and focusing on how do we shape avatars, how do we shape these digital worlds that they all blend because at this point it’s not a competition, it’s about how to work together and blend our systems together so that people do feel safe. There’s much collaboration that needs to take place with more prominent companies that hold much power to create these things, these places to collaborate and meet. And I think we have to be careful about how fast we reach the finish line.
7. If you would give a woman some career advice about the XR industry, what would that be?
Everybody is creative in one way or another. [You should work on] unlocking that as early as possible. Creativity doesn’t have to be about drawing or coloring or designing something; it can be just about putting something together. I think of myself; I’m not a technology person, but I’m not really a creative person either. I’m that person in between that can creatively put these experiences together, and that’s a unique talent, but it’s also one that’s available for anybody to learn.
I wasn’t brought up with a technology background, and I didn’t go to art school, but here I am in the middle of building out immersive experiences for medical training applications and marketing experiences.
The world is your oyster. The coding aspect, to hardware management, to world-building and right down to instructional design —there’s so much opportunity. Start with what you love to do.
8. So tell me a bit about XR Women and how you got involved there?
Back in the fall of 2020, co-founders Karen Alexander, Sophia Moshasha, Sarah Klein and I started a group of women that wanted to meet every week. We felt there needed to be a body of support out there that can be there for women.
I learned about the Virbela iLRN Campus where we could meet virtually, and that was around Christmas time, 2020. We held events every single Wednesday. And to date, we’ve done over 65 events. We have over 475 members from over 42 different countries.
We all attend every week, at the same time, at the same place. We hold sessions about medical applications, about aviation applications, marketing, art designs, etc. We learn from a woman about the XR industry every week.
Everybody is welcome. And in our eyes, everybody is an XR woman.
9. We like to talk about XR with a limitless future. What does that mean to you?
Sure, I think limitless futures means that we’re only at the beginning of this technology, even though it’s been developing for years. But there’s so much to work for; there are so many problems to solve and many things to be a part of. There are so many platforms to gain knowledge about.
If you’d like to learn a different language you can do that and you can learn so many other things, and then apply those interests back into this technology; it becomes unlimited and limitless.
10. Thank you so much for that. Are there any final thoughts?
Well, I’m proud to be the co-founder of our MetaVRrse. Who knew that a word would become a household name! I’m proud to be able to produce immersive technology for one of the world’s leading healthcare companies and I’ve learned so much from this experience that it continually applies back into other production levels.