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A Conversation with Peggy Johnson

A Conversation with Peggy Johnson

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 Peggy Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Magic Leap.

Below is an excerpt of the interview with Peggy Johnson, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity. 


1) Can you tell us your XR story?

I’ve been passionate about the augmented reality industry since my early days at Qualcomm years ago. At the time, Qualcomm was developing a platform called Euphoria, which has since been sold to PTC. It was one of the first applications of augmented reality on mobile phones. For example, you could hold your mobile phone up and see digital content in your physical world — sort of like the early Pokemon Go type of technology. 

I joined Magic Leap about a year and a half ago now, following my time at Microsoft, but I was very inspired by the company’s vision to amplify human potential because I could see it as a tool for people to use in their daily lives — to put intelligently placed digital content in your physical world. Specifically, I was very much drawn to the healthcare industry’s potential in augmented reality, which I had envisioned during my Qualcomm days.


2) Was there a particular moment or person that really inspired you?

The founder of Magic Leap – Rony Abovitz – has always been an inspiration to me. He’s such a visionary. Rony could see the technology before it was even built. For me, that’s the kind of person who inspires me to get my creative juices going – someone who says, “Okay, what’s the next step?”.


3) What’s something in your background or identity that has shaped you and your approach to your job?

I had great experiences at Qualcomm and Microsoft, but I held the ambition to one day be a CEO, specifically, a tech CEO given my engineering background and 35-plus years in the tech industry. My job at Microsoft was amazing — it was probably one of the best jobs in the world. People used to tell me that all the time, especially because I got to work for the iconic world class leader, Satya Nadella. [I told myself] the only reason I would ever leave [Microsoft] was if I found the right CEO role, and that really surfaced with this opportunity at Magic Leap. I was familiar with AR, specifically with Magic Leap’s AR technology. I had the chance to visit the factory back in 2018, and then I got to see it built.

The other reason I was interested in being a CEO is that I have a daughter — she’s 31 now, and she’s watched me navigate this tech world from the very beginning. She saw firsthand that it wasn’t always easy to do, and I just had this deep desire to show her that a woman can be a CEO, even a tech CEO.


4) What do you think has changed in the industry since you started?

I’ve had the opportunity to watch quite the trajectory of the tech industry going back to the pre-mobile phone days at Qualcomm. There have been a couple of very big, evolutionary changes if you will. The first was obviously the PC. Personal computing changed how we lived, worked and played. Then the whole mobile revolution kicked off. I got to see all of that evolve through touch screens and voices becoming more common. 


5) If you could give a younger person career advice, what would that be? 

I often tell young women that it’s important to be your authentic self because I struggled with that for years. Every year I’d go through my performance review, and I’d receive the same feedback. I’m quite introverted, and [I’d get feedback saying] “you don’t speak up enough” or “we don’t hear from you often enough”.  I had a challenging time communicating in a room full of people and finding space to break into a conversation. I would drop by people’s offices, I’d send an email or call them on the phone, so I was communicating, just not enough. 

I started trying to be that person, the extrovert, but it made me uncomfortable. I was being someone I wasn’t, so my advice is to be yourself. 

As a manager I always try to make a very conscious effort to find each individual’s unique strength, recognize their superpower, and then create space for them to put that to use rather than dictating how they should act or behave. 


6) What does the limitless future of XR mean to you? 

The limitless future of XR reminds me of the mobile phone’s trajectory. In the beginning, you couldn’t make a phone call away from a phone booth. But look what it’s become today. Now you can use your phone to make a call, read the news, watch a movie, create and post content, and browse the internet from anywhere, and I think the potential for XR is exactly the same.

There really is a limitless future because we don’t even know exactly how it’s going to change the world ahead. For instance, in health care, during surgery, you can have an AR headset on, see the patient and then put digital markers on the patient to trace the surgical pathways. You can put screens up at a comfortable viewing position for the doctor, rather than having them strain their neck to see the physical device. We’re just at the beginning of what this technology will do for our workers, and really for ourselves, going forward.

I do believe, eventually, everyone will have some kind of XR device in the same way that we have a mobile phone because it’ll augment how we go about our day, how we live, how we work and how we play. 


7) Do you have any final thoughts?

I think because we’re still in the early days of the XR industry, there’s such an opportunity for diverse voices to be heard, and to impact the products that are built. We should think of it as an opportunity for everyone to have a real impact. We’re saying, “We want to hear that voice. We want to understand how this technology can help everybody.” That’s a siren calling out to people to come join the industry.