An incubator of women leaders

Member Spotlight -  Erin Pangilinan

Name: Erin Pangilinan

Job / Title: Lead Co-Editor and Contributor, Software Engineer and Computational Designer, Stealth Tech Entrepreneur

Company: O’Reilly Media

Industry: Technology, particular to Spatial Computing, Augmented + Virtual + Mixed and eXtended Reality (AR VR MR XR)

Q: From your perspective, what are the most important trends that will take place in your industry in the next 10 years?

Erin: I see clear trends in emerging tech, particularly Augmented + Virtual + Mixed + eXtended Reality (AR VR MR XR) - known as spatial computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The future of the human computer interaction, the user interface powered by AI will be a new paradigm that will advance the future of work, medicine, and everyday life as we know it. In addition, as spatial computing evolves the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors in combination with AI will be a gamechanger for this space.

Q: Given your position in technology and manufacturing, how has your work or workplace changed in the last 5 years, and what do you foresee as changes in the next 5 – 10 years?

Erin: The landscape for spatial computing has changed dramatically already in the last 5 years being in this industry. We are at our Palm Pilot moment waiting for Nokia “snake” app and eventual iPhone moment. Many companies in each area of spatial computing have died and other areas from the 80s revived, other new companies are already profitable in the mobileAR space no one saw coming (Pokemon Go, SnapChat).

I’m also particularly excited about new markets being developed with this technology, particularly with the launch of Oculus Enterprise (ranging from applications in healthtech, training, and sportsXR), which are becoming a multi-billion dollar business coupled alongside the gaming industry. This has made spatial computing more mainstream and on track for mass adoption as newer and lighter weight headsets are developed. While it isn’t there yet, in another 5-10 years, it will definitely be seen as backward to have thought that it was a fad for those who have claimed it to be. If not a pair of glasses, or contacts, or another Head Mounted Display (HMD), mobileAR itself has proven out business models and is already impacting millions of people. The main paradigm shift for spatial computing is being able to interact with interfaces that are three dimension and more natural than the past paradigms.

If seen as unfashionable for the device itself to be a wearable, I anticipate that the future of IoT (Internet of Things) and sensors would be the next evolution that powers the future of work through physical space. The interactions we would learn from AR VR MR XR would be the learning foundation for human computer interaction that would be the game-changer to bring it into that arena.

Q: If you can share one piece of advice that you know now about navigating your career, what would that be?

Erin: Don’t be afraid to share. I sat in the back of the room at my first tech meetup events - which I helped organize - thinking I was not experienced enough to speak thoroughly about the subject at that time!

Then, relatively early on, I did speak in front of the room, putting myself front and center, which helped me build up confidence to speak publicly. Writing my first technical blog, event coverage of a tech conference focused on AI AR VR at the intersection of medtech and healthtech, I received good traction, being featured in other Medium magazine publications. Linking this as a link to my LinkedIn profile and simply asking for other opportunities to publish, opened up a door. I turned down one publisher who pitched an opportunity to write a book, but I went and pitched with another.

Giving myself the space to share a few tidbits of a knowledge went a long way. I now have an internationally acclaimed book translated in multiple languages and speak regularly about my industry. The law of attraction is real, and when you put out positive energy and work, it reflects right back at you. Over time, I’ve come to learn that no one is a complete expert on emerging tech, as it is in its early stages, interdisciplinary, and it evolves rapidly daily. This helps keep the content that I share fresh and up to date with the latest trends and also gives me other areas to explore in the future.

I had to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (even living in Silicon Valley) as I transitioned into a tech career from civic engagement, public policy, issue-based and electoral campaigns. This was critical for me. Transitioning my career became much easier as I started putting out my work and sharing my thoughts on the industry, (technical with code and without code). It helped me establish a solid foundation of my specialty in the tech industry.

Q: What role has mentorship played in your career?

Erin: Over the course of my career, I have had many mentors giving me employment and learning opportunities for various soft and hard skills. I was encouraged early on to have my own personal board of directors in various areas of my career. I found some that could provide me with expertise in particular roles and areas of the industry I was learning about, others that encouraged my pursuit of entrepreneurship, and others who gave me the go-ahead to publish my major technical text under a mainstream publisher. All helped me become more successful.

Having meetings ad-hoc or someone to be able to call or email to provide me guidance has helped me see a broader view of my long-term trajectory, as well as also take in strides when navigating career challenges on a daily basis, handling various professional situations. Critical questions from more senior engineers and women authors drove me to reflect more deeply on what I value and to better utilize my energy in the most productive areas of my professional and personal life. It got me to see outside myself so that I knew when to pick and choose my battles, manage my energy and become more selective with my time, the dollar amount for my professional work, energy for my non-profit work, which folks deserve my attention for being in my environment on a regular basis.

Additionally, I’ve found that mentorship paired with sponsorship is a recipe for success. Sponsorship is as important as mentorship.

The key difference for me between mentorship and sponsorship for me was when I had two folks who had published several texts before who were both technical, straight white male allies in the Virtual Reality (VR) space and also fellow Filipina Americans with PhDs focused on data science to understand what I was getting into. While both gave me a very short map of what to expect when pitching my first major publication, they both gave me the opportunity and endorsement to do so.

It is often said that women and women from underrepresented communities, particularly, women of color are over-mentored and under-sponsored. What I mean by that is, having a sponsor for my endeavors has allowed me to grow in my career in ways I had not imagined before. Being given the opportunity to write, produce, and release content to a major publisher in the tech industry is not something everyone has and is also a privilege. Having the backing of legends in my industry, one of whom had published 3 books under the same publisher was also instrumental in my success. It helped give me much more confidence in securing and finalizing and my book proposal and officially landing me a book deal to a contract and bringing a print text with mass distribution into fruition. For the many authors and artists that I know, many receive negative feedback or have faced countless rejections with every application submission or audition. Having support from others that I know have my best interests at heart, having someone else in my corner was huge in helping me establish additional credibility to realize my endeavor and pushed me through the process successfully as there would be no question that I was going to publish my major technical text.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?

Erin: In Silicon Valley, being contrarian and being right is the ultimate combination for leadership. I was rejected by other potential contributors at major VR tech companies, told that my book concept was not good enough. I was also told by many others that SnapChat was not truly Augmented Reality only to find that a year or so later, everyone was raving about Facebook’s effects on Instagram and SparkAR platform that mimicked much of what SnapChat was already doing with AR. Leadership sometimes means being the first of many to create a path others haven’t walked before and facing rejection from many types of people only later to find out that you were actually right. Be the person to lead others even when skeptics and critics don’t believe in what you have to say.

Leadership means setting an example for others to follow. It means serving others, putting the needs of others and the larger community above self-interest, and being clear about vision and value metrics of success in what one considers a true victory. Many times in Silicon Valley, particularly from men and even men of color in underrepresented communities, I have seen many focus merely on transactional relationships and this actually hurts them in the long-run. Because network effects are so critical to the success of many in career development, leaders who possess integrity and authenticity garner the kind of respect that I think most leaders are recognized for, those that truly champion their company or cause. These traits of leadership are differentiators that make it clear what kind of person one is working with among the noise of folks wanting to make their quick buck.

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