About 6 months ago, July 2021, prompted by some events from my personal life, I decided to re-evaluate my life. At 22 years old, I had moved back into my parents’ house after dabbling in being an animator in Japan and was working with a friend on a digital marketing advisory. Although working on a business had been a fulfilling new experience, we were not growing at a sustainable rate and I felt it was unethical to continue finding new clients when I did not trust we could bring proper results.
I also had recently broken up with my boyfriend at the time due to our relationship becoming increasingly strained. At that point, I felt like a failure who didn’t know how to make anything work. Not only had I drastically veered my path away from being an animator in Japan, but I had also failed as a founder and as a lover too. My mental health - well, let’s just say that I wasn’t in the best place with that either. My romantic relationship had served as an emotional crutch during uncertain times, and without that, I was forced to see my life and my unhappiness for what it truly was.
Two things I've always struggled with are making money and maintaining interest in one topic.
Deep in my grief, I faced some truths I had been putting to the side. Though thankful to have the financial support and love from my parents, I realized living with my family was triggering unhealthy relational patterns in me and preventing me from being myself. If I wanted to move onto the next stage of my life and grow, I needed to create new boundaries with my parents. Suddenly, I saw the urgency to earn a steady income that would allow me to move out into a place of my own and support myself independently. I saw how every day I spent in an unsupportive environment was corroding my sense of self and confidence.
At the same time, I knew it was important for me to stay true to my purpose and follow a path that feels good to me. My past decisions were based almost purely on ego and fears surrounding money. Those career decisions had only led me to temporary happiness and feelings of emptiness, and I didn’t want to repeat the mistake of making a career decision out of the need to prove myself to others or make lots of money.
"My purpose? I've always loved to learn, create and make things. The childlike artistic part of me that loves to gobble up knowledge, engage in new ideas and create projects and experiences that inspire others is a part of me that often goes neglected."
Since seeing Syrmor’s interviews with random VRchat users pop up on YouTube back in 2019, I have been and I am very interested in Social VR. I also realized the skills involved in VR development can be applied to all things I am passionate about - from mental health to alternative education and storytelling. In addition, because the VR and AR space is novel and full of creativity, there are many exciting problems and new discoveries waiting!
The decision to learn VR prototyping also represented facing an old curiosity of mine. I have always been interested in the tech startup world! However, a long-time belief I carried with me was that I’m not smart enough to learn to code or understand how tech and startups work. To dissuade me, I'd tell myself that I never fit in with the coding-type people at my high school and that tech was too rigid for my artist's brain.
"I wanted to face my resistance and stop waiting around for something to happen. My intuition told me that buckling down, learning VR development, and upskilling would bring new opportunities and growth."
One day inspiration struck me, and I decided to search up VR courses online, VR development Bootcamps, VR developer courses, complete Virtual & Augmented Reality Courses, Virtual Reality University Courses, brief, the best virtual reality courses, and so on..
Before, I had been trying to put together some projects in Unity but found that the amount of information on creating for VR was limited and difficult for somebody with no coding knowledge to understand.
I searched YouTube, my most beloved search engine, and looked for a channel with videos on how I could learn VR prototyping and look for opportunities in the space. That's where I came across XR Bootcamp's videos and website.
I didn't apply right away. The main issue was cost - I had been saving up money for the past year from freelancing gigs and taking this course meant using up almost all of my savings. And there was no certainty the skills I learned would help me earn back the money. Sure, I like risk, but boy...oh boy do I like certainty.
Then, one day I got a message on discord from Ferhan, one of the founders of XR Bootcamp. The thought of doing this Bootcamp felt expansive, positive, and exciting to me.
"So, I decided to take the plunge and choose to fully view spending my money as an investment."
XR Bootcamp Review: XR Bootcamp offers a Foundations and Prototyping course (VR Development Bootcamp) that covers coding and utilizes project-based learning. It takes place over the course of 16 weeks and begins by covering basic Unity and coding through project-based learning and challenging assignments. During the second 2 months, you pitch and create 4 solo prototypes, and finally, create an MVP in a team.
Learning basic 3D modeling concepts in Week 1 with pro builder
During the first 4 weeks of the VR Development Bootcamp, I was a sponge sucking up any and all information I could get my hands on. I had struggled on my own with Unity a previous couple of months, and getting access to answers and best practices resulted in showers of "Aha" moments popping up left and right.
I spent most of my time going over simple lines of code over and over again until I had no doubt in my understanding of syntax and organization of the code.
Week 3 proximity mine ragdoll physics assignment
The first time I'd attempted to learn a coding language, I had skimmed over the basics and failed terribly when more complex concepts came up. This time, I wanted my foundational building blocks of understanding to be solid.
My attempt during the first couple weeks to break down C# into intuitive chunks
Week 5 tin can toss assignment
During these weeks, we dove straight into VR. I began to notice the limitations of my knowledge and become aware of how much I still had to learn. I was repeating mistakes from Weeks 1-4, but I began to be able to notice these mistakes on my own without outside help. I was able to follow along with Unity tutorials and understand the code featured in the tutorials on my own.
One of my visual notes for learning coding
I also began to understand the limitations of VR and common challenges that must be faced in optimization, making an experience immersive, and simplifying an idea into its core components.
Week 6 fire propagation assignment
For a hoverboarding prototype, I literally attached a plane to a frictionless board
During these 4 weeks, we were left mostly to our own devices. The benefit: I had to face the blind spots in my knowledge head-on. There were behaviors I wanted to accomplish in VR that I had to figure out either with intensive research or entirely from scratch.
My fourth prototype took me the last time, yet feels the most polished
Although these few weeks were a struggle, by week 12, for the first time I felt that my coding abilities had solidified. I was able to write code without second-guessing and my prototyping speed dramatically increased. Through the struggle, I also ended up with 4 working solo prototypes.
The final stretch of the course involved working with a team to create a group prototype. I worked in a team of two other people on a hoverboarding game. For source control, we used GitHub. Working on a team presented its own unique challenges, different from anything experienced in the previous 12 weeks.
In the "real world" when you're working on a project it's usually on a team! Challenges that came up were group motivation, communication, and scoping challenges. In the end, we pulled through with a finished project which we presented to industry experts!
Scene concept sketch
Final project (From a 3rd person camera)
You can take a closer look at these projects on my website.
Scoping, scoping, scoping! Planning and clarifying your idea before getting into the code and nitty-gritty is so important. Oftentimes I would stack on unnecessary features and fancy behaviors without clarifying the main purpose or message I wanted my prototype to convey.
In the later weeks, I began meticulously planning with notes before coding anything
Learning how to code from scratch was no easy task. It took a new type of thinking, iteration, and lots of focused attention.
Finding time to rest amidst the fast-paced assignments. My mind was full of code and constantly trying to come up with solutions to problems. It was important to take breaks and let myself stop stressing about what I was working on. I had to continuously remind myself that the only way what I was learning would stick and click in my mind was if I gave myself permission to unwind and do something completely unrelated. My daily walks with my dog were a blessing, especially during the latter weeks of the VR Development Bootcamp.
I spent all the time I could on assignments and calls during the first month of the VR Development Bootcamp. At least 40 hours a week. Later on, I started a part-time job, so I could only squeeze in 30 hours minimum per week. Exhaustion from previous weeks had also stacked up and my brain was tired of thinking about code all the time, so I was forced to put in a little less.
There's a dangerous cognitive trap I sometimes fall into called "moving goalposts." It's where I start out with a goal in mind, and once I reach that goal, I decide it's no longer good enough and move my metaphorical goalpost to the next destination. It's a destructive habit because it prevents from properly celebrating successes.
Can’t score a goal if the goal keeps moving!
As a retrospective, I'd like to acknowledge my successes:
Most importantly, I have integrated this new knowledge to see the world from a refreshed perspective. And isn't that the point of learning and living?
In regards to my career search, what I am currently learning is the importance of finding a position and career that supports my purpose, not a career for the sake of a career. One key concept I come up against time and time again is that passion is fleeting, while purpose is steady. In addition, I'm following my intuition and practicing reaching out to people in the space.
Over the course of this complete Virtual & Augmented reality course, my ability to communicate what I need help understanding has improved drastically. I've also gained new confidence in my problem-solving and research abilities.
I can tell myself that my ideas matter, especially because I know I can find a way to bring them into reality - even something as crazy as a prototype for virtual reality!
Overall, I had so much fun and was able to exercise my muscles to bring my ideas into reality!
Update: Emma found a job as an at Polyarc the company behind the action-adventure gameplay, MossVR. Congratulations!