Don’t limit yourself. There have been times where I felt like I had to have all the answers or know exactly what and how my career would unfold and that’s not true. Being a hard worker, being open to opportunities and having an infinite mindset will get you further than you can imagine.
The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Martha Aviles, Vice President of Marketing at the leading global provider of online and virtual reality training for the essential skilled trades — Interplay Learning — based in Austin, Texas.
Martha Aviles is the VP of Marketing at the leading global provider of online and virtual reality training for the essential skilled trades — Interplay Learning. She joined the team in 2020, bringing with her nearly 20 years of high-tech marketing experience in SaaS, semiconductor, networking, and network security at start-ups, private, and public companies. Martha is a fierce marketing leader, with a gift for building and growing high-performance marketing teams, corporate brands, and inspiring thought leadership. Her extensive experience includes lead generation, integrated marketing, product marketing, digital marketing, public relations, brand management, analyst relations, and crisis communications. She also has successfully led through 20+ mergers and acquisitions, including managing several integration and acquisition exits.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
I’m a first-generation American. My parents are from Nicaragua and I was born in Miami. My parents moved to the United States seven days before I was born, as a preemie. I learned English at the age of five, by being placed in an English-speaking school with no other options. You learn quickly as a kid, thank goodness. I lived in Southern California for a couple of years in the 80s, but I’ve been in Austin, Texas most of my life. My father has a degree in Electrical Engineering, so technology was always part of my upbringing. My parents, as many immigrant parents, wanted me to live at home and go to the University of Texas. Instead, I chose to leave home and went to Texas A&M where I graduated with a BBA and specialized in Marketing. I later went back to school, and in 2014, I graduated from the University of Texas with my MBA.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book, “Black Magic: What Black Leaders Learned from Trauma and Triumph,” by Chad Sanders made an impact on me. I struggled growing up in an immigrant family, being the oldest child, without any knowledge of American culture or what was “normal.” I am a life-long learner because of it. Because I tried for so many years to fit in, I read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on. I listen to podcasts, read articles, books, magazines, to immerse myself in business, Corporate America, the culture, etc. As a 40-year-old, I’m still learning why I felt so out of place for so long. Chad’s book helped me understand why I carried certain feelings of being out of place, as well as gave me the language to express how my childhood, struggles and trauma shaped who I am today. I believe I’m successful because of all the challenges I faced, starting with learning English in an all caucasian school, where I was the only person of color in kindergarten.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the VR industry? We’d love to hear it.
Because my early childhood wasn’t what most would call privileged, I root for underdogs. Interplay Learning helps train skilled trades workers in their craft. Skilled trades were not an appealing career choice for many in my generation or in even younger generations. What I’ve learned as an adult is this field can be a lucrative career choice. Interplay Learning is the intersection of blue-collar workers and technology; it’s a perfect fit for me. I’m fascinated by our simulations and how we’re changing the way the world can learn. I also am acutely aware of how big our skilled trades gap is in the United States, and being able to change that everyday fuels me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
This is hard to answer since there are many. I would say one of the most interesting things to happen is watching customers see our simulations and say, “Wow, this looks exactly like it does in real life.” My AC unit broke last summer and I showed the HVAC techs our Interplay content. They were very impressed. Talking to them about how they train, learn and work together was interesting. Oftentimes, they work in HVAC because they had a family member that did and they were willing to learn from that person, and so on.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was in my early 20s and managing PR for a semiconductor company. We were putting out a customer win press release that I got approved from everyone on our side, as well as the customer’s side. Or so I thought. This particular company had two CEOs, one in the United States and one in Korea. I didn’t know that. I put the press release out on the wire and within the hour I was getting a very angry call from the customer. The issue was I didn’t have the CEO in Korea approve the release and he clearly did NOT approve. I had to call Businesswire and explain that the release must be taken down, even though it was indexed and picked up already. The woman on the line said, “Honey, I have worked here for over 20 years and I have never done this. It doesn’t happen.” I told her it was a special case and it must be done. That day was less than ideal for so many reasons and the fires it caused where not the most fun, but now, I can laugh at it. I learned to ask who needs to approve press releases, and also, that sometimes mistakes happen. The best you can do is try to clean up the mess and show up again the next day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have an executive coach that has helped me tremendously. We’ve worked together for about five years, and she really knows when to push, when to pull and when to allow me to just reflect so I can show up as my best self. I didn’t have much support growing up, so it was a fresh concept for me. I have been working on my presentation skills since I started business school in 2012. Public speaking and presenting to executives, customers and employees makes me nervous. I’m an introvert, so it’s not really in my nature. Recently, I had a boss tell me that I needed to work on my presentation skills and presence, and it hurt. Not because it wasn’t true, but because I have been actively working on it since 2012 as an area of improvement and I had invested so much in learning and adapting to what is expected of me in an executive role. After this feedback, I called my coach, dejected. She helped me tremendously that day, and many other days. She helps me be self-reflective on my growth and be proud of where I am, instead of beating myself up because I am not perfect. She’s been an enormous support to me and I am so grateful for her.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on bringing our Comersive Learning vision to life. Comersive Learning unites immersive learning with human connection that includes collaboration, coaching and community. This will help learning be more sticky for the learner and allow them to have the confidence and competence to do a great job.
Learning is more significant when you have other people to help you reinforce that learning. Whether it’s a coach, a community, a peer, etc., learning is more likely to be recalled if you have the support of human connection with it; hence, Comersive Learning is the future of learning.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?
The accessibility, in both cost and content, of VR and the variety of content being developed for VR right now is impressive. Virtual reality used to feel like a leading-edge technology that was too high-end or just for gamers. It’s no longer a technology of the future. A headset can cost as little as 300 dollars and more content is being created for all types of users, such as learning a skilled trade.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
I only have one major concern here — the human impact. Cutting-edge technology is amazing with such an incredible evolution. I worry about how it will affect younger generations and the evolution of technology in general. Social media, the Internet, all of these technologies were leading-edge at some point. However, we’ve all seen the double-edged sword these technologies can present. So, I worry about what we don’t know until the technology is ubiquitous. The security of our data, the human aspect of it and the long-term effects are unknown. We develop all of this technology with the best intentions, and it happens quickly. It may be time to be more mindful while developing these technologies or consider what possible long-term effects it may have. We should take the time to think through the possible negative impacts and try to be creative about how we may be able to offset those negative impacts.
I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?
Interplay Learning is a perfect example of this. We’re helping solve the skilled trades gap everyday by developing training simulations for anyone to learn a skilled trade. Whether it’s new entrants into the workforce, those looking for a new career or experienced people that want to keep learning and refining their skills, it helps everyone. For companies that are leveraging this for their workforces, they are creating a culture of learning and investing in their people, which helps retention. When you show people you care about them, they care about your business, so we’re driving a meaningful impact to both the employees and the companies leveraging our VR training.
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
The AR/VR/MR future is limitless. It provides for other hands-on learning opportunities. For surgeons to be able to practice or for med students to learn, this will greatly influence our society and continue to get more sophisticated as the technology advances.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I think that we need to continue to evolve our thinking and expectations about women and STEM. Although it is improving, we still have a shortfall of women and people of color in STEM. It’s important to reach girls as early as elementary school and for the media and population at large to show representations of women in STEM. The images we portray in the media are not commonly women in science, math, technology, etc. and what we see, we believe. If we start encouraging them, exposing them to and teaching them about the opportunities available, they will understand they have more options. Sometimes, all it takes is a meaningful experience or interaction with someone you admire and it can change your understanding of the possibilities.
If you take a walk down any toy aisle at a big-box store, they are still encouraging traditional roles. There are girl toy aisles and boy toy aisles. The boys have LEGO sets and cars and the girls have baby dolls and jewelry making kits. Even the STEM toys tend to be geared toward traditional gender roles by the colors on the boxes. They have science kits in darker boxes and make your own candy kits in light, bright colors. This is the type of messaging that is a simple change, but can have lasting, meaningful impressions that can make a difference. Sometimes the smallest change makes the biggest difference.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
That it is only for gamers or a specific demographic. It’s been fascinating to see all the different people that work in the industry, with varying experiences, backgrounds and thought processes. In our company specifically, we have a wide-variety of people with diverse backgrounds and all have a passion for helping to close the skilled trades gap.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t limit yourself. There have been times where I felt like I had to have all the answers or know exactly what and how my career would unfold and that’s not true. Being a hard worker, being open to opportunities and having an infinite mindset will get you further than you can imagine.
- Be authentic to yourself and others. Trying to be something that you’re not or putting yourself in a box that isn’t for you doesn’t allow you to show up as your best self. Being authentic can be scary, challenging or uncomfortable at first, but in the end, you’ll show up better than you would being ingenuine.
- Be dedicated and disciplined. There are plenty of days that won’t be easy, and there will be plenty of times you’ll be questioning whether or not you’re on the right track, but if you teach yourself to be dedicated and disciplined, you’ll be able to push through those days and understand what goals you’re trying to achieve.
- Reach back and help others that are coming up in the industry. I’m a big believer in advocating for others and mentoring. Oftentimes, you learn just as much from your mentees as they learn from you. Good leaders build a safe space for people to fail forward and learn, so you have to continue the flywheel to keep evolving our society to a point where people don’t remember to say “women in tech” — because it will be the norm and obvious.
- Serve the people you lead. Servant leadership is the best way to be successful. I work for my team. Everyday, whether it’s advocating for what they do, or helping them problem solve or helping them see their potential, it’s work. Servant leadership is what will make a culture healthy and last through all the trials and tribulations that are faced by the team and the company.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It may be cliche, but I’m passionate about helping underprivileged children that may not have been dealt the best hand and may not believe in themselves. I used to be the Chairman of the Board for the Burke Center for Youth. This center is for boys under the age of 17 that don’t necessarily have the family structure and support they need to be a healthy, well-adjusted child. The center is a 24-hour care center that teaches the boys everything from life skills, sports, schooling, etc. When I was asked by potential investors why I cared about this cause so much, I would stick to the messaging and say what the marketer in me should say. I failed at raising money that way. Once I opened up a little more about my back story, and how my mother left my family when I was 16, and why I rooted for children that some referred to as “lost” — we got donors. I wish for all children to have a secure space where they can be supported, grow, learn and fail in a safe environment.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Chad Sanders, his book really moved me and I loved listening to his podcast with Brene Brown. I’d love to meet Brene too, so maybe a three-person breakfast is possible?