Samantha Daniel of ForwardXP: “Make sure to pay compliments and kudos when they are due”

Help boost confidence and self esteem among your teammates whenever you can — even a little goes a long way! Make sure to pay compliments and kudos when they are due. This also helps strengthen connections and build trust. The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How […]

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Help boost confidence and self esteem among your teammates whenever you can — even a little goes a long way! Make sure to pay compliments and kudos when they are due. This also helps strengthen connections and build trust.

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 interviewingSamantha Daniel.

Coming from an extensive background in production and animation, Samantha Daniel is now working in the Virtual Reality and gaming space for the last 6 years and has watched it evolve. She joined the ForwardXP team in the summer of 2020 as Senior Enterprise Producer and is helping lead and develop their full service Enterprise division, focused on VR/XR experiences for areas such as training business solutions.

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 from Toronto, Canada. As a child I was constantly drawing and making short films with my friends. I graduated with a BFA in film studies, but quickly moved into CG animation which is something I was always passionate about. I’ve had the opportunity to produce commercials, music videos and worked on a few films for a variety of amazing studios. I started dabbling in interactive games and VR about 6 years ago. I’m constantly looking to grow and explore, so I’ve been lucky to have been able to do that in my career. I also moonlight as an illustrator!

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?

So many books and films over the years have made an impact. As a child, “Blade Runner” hit me with it’s story and moody cinematography. I’m a huge sci-fi fan. As a student, I remember being mesmerized by the beauty and sadness of the documentary “Koyaanisqatsi”. I am somewhat of an environmentalist and seeing that film so young I think really impacted me to want to do better as human for our planet. Everyone should see it. I’ve always been obsessed with animation. I love all the Hayao Miyazaki films and “Spirited Away” was probably my favorite. “Ready Player One” was not only a fun book, but a fantastical glimpse into the crazy possibilities of VR.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it. The animation studio I was working for at the time started dabbling in VR, so that was a great opportunity to explore and learn about VR/AR. I remember my first VR experience was Tilt Brush! So fun to create art in VR that you can walk through and play with. And the switch from watching something linearly to 360 immersive was mind blowing!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

My first VR project was a massive interactive campaign for the Air Force. We created a VR flight jet simulation, and it was wonderful to watch Air Force pilots experiencing VR for the first time, getting to fly their planes in a fantastic virtual environment, housed in a futuristic air-conditioned mobile trailer. I also produced a chuckwagon VR game for the Calgary Stampede. This is a huge yearly event in Canada, and the game was a huge hit with the crowds visiting the fairgrounds. We had a number of chuckwagon racers play the game, and their reactions to driving the wagons in VR was priceless!

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?

When I was fresh out of film school, I applied for art grants for a number of great bands in Canada. We made a ton of low budget music videos. They were a blast, but definitely low budget so we all had to wear different hats. On one video shoot, I played producer, art director and craft services. I would go from making 30 breakfast sandwiches for the crew to setting up props for the next shot. In another video I wore a bigfoot costume and chased the musician through the woods. They were all crazy but very fun. These weren’t mistakes, but they taught me to get creative when it comes to figuring out how to get a job done. Work with what you have, and try to have fun!

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 a friend who is also a fabulous mentor. Jim Riche is a veteran in the animation and production industries. He has such a calm personality but also can bring such creativity, energy and enthusiasm and he has the ability to see positive in all problems. I try to do this, it makes such a difference to the outcome and energy of the team.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Absolutely! One of our projects is with Facebook, and we’re doing a whole series of super interactive training for their datacenters. Basically, “don’t cut the red wire” kind of thing. This is game changing training, because not only do you create a training experience that is far more memorable and effective than traditional learning, but you can train people safely around dangerous equipment and procedures.

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?

There is a lot going on, and of course it’s constantly changing. I think one of the new most exciting things would be large scale multiuser environments for VR, like Facebook Horizons or VR chat. You have the ability to meet “in person” in VR multiverse spaces with large groups. I also think the Quest 2 has been an improvement. Faster processing means you can make things more lifelike and believable. And then eye tracking, which isn’t completely new but is exciting. Using an outside sensor, the device can figure out what you’re looking at in the virtual world.

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 don’t have a lot of concerns. People used to complain about motion sickness, but we put so much effort into focusing on addressing this that it isn’t really an issue if you’re creating your VR with that in mind. Unfortunately, the cost and adoption rate for wearable AR is still very high, so that’s a problem. But overtime this will go down.

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?

One example, we’ve been meeting with a couple of clients in VR meeting rooms using lifelike avatars. Some of our clients are around the globe and having a VR meeting feels more personal than just a regular conference or video call. We’re using VR for training solutions, but the healthcare and educations sectors are also using VR to teach and practice new skills.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?

There are some great meditation apps for VR. And VR is even being used in car manufacturing to look at new designs. NASA has been using VR to share the experience of being on different spacecraft. Also with so many people doing work from home these days, using some of the VR multiplayer apps lets us virtually be with people from anywhere.

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?

Tech industries, software, animation, production, it’s all been so male dominated since the very start. It’s frustrating being a woman in tech, but it is changing. There are very few women, especially in leadership. It’s wonderful to see schools encouraging girls to get into STEM. Girl Scouts is heavily focused on introducing STEM to young girls. I lead a Brownie troop and I’m able to choose which badges and programs our troop works on. We focused on coding, building robots and cybersecurity.

Having been in tech for so long, I’ve worked at places that really devalue women, I’ve experienced some harsh judgement and stereotyping. I’m grateful for my current leadership team and company values, it’s been a breath of fresh air to feel like you’re appreciated and are on an even playing field, and sadly that’s still very rare in this industry. I do think this will change overtime. There are more women constantly entering this industry and a number of companies are focused on bringing on more women leadership. With a little more time I hope this completely change this landscape!

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?

No room for creativity unless you’re in games. I think creativity can be found all throughout tech. In the way a project is coded. In the process and approach to solving problems. There are so many ways to be creative in this industry, no matter if you’re actually working on a creative video game.

Also, the idea that VR is a passing fad is definitely a myth, it is here to stay and will keep evolving and improving.

Another myth, that VR is not social. Quite the opposite with the multiverse opportunities to connect with friends and peers in VR spaces.

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.)

Communication: Listen as much as you can. Ask questions. Take time to have one on one with teammates and really get to know each other.

Self Awareness: Be open to making mistakes, learning from them and sharing your experiences. Be humble and honest. You will always learn from making them. At the end of a two week project sprint, we always do a post-mortem to talk about what we did right/wrong and what we can learn from and do better next time. There is always quite a bit for each category, and be acknowledging all of it, we learn and grow as a team and our projects always benefit.

Always Room to Learn: I feel like I’ve reinvented myself in my career so many times over. I started out as a live action producer, moved to 2D animation, then 3D/CG and then onto VR. Each time there’s been a learning curve, which is tough, but always so rewarding once you figure things out. I don’t ever want to stop learning, challenging myself and growing, and in tech there’s always going to be new skills and technology to learn. If you choose to settle and stay put, you will fall behind.

Help boost confidence and self esteem among your teammates whenever you can — even a little goes a long way! Make sure to pay compliments and kudos when they are due. This also helps strengthen connections and build trust.

Creativity comes in all forms — I think everyone is creative in their own way, there are so many ways to express creativity. It could be in problem solving or communication skills. I love recognizing the unique creativity in people, especially when they don’t consider themselves a “creative person”.

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. 🙂

Be kind and compassionate in the workplace. Work can be stressful at times, and you never know what other kind of stresses people have going on elsewhere in their lives.

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 🙂

Ohmigosh, in a magic world, I would love to have a sit down with Michelle Obama!

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

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