Amy Watton of Masters of Pie: “Subject matter experts are key ”

Subject matter experts are key — don’t pretend to know it all when you don’t, everyone in your team is the expert in their area, and always involve the right people at the right time to help solve problems in areas where you have less knowledge. The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so […]

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Subject matter experts are key — don’t pretend to know it all when you don’t, everyone in your team is the expert in their area, and always involve the right people at the right time to help solve problems in areas where you have less knowledge.

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 Amy Watton, Senior Project Manager at Masters of Pie.

Amy is Scrum Leader at Masters of Pie, a software company that creates extended reality (XR) collaboration solutions for enterprises. She is responsible for managing the development team as well as building bridges with enterprise customers. Prior to this role, Amy worked in various project management roles in emerging technologies, the education sector and new product innovation in luxury retail.

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 grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland. It was not particularly cultured or diverse and I knew I wanted to experience more but I wasn’t very confident or well travelled. I moved to England to study for my degree in business management and never went home. I was the first person in my immediate family to go to university so I guess I was quietly ambitious, but I have definitely worked my way up — starting out in entry level roles and gaining as much experience as I could from each step, always pushing myself to learn more.

It took a while to find the best fit for me in terms of my career — I have a strong background in customer service and management, but I never really enjoyed the industries I worked in and always felt there was something missing until I started working in tech. I have particularly enjoyed working with emerging technologies — every day is different, and you need to think on your feet, multitask, and problem solve to keep delivering results with limited time or resources or sometimes both!

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?

Work Like A Woman: A Manifesto for Change by Mary Portas — this book focuses on Mary’s successful career in retail, rising through the ranks in a male-dominated world. She starts by explaining the challenges she faced with gender disparity but learns to ‘play the game’ by her rules — fighting for her place and for the culture she knows is the future. It resonates with me as the tech sector is still male dominated, but I don’t feel I need to change who I am or try to replicate the approach of those around me. I can use my gender as a strength, working with empathy and consideration, promoting buy-in and inclusiveness within my team. I still find it inspiring and a regular reminder that the best teams are not homogeneous — people with a mix of different skillsets and experiences collaborate to achieve great things.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.

I don’t necessarily have a story around the XR industry, but I have always been interested in companies that work with emerging technology. The diversity of people, projects, and the innovation pace is exciting and that is where I feel comfortable. On top of that, the possibility of developing products that will materially change the way we work in the future, and the potential of XR to be the next computing paradigm, is something very motivating.

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

What I have found most interesting since I started working with tech start-ups is how quickly we can adapt compared with larger, well-established companies. I’ve previously worked in companies with significant ‘red tape’ and numerous levels of sign-off for every decision. I still see that environment now when I work with enterprises and see how difficult it is for them to react quickly. Our business is dynamic and fluid — we have a multi-skilled team who work collaboratively and efficiently so we can capitalize on opportunities and changes in the market quickly.

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?

Early in a new job working on software implementation projects, I was excited to respond to my first email from a client. I wrote a response and was happy to get it out quickly and efficiently; however, a senior colleague was quick to point out that my Irish tone of voice was very much apparent and the recipient, being from a global organization and based in Japan, could take this as extremely blunt. Obviously, I was embarrassed, this was my first experience of working in a global team, but it did give me a great lesson in the importance of a global language, considering tone and avoiding colloquialisms which could lead to miscommunication. This has been hugely beneficial over the years as the tech sector (and by its very nature, VR, AR and XR) is truly global.

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 would say the program manager from a previous role. When we first began working together, I was concerned about how different we were — there were clear cultural differences between our communication styles and approaches to various situations which I found difficult at first, especially as she was my line manager. It was also the first role where I’d felt a sense of imposter syndrome and I struggled with my confidence at the time. While discussing a new project I was going to lead, she bluntly said to me: “How can I be confident that you’ll do a good job if you aren’t confident in yourself?” I was taken aback by that question, but it really made me think about how I present myself and my capabilities to the world, and the impact that could have on opportunities in front of me. The experience prompted me to undertake personal development, honing my skills in areas such as conflict resolution and evolving my leadership footprint. This process made me aware of my strengths as well as the areas I could improve on. For example, I realized that I often felt that people who were quite self-confident could come across as arrogant to me but that was actually a performance-driven strength of theirs and it only felt that way to me as it’s something I found difficult as my natural strengths are in people and processes, rather than performance. I learnt strategies for coping with internal and team conflict, and how to communicate successfully as well as persuasively. What I thought could be a difficult relationship turned out to be very rewarding and she was a great mentor.

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

The pandemic has forced the workforce en masse to move to remote working. This new way of working is here to stay, and all organizations will have to embrace a dispersed workforce. This shift in working habits has resulted in an explosion of videoconferencing solutions to connect people. This only partially solves the problem as only one person has access to the data in this interaction. The project I am currently driving forward is the development of a real-time immersive (XR) collaboration platform. The difference between conferencing (people) and collaboration is that the latter brings both people and their complex 2D and 3D data together to provide an essential solution for complex enterprises. Immersive real-time collaboration for enterprises has the potential to transform the way we work.

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?

What really excites me about working in this XR industry is the fact that the industry is evolving from prototyping the art of the possible to scaling out robust production solutions. There is significant investment in this market sector that is driving innovation at an incredible speed. The enabling technologies of 5G, edge computing and server-side rendering will materially lower the cost of adoption while significantly increasing the addressable market. There currently exists a spirit of exploration between technology innovators and large enterprises who are looking at this technology as the next big step change in how we work. The next five years will be the age of spatial computing and I feel I am in the right place at the right time to ride that wave of innovation.

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?

The current total cost of ownership to deploy XR solutions at scale is prohibitive. The combination of computing and headset costs is hurting the economic justification and inhibiting the technology adoption at scale. The enabling technologies currently being deployed will address many of the issues associated with delivering a quantifiable return on investment. Further, for XR solutions to be adopted at scale, the proposition needs to be integrated into the existing workflow processes of the enterprise and not strapped onto the business as a ‘shiny demo’. Finally, stop trying to force XR solutions to solve problems that may be addressed with a cheap browser-based flatscreen terminal. There are clear quantifiable benefits to leveraging XR and the industry needs to focus on standardizing ways for the technology to be seamlessly integrated and leveraged.

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?

The technology providers of the real-time game engines that have been deploying compelling games experiences for years are the basis for XR innovation. The games industry real-time engine is the basis for the digital twin used by enterprises today. The major players in the XR consumer market are all laying down the foundations to own this next growth market. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Snapchat, etc have all invested heavily in the sector, and the XR market as a whole will benefit as a consequence. Finally, the engineers of tomorrow are the gamers of today.

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

Let me give you a practical example — in the manufacturing industry, there are subject matter experts in maintenance of heavy and complex machinery. Until now, these highly skilled workers had to travel around the world to do their job. Using XR technology combined with real-time collaboration capabilities, these workers don’t need to be in situ, saving them from sometimes risky and unnecessary travelling, reducing carbon footprint, etc. With this technology, someone locally can display a digital twin of the machinery in situ, and the highly skilled worker can access the machinery and guide local technicians on how to fix the problem. Embrace XR technologies and save the planet.

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?

In short — no! I would love to work with more women — the ratio of men to women in the tech industry, in my experience, is definitely skewed. This can be very intimidating at first, but I would advise women who are interested in working in these industries to not be put off — I have found my work environments to be open and supportive, and found challenging and rewarding career opportunities in tech. Leave any preconceived notions at the door and know that you can have significant influence and contribution without limit.

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

You don’t need to have a technical background to work in tech. Of course, it helps — but you can still add a lot of value without that knowledge. I often find my strength in technical meetings is being able to cut through the technical jargon and ask what value are we actually providing with this solution and does this meet the customer’s expectation and requirements?

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.)

  1. Subject matter experts are key — don’t pretend to know it all when you don’t, everyone in your team is the expert in their area, and always involve the right people at the right time to help solve problems in areas where you have less knowledge. For example, our product team understands the customer requirement and what the end product should do, and our development team decides how we get there.
  2. Leadership is not about having one strong skill — if that’s all you rely on, you’re likely to overuse it and cause conflict. I believe great leaders have a wealth of skills and flex different ones to tailor them to each situation. Crisis management, for example, requires strong decision making, but periods of change require flexibility and the ability to adapt to the current situation.
  3. Opposites attract — at times it can be difficult to work effectively with people who have strong or different personalities from your own. But through the experience of managing conflicts within various teams, I’ve learnt that such differences bring with them a wealth of experiences, skillsets and perspectives to the team and this can be beneficial in many ways.
  4. Communication — it’s key to always be aware of your target audience when you communicate, tailoring your message to get the key information across for that audience. For example, whether it’s for the development team to support or explore ideas or for the leadership team to ensure they have what they need to make an informed decision. It’s also important to consider the individuals within your team and how they like to work day to day, and fit with that to get the best results.
  5. Don’t go against your core value system — it takes too much energy from you to try to be someone else. I feel that I’m quite principled in my approach and try to approach my role with empathy and consideration, always trying to balance what’s right for customers, the team, and the business. I couldn’t do it any other way, and I don’t believe that I need to.

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. 🙂

When you’re young you wonder how your actions may change the world one day, and I’m in a stage of my career where I feel that I can be doing something for the greater good. Creating a technology that will enable someone to have medical treatment from a surgeon who is on the other side of the world, it’s something quite Orwellian, but the reality is that improving this type of technology to a point where it is really accessible will bring people together in ways that we never thought possible before. Having the chance of democratizing remote medical treatment and improving the healthcare of disadvantaged communities, whilst also reducing unnecessary travel and thereby helping to fight climate change, is something that would make me proud.

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 🙂

I’d have to say Jacinda Ardern — she is bringing empathetic leadership to the global stage, challenging gender stereotypes, promoting equality, and breaking down barriers with her policy changes. Her approach has been consistent, has resonated well with her country, and has been very successful, highlighted recently by her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jacinda would be a fantastic mentor and a powerful person to have in my network!

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

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