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Female Disruptors: Cathy Hackl is shaking up AR and VR

“Don’t call me a princess, call me an engineer” My daughter said this to me a few years ago. I had gotten her some of the Goldie Blocks…


“Don’t call me a princess, call me an engineer” My daughter said this to me a few years ago. I had gotten her some of the Goldie Blocks toys because she was interested in becoming a scientist and building things. She got really into the Goldie Blocks series and one day when I was picking her up from school and called her princess. She immediately replied: “Don’t call me a princess mommy, call me an engineer.” That immediately reconfirmed to me that the work I’m doing in VR AR is helping blaze the trail for her and for more girls. I want the tech industry to be a more inclusive one by the time she decides what she wants to be when she grows up.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathy Hackl, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Futurist at You Are Here Labs. Cathy is an Emmy-nominated communicator turned virtual reality & augmented reality, producer, speaker and futuristic content creator. A leading voice in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Hackl is a VR futurist, a well-known speaker globally and the co-author of “Marketing New Realities,” the only book on AR / VR for marketing. Hackl joined Atlanta-based You Are Here Labs in 2018, where she leads agencies, brands and companies in applying futuristic technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for marketing and training. She worked as a VR Evangelist for HTC VIVE and is an Oculus Launchpad 2017 fellow.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’m Costa Rican American and grew up the daughter of a top Costa Rican diplomat. I was born when he worked as the Costa Rican ambassador at the United Nations in New York and I spent the first 4 years of my life as a New Yorker. Because of my dad’s job we had the chance to live for a varied amount of time in countries like Switzerland, Colombia and Germany. I had a very international upbringing.

People often ask me how I got into VR and AR. Well, it’s one of those serendipitous stories. I’ve always been a storyteller at heart. As a little girl, I dreamt of being a journalist because I felt I was born to tell stories. That in itself has shifted from journalism to where I am now. I started my career in broadcast television working behind the camera at CNN, ABC News and Discovery Communications and then transitioned to being an on-camera reporter for a short while in the Atlanta market. Shortly after, I decided to pivot into public relations, marketing and social media.

I really think my past prepared me for my future as I came to VR AR from a storytelling background. Trying VR for the first time was a very pivotal moment for me and I often say that I arrived at it by accident (more on that below). I guess you can call me an accidental technologist.

I’ve worked with a cinematic VR studio, co-wrote the 1st VR AR marketing book, evangelized for one of the top VR hardware manufacturers, HTC VIVE, I advised UPS as a VR expert prior to the launch of their driver training program and now I get to produce AR and VR content at You Are Here Labs, where I lead agencies, brands and companies in applying futuristic technologies like Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for marketing and training.

I’ll sum it up. I’m a woman in tech, I’m a woman in VR/AR, I’m a minority, but most importantly I’m a storyteller who is trying to break the virtual ceiling.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Where do I start? I currently work helping companies understand where virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality should live within their organization and how they can use these technologies to future proof their business. In essence, I’m helping them understand that content is expanding beyond content that is 2D to content that is 3D, 360, and holographic. All of us in the immersive industry are helping usher in the next computing platform. That’s how disruptive our work is. Part of my work is getting out there and speaking about the technology as often as possible and to as many folks as possible to help spread the word. I love evangelizing about the technology and inspiring more people to join our industry. The more developers, creators, journalists, artists, students and everyone in between know about our technology they will be better prepared for the seismic shift that is upon us and that’s powered by emerging technologies like VR, AR, AI, Blockchain, 5G and IoT


We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

I was so lucky to see two other Latina women being successful in VR. Two women who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and who have become my inspirations are both Evelyn Miralles, Lead VR innovator and Engineer at NASA, who’s been doing VR for over 20 years and also Nonny de la Pena, the “Godmother” of VR. They inspired me and I watched them from afar, but I’ve been lucky enough to meet them both in person and get to know them a little more.

I would also credit John Buzzell, the president of You Are Here Labs as one of my mentors. He has always championed me and I learn something new from him every day. He’s helping me become a better XR professional and a better businesswoman.

How are you going to shake things up next?

As soon as I get my Magic Leap One Creators Edition, I hope to use to bring new ways of telling stories to life by using spatial computing. I’m excited about the future of spatial content and I hope to be one of the creators working with brands and businesses to use spatial computing in their business for B2B and B2C applications.

I’m hoping to start working on my second book soon and I’m also working on an immersive product that will completely disrupt the public relations industry. Let’s just say it involves holograms. Stay tuned!

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

If Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build a Door _ Milton Berle

I’m a go-getter by nature, I’ve always been one. When I decided to pivot into VR AR, I didn’t know where to start, but I knew I would have to find my own opportunities. I had to create them from scratch and so I did. I started learning as much as I could. I started gaining some technical skills and started connecting with lots of amazing folks in the industry. I built my own door, or portal, into the industry and made it happen. A friend shared this quote with me when I decided to pivot and it lit a fire in me.

Stop talking, and start executing. — Gabriel Sama, Managing Editor of CNET en Espanol.

I connected with Gabriel via social media and invited him to be on a panel on VR AR and the future of content at one of the top Latinos in Tech events. We had a great panel and after talking for a few hours he said something that marked me forever. He said, it’s time for you to stop talking and start executing and I took that to heart. I knew I needed to get some technical skills if I truly want to be a part of the VR AR industry and I needed to create content. And that’s exactly what I did. I started learning some basic Unity and started experimenting with more 360 video cameras, shooting video and playing with more VR AR tools. The advice he gave me was truly some of the best advice someone has ever given me. Thanks Gabo!

Don’t call me a princess, call me an engineer — My 6-year-old daughter

My daughter said this to me a few years ago. I had gotten her some of the Goldie Blocks toys because she was interested in becoming a scientist and building things. She got really into the Goldie Blocks series and one day when I was picking her up from school and called her princess. She immediately replied: “Don’t call me a princess mommy, call me an engineer.” That immediately reconfirmed to me that the work I’m doing in VR AR is helping blaze the trail for her and for more girls. I want the tech industry to be a more inclusive one by the time she decides what she wants to be when she grows up.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

For me, it was neither of those. It was actually a VR experience that changed the direction of my life and my career.

Back in 2004, I was working at CNN. I worked as an associate archive coordinator for CNN’s Newsource, a service that provides content to all the thousands of CNN ’s national and international affiliates. Part of my job consisted sometimes of looking at raw footage that was coming in from across the globe, including the war in Iraq, in order to flag “sensitive” content in the videos and let the affiliates know. Some of the things I had to watch were beheadings, the burnt bodies of US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Baghdad, you get the picture. When you work doing something like this, you tend to turn off your humanity switch and it wasn’t till I had my first virtual reality experience that I didn’t feel like I was able to turn that switch back on.

I was attending a conference a couple of years ago and was able to put on a VR headset for the first time and went into an experience called Confinement by The Guardian. The experience puts you inside a a 6×9 solitary confinement cell where prisoners spend 90% of their time. Within minutes I had to take the headset off because I was completely claustrophobic and I felt like I was able to turn that switch back on. I felt compassion and empathy for prisoners in solitary confinement and I knew this was the future of storytelling in some way. I took that headset off and I’ve been a different person ever since. I knew I had to join the VR industry and within days I started my path trying to enter the tech industry without a tech background. That first VR experience was pivotal and I recognized a rocket when I saw one. I knew I had to ride that rocket and going back just wasn’t an option.


Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Many of us in the XR industry say we are the magicians of the 21st century and there’s one magician I would like to meet in person. I would enjoy having coffee with Rony Abovitz, the CEO of Magic Leap. I’ve been a big fan of the company for several years now and they just launched their first product. I literally couldn’t sleep the night before they launched because I truly believe in the power of the technology they have invented. He has inspired me through some of his tweets to look at the future of content in a whole new way and I would thoroughly enjoy asking questions and learning more about Magic Leap, just one magician chatting with another magician.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Originally published at medium.com

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