Jieun Kim of Talespin: “Support your peers”

Support your peers. In one of my previous roles, I started and led a women-supporting group. It was a time for women to meet for casual discussions about any topic and feel safe to speak their minds. During our meetings, we discovered there was a recurring theme surrounding a point of confusion we all shared […]

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Support your peers. In one of my previous roles, I started and led a women-supporting group. It was a time for women to meet for casual discussions about any topic and feel safe to speak their minds. During our meetings, we discovered there was a recurring theme surrounding a point of confusion we all shared regarding how promotions happened and the right tools to navigate to the next level. I would encourage other women to start a similar women’s group to ideate, support each other and share new ideas.

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 Jieun Kim.

Jieun Kim is a vice president of product at Talespin, where she brings over 20 years of product development expertise across emerging technologies, mass market consumer products, and spatial computing platforms. Kim joins Talespin to help scale its extended reality (XR) learning content library and training administration and skills data platform

Prior to Talespin, Kim served as the director of product at Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures, where she focused on driving digital innovation for the company’s Fortune 500 clients and led the virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) practice. Previously, she was a senior staff member at Qualcomm, launching new AR experiences and helping partners bridge digital and physical worlds.

Earlier in her career, Kim spent five years at Disney as a product development manager leading software development, engineering, UI/UX design, branding and manufacturing. These businesses spanned consumer electronics, advanced tech toys, mobile apps, and audio and video products. During Kim’s time at Disney, several of the products in her portfolio received awards and patents, including two CES Innovation Awards.

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?

was born in Korea and moved from Seoul to Los Angeles during childhood. This move made me a resilient person, and as a result, throughout my life, I have been more adaptable to change.

I have two daughters, and when I look at other parents, I notice that many are afraid of letting children experience change, even as small as moving homes or changing school districts. Parents often believe that stability results when there is no change, but I think that will do more harm than good and lead to children struggling later in life when they are met with change. This year, we saw children experience change on a massive scale due to the pandemic, and I was inspired to see just how resilient children could be. Adaptability and resilience are two qualities that I learned growing up that I make sure to pass on to my children because they are not only important for everyday life, but they are important in the workforce as well.

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?
One interview that made an impact on me is Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk from 2012. During her discussion, Amy talked about human body language and the mind, but one topic that resonated with me was her message about imposter syndrome. This is something I, and a lot of individuals, struggle with. Although I know the value I bring to a company, I still struggle at times and wonder “am I good enough”, “am I smart enough”, “do I belong here”? Amy’s TED talk made me realize that no matter how successful you are, imposter syndrome can still sneak up on you, but you should never doubt your worth.

I grew up in a culture where boys were encouraged to not only follow their dreams, but aspire to greatness. There was not as much pressure or expectation put upon young girls. Instead, we were taught to be “good enough” vs. the best, and this was probably a huge contributing factor to my own imposter syndrome.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.
 I began my career at Disney and worked there for about eight years. While working there, I managed user experience for Disney Mobile as well as a team called “Toy-morrow” where we focused on the toys of the future. It was there that I discovered my passion for bridging the gap between physical products or environments and the digital world. For example, when the iPad first came out, I worked on Disney AppMates which paired a physical car with capacitive footprints that users could place on top of an iPad and use in a game environment. Throughout my time at Disney, I worked on several projects including Disney Creativity Studio and Disney Infinity, all of which connected the digital world with a physical product. When I began working at Qualcomm I was creating similar experiences, such as, Vuforia Smart Terrain technology for gamifying landscape. Through this game, users could scan their actual environment and use that space as a game landscape.

This theme of merging technology and physical environments to create exceptional experiences has become a common thread throughout my career, and something I bring with me in my current role at Talespin.

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

At one point in my career, I was conducting usability testing for LEGO Fusion, which required me and the product builders to observe how children played and interacted with the toys we were creating. As you can imagine, with young children in a playroom, things got pretty wild. There were M&M stains on the furniture, tears and even accidents.

Designing products for children helped me grow as a product person. When you’re designing a product for children who can’t read yet, you have to make sure it is easy to use and visually show how it works without words. To design a good product for children, usability testing was critical. As crazy as little kids tasked with playing can be, watching them interact with various products helped me to prioritize the end-user experience.

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?
My family immigrated to the United States when I was a child, and this meant that I didn’t have any family members, relatives, or mentors to help me navigate through corporate America.

Fast forward a few years, and I graduated from college in the 1990s during the dot com boom where there were plenty of career advancement opportunities, even for a young graduate. I thought I was following the directions when I accepted a new job offer — I gave two weeks’ notice to my line manager, thanked the leadership team for the opportunity, and then notified my project team of my departure. It turned out that my project manager was extremely disappointed that I didn’t go to her first so that she could negotiate a counter-offer for me to stay. There were so many things that were not included in a college syllabus and corporate manuals — building relationships and trying to get support from industry leaders and personal networks was a lesson for me then. I think many women don’t do this enough, and a lot of times try to tackle a situation on their own. Women should look around and see who they can speak to for advice and support. You’d be shocked how many people are willing to support you.

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?
Floyd Norman, the legendary Disney Animator, writer, and comic book artist is someone I worked with during my time at Disney and is an inspiration to me personally.

I worked with Floyd when he was a subject matter expert (SME) consultant for Disney Creativity Studio, and despite all of his successes, I was completely blown away by how humble of a person he was. One piece of advice he shared with me was to “look forward to failing, falling on your face, because that teaches you to be humble, that you are not perfect and that you still have a lot to learn”. Floyd taught me to believe in my dream but to always remain humble and continue to seek out new opportunities to learn.

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

At Talespin, we create training modules, or courses, for enterprise companies. We’re currently in the process of expanding our existing library of learning modules and will have more to share soon!

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 I am most excited about is that virtual reality use cases are expanding. In fact, VR seems to have outgrown its consumer roots and we are seeing increased adoption of this type of technology within the enterprise. For consumers, VR gaming and entertainment is ubiquitous, but how can we take that benefit and expand it to employers and employees? Talespin’s training solutions provide companies with a unique opportunity to quickly train a multi-generational workforce because VR writes to our memory like a real experience would, and provides emotional muscle memory, effectively collapsing the distance between learning a new skill and using it.

Another aspect of the industry that I find exciting is that VR makes it possible to learn both hard and soft skills. At Talespin we offer training courses that help people develop stronger soft skills, like giving an employee difficult feedback or navigating crises at work as a leader. We also provide training on process-based skills, like navigating water damage within a home as an insurance claims agent. VR creates an environment where users become emotionally and physically immersed and as a result, provides learners with a safe place to fail and try again.

Finally, I am excited by how customizable these training modules can be — with VR there is an opportunity to design training courses that are both broadly applicable across industries (think soft skills and leadership training) as well as get extremely specific, with learning modules that tackle industry-specific use cases (insurance, for example).

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?

One area that concerns me about this industry is that it has to deal with hardware limitations. VR headsets are expensive and it can be difficult at first for companies to invest in this type of technology at scale. The enterprise applications for VR however are hitting their stride as businesses realize the true ROI that investing in VR can bring to their organizations for improving learning and collaboration. Statistics from Talespin’s enterprise deployments have shown that customers are experiencing a 70% increase in training satisfaction over classroom learning, a 22% increase in decision-making accuracy compared to prior training methods, a 400% increase in ability to elaborate on subject matters, and a 5x annual reduction in training costs per employee.

Another area that I find somewhat concerning is that it takes time to develop new content and to develop it correctly. This requires resources and budget to bring these exceptional enterprise training experiences to life. Talespin is currently working on ways to make these types of training more accessible to everyone despite individual knowledge of Unity.

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?
When I started driving, going to a new location was a big deal. The night before, I created a driving plan with a Thomas Guide map and then hand-wrote directions in large font so I would be able to read them while driving. Now, I enter the address of where I’m going into my navigation system and can go pretty much anywhere I want, and I have more confidence on the road and can get to my destination safely because I’m no longer looking down at the piece of paper in my lap for directions.

That’s what extended reality (VR, AR, MR) does for enterprises in various industries. It optimizes process and drive efficiency, it gives workers more confidence with their job, and they can successfully complete the work safely and on time.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
I believe thatextended reality technologies will eventually give us a sixth sense. What I mean by this is that with further development of VR, AR and MR we are going to have access to a lot of information and skills that we didn’t before.

Although our smartphones already provide us with access to a lot of information, many workers have to be out in the field day in and day out, and that sometimes means there is no connectivity or they simply don’t have the time to look up how to perform a certain task. It’s not enough to rely solely on your smartphone for information. VR, AR and MR training will enable that sixth sense for humans, where we will be in a situation and we will know immediately how to react because of the immersive training we have undergone.

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?
As I mentioned earlier, I have an 11-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old step daughter. There was a huge effort from schools to inspire girls in STEM when they were growing up. However, many girls are not too excited about the industry and I don’t completely understand why there is that gap. My guess is that it’s hard for the girls to visualize the end state. Even though the effort to get girls enrolled in STEM is monumental, if they don’t see the benefit at the end (e.g., being able to invent new products, design the most beautiful digital murals, etc.) it’s hard to get young people excited about it. When my youngest daughter was a toddler, I used to apply Disney ideation methods where I’d ask her to sketch a product concept board and include bullet points of its features, a picture of the product, and a list of value propositions. She created product concept boards that were relevant to my work at the time and designed “future of petrol station”, “smart working desk”, “smart car”, and many other things. She still loves coming up with new inventions and tries to solve today’s problems. 
 Ultimately, I think today’s STEM programs fail to connect the dots between today’s learnings and the types of exciting futures and the impact that young women can make by pursuing STEM.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean? 
I was once turned down for a position and the feedback was that I seemed “too nice” (and wouldn’t be able to handle tough stakeholders) and “not technical enough”. I wonder whether I would have received the same feedback if I was male. There is a bias that comes with being a woman, and it works against many women especially in a fast-paced male dominating tech industry. This situation made me think of a college professor of mine who commented about my name Jieun Kim, and mentioned how it’ll be beneficial for me when applying for jobs because no one will know my gender.

It’s unfortunate that even today when applying for jobs women have to worry if their gender will influence how they are perceived and if they will be hired.

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. Yes, I deserve to be here. Imposter syndrome is something that a lot of individuals struggle with, and it can often hold us back from achieving our dreams. It’s important to remind yourself that you deserve a seat at the table.
  2. Yes, there is still a lot to learn and ways to improve myself. This is almost self-explanatory. There is always more to learn, if we were all experts then there would be no room for personal growth or expansion.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail. You should look forward to failing and falling on your face because that teaches you to be humble.
  4. Be yourself. In a previous role, I received feedback that I was too aggressive when trying to get work completed. At another company, I was told I was too passive and cautious and I needed to be more assertive. I realized that I didn’t change, I was simply perceived differently. Instead of trying to figure out ways to change yourself to fit in, it’s important to just be yourself and do what you believe is right.
  5. Support your peers. In one of my previous roles, I started and led a women-supporting group. It was a time for women to meet for casual discussions about any topic and feel safe to speak their minds. During our meetings, we discovered there was a recurring theme surrounding a point of confusion we all shared regarding how promotions happened and the right tools to navigate to the next level. I would encourage other women to start a similar women’s group to ideate, support each other and share new ideas.

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. 🙂
My daughter was born a perfectionist. As a toddler, she enjoyed drawing, but when she drew a line that wasn’t perfect, she would erase it. If the paper still showed a faint mark of a pencil, she’d cry and erase until the paper was torn. 
 I think some women feel that way — that there is a higher standard and women have to be perfectionists to be hired for a job, win someone’s trust or get the next promotion. I certainly did. 
 So when I had to calm my crying daughter, I taught her that it’s alright to make mistakes. In fact, we can make a wonderful and unexpected design out of what she deemed a mistake in her drawing. I continued to teach her that we shouldn’t strive to be perfect, and my daughter learned that a mistake can actually make her drawing even better. Eventually, she’d be proud of new design elements that were added to her drawing which started by a “mistake”. 
 I also believe that working women shouldn’t strive to be perfect. It’s ok to make mistakes. That’ll allow us to be more outspoken, not censor ourselves in meetings, and show the creativity of handling mistakes into bigger and better opportunities for the company.

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 🙂
Michelle Obama. After reading her book Becoming, it was incredible to see that she also had a little impostor syndrome as the former First Lady and was still beloved by the nation.

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