Extended reality is one of the most promising fields in the industry with the potential to transform our everyday lives. What should a young engineer keep in mind entering this field and how can our future lives potentially look like? We discuss this – and more – in the third episode of “Tech Talks” where Bojan Jelača shares valuable insights he learned working as an XR software Engineer at Zühlke.
3 components of extended reality that will make our lives look like a Sci-Fi movie
Extended reality is a term that consists of three components. Virtual reality would be the most familiar to all of us. A user puts on a headset and they find themselves within a world they can interact with. Virtual reality is mostly used in the gaming industry today. The second component is augmented reality. Within augmented reality, we alter reality with the help of our phones or tablets. It can be as simple as looking through a camera on our devices and seeing additional objects. The interactivity here is quite decreased as opposed to virtual reality. Augmented reality is primarily used for showcasing. The third and final component is mixed reality, and it’s a combination of the first two. The user puts on a headset, but in this case, they do not enter a virtual world. Additional objects are added to the viewfinder and the users can interact with them. The same goes for objects, they also interact with the world around them. Virtual objects are also referred to as holograms. Holograms either interact with the objects around us, or it is us who interact with them.
Mixed reality has the most practical application within the industry. Today we are already developing apps for devices that use extended reality. As any other, this technology is not self-sufficient, so there will always be someone behind the curtains. Extended reality is quickly becoming a popular product, alongside with mobile and web apps. The devices needed to operate extended reality are still in a developing stage, especially when it comes to processors. As the devices get thinner and lighter, we will be able to use them more on a daily basis. Our world will look like a Sci-Fi film. And people will quickly get used to it! With these devices, we go back to the type of interaction we had in the past. There are no pointers or need to click anything. That means that the learning curve is going to be much better in comparison to the one we had when people learned how to operate a computer 30 years ago.
How and where can I learn more about extended reality?
When it comes to staying informed in this field, there are online communities, as well as a few groups of IT developers from around the world. These groups are usually on Facebook or LinkedIn, but there is also a very useful Slack channel. It’s not a large community, but it’s growing day by day. Zühlke alone currently employs around 20 or more people in this field. We have regular meetings where we share our experiences and trade information. We communicate daily and even organize an annual get-together to discuss and improve our knowledge.
Regarding general self-development, there are a lot of interesting things moving forward! The fact that we are heading towards an open source workflow and solutions is amazing to me. Microsoft is turning more and more towards open source. It wasn’t like that until a few years ago. Microsoft is not only opening the .NET but all its technologies towards an open source community. That’s a great way of providing possibilities for many people to collaborate on things they are interested in. It’s also a great way to get new ideas and information.
But be careful! You can make one thing your specialty, but it might hinder your possibilities of growth. You can apply your skills in other fields – such as any kind of animation and creation of visual components for new technologies. That’s because the principles are the same everywhere - the things we learn can be applied in a variety of areas. If we can apply the principles we know to different fields, we can choose to become experts in any of them – of course with time & practice.
A good developer must think like an entrepreneur
I’ve loved computers since I was seven, and I always loved tinkering around them and learning how they work. It wasn’t enough just to play games, I wanted to learn how everything worked. On the other hand, I enjoy solving problems. If I noticed that I or other people are facing a problem, I’ve always tried to combine the existing factors to solve that problem. In essence, that is who engineers are – people who combine smaller components into larger solutions.
Sometimes you have to compromise. You can’t always make the exact thing you want because it would take too much time. The resources can limit you, and then you need to find the optimal solution with what you have available. The human factor is also limiting - as it is pointless to make something that customers would not want to use. This is why, in order to improve you need to think like an entrepreneur.
That means constantly seeking new solutions to problems and getting out of your comfort zone. You can make a perfect product, but you also have to find a proper target group for it and advertise it convincingly. Otherwise, an average product with lesser quality but an excellent presentation might be more popular. Soft skills are really important!
Always ask yourself these questions:
- What particular feature of this product would interest me?
- What will the target group think of it?
- And there is always a question of presentation – how to convince people to use the product
Communication is very important. When it comes to teamwork, you should always try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Everyone has a different point of view, and we can only find an optimal solution when we take all those views into account. If a whole team stands behind this philosophy, it makes the workload much more pleasant. Two heads think better than one.
So, If I had a chance to say something to my younger self, the message would be quite simple: Being a good engineer is not the only important thing.
Bojan Jelaca works as .NET Engineer since March 2015 at Zühlke. He is M.Sc. in Computer Science. His main area of expertise includes Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality. Having knowledge in .NET, .NET Core, Xamarin, Angular, Azure and Unity, he worked on several projects in various areas, such as web, mobile, devOps and AR/VR/MR.