XR, also sometimes known as spatial computing, is one of the most exciting components of the digital landscape. Combining VR, AR, and mixed reality (MR) tools, there’s been a meaningful rise in adoption across a range of industries. It’s not just good for gaming, but also enterprise training, immersive entertainment, and engineering, among other sectors.

This growth offers ample opportunity for professionals to enter the XR space in various roles. It’s important to note that, as a multifaceted technical discipline, there are XR foundational skills you’ll need if you want to break in.

Building a Foundation

There are various roles you can play in the burgeoning XR industry. Each will have its own set of specific skills and qualifications. Nevertheless, there are some key areas it’s worth gaining some foundational knowledge about.

Programming Languages

While XR does incorporate elements of the physical world, it is still a heavily digital area of expertise. Therefore, whether you’re building platforms, identifying bugs, or designing assets, some knowledge of programming languages is valuable. The most relevant programming languages for XR are C# and C/C++. C# is also the native programming language of Unity, which many XR developers are using for projects.

3D Modeling and Animation

Given that XR uses both VR and AR systems, 3D modeling tends to be a big part of the development process. Teams need to create the assets that users will interact with in virtual spaces. They’ll also need to render assets in ways that make geometrical sense when placed in real-life environments through AR platforms. In addition, it can be useful to have skills in 3D animation to create responsive items that respond in true-to-life ways to stimuli.

Hardware Familiarity

It’s important for those entering the XR industry to at least have a working familiarity with the hardware involved. This involves not just VR headsets or the mobile devices used in AR, but also how sensors are used.

For instance, many developers are focused on creating gloves that support fine finger-motion detection and haptic feedback that boosts XR experiences. The better your understanding of technology like this, the more effectively you can design XR platforms for peak usability, alongside testing likely use cases throughout the development process.

UI design

It can be vital to get some expertise in UI design. This includes being able to implement an intuitive navigation system that requires minimal training before users can get started. Think about positioning menus in the users’ field of vision to make them accessible but not invasive.

Consider also how interactions having immediate and obvious system reactions help provide clarity to users. It’s also about ensuring all the design components in the UI are harmonious and consistent so that users aren’t jarred or made uncomfortable during their immersive experiences.

Planning Your Development

Gaining skills in XR is rarely a one-and-done situation. The industry is moving forward rapidly, with new platforms, hardware, and use cases emerging all the time. It’s vital on the road to your first job and throughout your career journey that you commit to continuous learning. By updating and expanding on your foundational skills, you can genuinely thrive.

Making a comprehensive career plan is a great way to visualize your professional development path, keeping your route organized and clear. Think of it as making a roadmap that starts with your current position and moves toward your short and long-term career goals. Along the way, you should plot out milestones for key steps that help you to get to the next goal, including specific skills and experiences you’ll need to gain. Wherever possible, also detail where you’ll get these skills, whether this is through courses, internships, or mentorships.

Remember that your approach to building skills doesn’t necessarily have to be through traditional schooling. The XR industry — like many tech fields — is populated and driven by a lot of people who made advances by following their curiosity and trying things out. You can gain skills by pursuing personal projects, attending XR hackathons, and taking apart the code of platforms to see how they tick. This approach is particularly useful for emerging tools and tech that don’t yet have formal certifications available.

Showcasing Your Skills

Breaking into the XR industry and gaining opportunities as you progress is dependent on how effectively you represent yourself and your skills. As a fascinating part of the tech sector, while XR jobs are on the rise, there’s also a lot of competition. You’ll need to stand out from the crowd.

It’s worth taking a strategic approach to applying for your first job or internship in XR. Look for job openings on professional forums like LinkedIn and contact small developers directly as well as seeking internships at large corporations. From here, it’s important to tailor your resume to the role and business you’re applying for. Ensure the skills, experiences, and attributes you showcase are aligned with your target business’ priorities.

With XR development roles, an eye-catching portfolio of work can be more powerful than a resume. Don’t worry if you haven’t worked on any professional XR projects as of yet. You can populate the portfolio with examples of your personal projects. Highlight not just the final outcomes, but your process, too. Showing in-progress screen grabs shows how you use your skills to solve problems and reach effective outcomes. You can use graphic design software to organize your examples to be clear and easily navigable before you publish your portfolio online for employers to review.

Pick Your Path

There are incredible opportunities emerging for careers in XR. It’s important to gain foundational skills that make you a useful contributor, alongside planning your professional development and application methods. Remember, too, that you don’t need to simply be employed by an XR business to thrive in the industry. With skills, ambition, and an innovative mindset, you can also build your own startup in this space.

Indiana Lee is a writer who focuses on wellness & environmental topics.

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