In this episode, we chat we talk about spatial computing with April Speight, cloud advocate for spatial computing at Microsoft. April talks about moving from fashion to development, what spatial computing is, and her personal curriculum to learn what she needed to in order to make the switch from project management to the world of extended reality.
- Spatial computing
- Extended reality
- Project management
- Consumer Technology Association (CTA)
- Google Career Certificates
- Augmented reality (AR)
- Virtual reality (VR)
- Mixed Reality
- Magic Leap
- Program Management
- Oculus Go
- Oculus Quest
- Google Cardboard
- Channel 9
- Scott Hanselman: Announcing free C#, .NET, and ASP.NET for beginners video courses and tutorials
- Mixed Reality Toolkit
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Data Science
- Microsoft Azure
- Facial Recognition
- MIT Reality Hack
- Mixed Reality Academy
[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about spatial computing with April Speight, Cloud Advocate for Spatial Computing at Microsoft.
[00:00:19] AS: I feel like it’s inevitable. It’s still a little bit of hopping around when you’re first starting, especially if you don’t have someone there to hold your hand. And for me, I was literally treading in brand new water.
[00:00:29] SY: April talks about moving from fashion to development, what spatial computing is, and her personal curriculum to learn what she needed to in order to make the switch from project management to the world of extended reality after this.
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[00:02:15] SY: Thanks so much for being here.
[00:02:17] AS: Oh, no problem. Thanks for having me. How are you?
[00:02:19] SY: I’m doing very well. Good to reconnect after eight years. We knew each other back in college. This is very exciting. So I love your story April, because it’s so fascinating. You’ve done so many things and you’ve been a part of many different industries. So I want to talk about life before Microsoft, where you were actually in the luxury fashion industry for six years. How did you get into fashion?
[00:02:41] AS: Yeah. So when we were in college, I needed a job. So that’s how I ended up working in fashion. And it was one of those things where I didn’t get a chance to work throughout high school. My mom wouldn’t let me. And so when I got to college, it then flipped in, I had to get a job if I wanted to go shopping and hang out and so on and so forth. So I ended up getting a job in retail at Juicy Couture. And by staying within that area, I realized just how much I liked being around clothes all day. I loved how much fun it was working with customers, I would say. And just overall, just being immersed in that environment. So I ended up staying in fashion after that. And it was really a happy accident to the point where I ended up even getting my master’s in luxury and fashion management. So that’s how dedicated I was, but that was up until I ended up transitioning into tech anyway, but that’s how I started in fashion though. I needed a job in undergrad and it was just one of those things that I happened to really have fallen in love with.
[00:03:50] SY: Necessity is a very powerful force. So you went from fashion into tech. How did you get into tech?
[00:03:56] AS: So as I was graduating from undergrad, because I ended up going to two different schools, and once I was finishing with my degree, I was still working in fashion at the time, and I realized that the particular career path I had set for myself working in fashion wasn’t going to necessarily give me the lifestyle that I wanted to live financially, that is. So I started looking for what other options I had given what I had previously learned in school. So when I had transferred colleges, one thing I did was pursue a certificate in business project management. So I had these project management principles under my belt. And I said, “Okay, maybe I can find a job as a project manager.” And I started doing some searches online and everywhere was saying, “You need an IT experience to be a project manager.” And I’m just like, “Hmm, no one’s ever mentioned that in my classes.”
[00:04:55] SY: And that would have been good to know.
[00:04:56] AS: Yeah, it would have been super good to know. So I started looking around as much as I could to find positions that were entry-level and it was really hard then to fin, unfortunately, I found the internship with the Consumer Electronics Association, they’re now the Consumer Technology Association, and it was literally for an IT project management intern. So I got that position and that was my first walk into tech. And I can’t say I’ve been in tech ever since. Because once I started that position, it was great. I did that for a couple years and then I went back into fashion then I came right back into tech after that.
[00:05:34] SY: So what kind of stuff did you do as an intern in IT? Is it program management or product management?
[00:05:39] AS: It was project management project.
[00:05:41] SY: Project. Okay. I didn’t get either. As an intern in IT, project management, what kind of stuff did you do?
[00:05:48] AS: There were a couple of projects. As an intern, the first thing that we were working on was retiring our shopping cart, our online shopping cart for our site, which is we sold market research on our site. And what that involved was me doing some research with regards to what pages were getting the most engagement. Having done that, I was able to put together like an evaluation of what certain things should stay, what should go away, and that also transitioned into a project that we were working on for our intranet as well, with regards to what should we do away with, and our members site as well. So with a lot of evaluation around engagement. And beyond that, a lot of interfacing with different departments internally because the decisions that I get the analysis you could say that I did impact the work in the content that they had. And so it was a lot of conversations with them to let them know what was going on, what my findings were and the recommendations that we had going forward. So that was one project. Another project was the launch of our new help desk. And so that was my baby and I was responsible for understanding how to configure the entire system. And also more or less, if you want to think of it as architecting, just how things were set up from a curation standpoint. So I worked on that as well. I put together training materials for that and I’m responsible for the entire rollout plan of that. So as an intern, I would say I got to do a lot of speaking because I can do a lot and there was a lot of speaking with people beyond my level and beyond my manager. And I think that was super important because that made me comfortable early on in speaking with people who are at like VP level, for example. I was offered a full-time position when I was in that internship, which was lovely, and I was there for two years. And then I got to the point where I felt really comfortable with what I was doing. And we had some internal changes in our department to the point where my manager, she transitioned to a different department. I really wanted to take over what she was doing, but unfortunately, as I’m sure many folks at home will learn as they’re starting out on their journey and some places having be credentials can matter. And it was one of those situations where even though I had shown throughout that time that I could be a project manager by title, I didn’t have the project management professional certification.
[00:08:28] SY: So I know that certification is something that the developer world is kind of torn about. And I feel kind of torn about it too, because on the one hand, it’s definitely better than requiring a four-year degree. Right?
[00:08:40] AS: Yeah.
[00:08:40] SY: If I can pick between a certification that takes six months or a year to study for that I can do in my own time, that’s ridiculously cheaper than a four-year degree, that definitely lowers the barrier of entry to people and makes it more accessible. Right?
[00:08:56] AS: Yeah.
[00:08:56] SY: So on the one hand, it’s really great. And actually Google.
[00:08:59] AS: I saw.
[00:09:01] SY: Did you catch that?
[00:09:01] AS: Yeah.
[00:09:02] SY: They announced Google courses and their own Google certificates where they said, “If you pass these certificates in different technical topics, then you qualify for a job interview at Google,” which is incredible. You know?
[00:09:15] AS: Yeah.
[00:09:16] SY: And so I think certificates can be really powerful and a really great way to include more people in tech. But I can also see the frustration of someone like you who has the job skills. Like you’ve proven yourself. You’ve done the internship. You’ve done the job. You’ve been doing the work and to have to take a step back to study, take the time off, spend the money, that can be really frustrating. So I’m wondering, given your experience and given kind of the larger context of certifications, where do you stand on that?
[00:09:42] AS: I personally don’t like them. Primarily the reason being that I don’t test well, I’ve never been a test taker. I know some people live for taking tests, but I don’t. And it’s not a matter of not knowing the information. It’s the anxiety that comes around taking tests. And I was always that person in school, whereas when you’re taking quizzes and such, you’re in your own zone, you can answer everything, you know everything. But for me, the second the teacher or the professor walks up behind me, I shut down completely. And I get so nervous around. It’s kind of like one of those things where it’s like you’re learning how to do something and then you do it, and then as soon as everyone’s watching, it’s like, “Oh wait, I can’t do it now because you’re looking.”
[00:10:25] SY: Yeah.
[00:10:26] AS: That’s how I approach test taking. And it’s just something about it. I just can’t do it. And so because of that reason, I feel like for individuals who can resonate with that, it does make it really unfair because you know the information, but because you didn’t answer 50 or so questions, how many questions it is on this exam, you’re “not qualified” to be certified in this space. And I don’t think that’s really fair for everyone. But I will say when I did hear about the Google announcement, literally that was yesterday when I heard it, I felt jealous for not just like a negative way, but jealous in like a positive way that that’s even possible for the folks who can’t take advantage of this because getting that four-year degree is not the easiest thing in the world. And I took what five or six years to get that four-year degree. So it does free up a lot of time, which I think lowers the barrier to entry in a good way, which I can appreciate. But for cases where college isn’t an option, doing certificates in place I think is great. But then it does leave out those folks who just overall don’t do well with taking the tests.
[00:11:38] SY: So let’s talk about your second time entering tech. What was that like? Where’d you land?
[00:11:45] AS: So I first shot for the moon and try to just land somewhere that was big and grand and fabulous and it did not happen. So I took a step back and I said, “Okay,” which is probably like a bad way to think about it, I felt like I was too old to do an internship. And when I say that, I don’t mean from an age perspective, I mean from an experience perspective, because I had already worked in tech. So I didn’t feel like I needed another internship to get back into tech. But I said, “What else can I do?” And that’s what I decided to do contract work instead. And so I entered tech again through a contract that I had with a law firm that was launching a new website and it needed to do Q&A before doing the launch. And literally, Saron, I was only responsible for looking at all of the copy on the new site, ensuring that things work the way that they were supposed to work. And that was literally all I did. The contract was supposed to be for, I think, three weeks and it got extended to like two months.
[00:12:45] SY: Oh nice!
[00:12:46] AS: And once it was coming to an end, I had already started interviewing at other places and I got a new full-time position with Lidl US. They were coming to the States and their headquarters was in Northern Virginia and I got a position over there helping to roll out new vendor management software. So that was how I came back into tech, started with contract work, and then I officially got into a role that I really wanted to do.
[00:13:16] SY: So now you’re at Microsoft. So I guess it ends up where that landing at that big, fashionable, amazing company ended up happening.
[00:13:24] AS: Yes.
[00:13:25] SY: How did you end up there?
[00:13:26] AS: You know what? I will say having a network is everything. So when I was ready to move on to a new company, at that point, I had happened to have created a very vast network of individuals that were already working in tech. So when I approached job, searching this go round with Microsoft, I felt for once that the tables were turned with regards to now I was the one that got to be picky and choosy about who I wanted to work for. I was the one that was, “We’ll see when I have time for an interview.” You know?
[00:14:03] SY: Very nice. Yeah.
[00:14:04] AS: So it was a really big change, but I got to that point because I do a lot of folks who are already working at tech and I was able to speak with the people individually one-on-one about different roles. I was able to speak with some actual founders of different companies that I interviewed with to talk more about their roles, which I thought was really helpful. When it came to Microsoft, literally I was on Twitter and I saw a tweet from my now former coworkers, since he’s moved on to another company, who had mentioned that his team was hiring. So we connected. We talked some. He told me about the position and ended up initially getting in contact with who became my manager in December. And then in January, that’s when I did my interviews with Microsoft and it turned out really well. I really liked it. I felt that I was well-prepared for that interview. But like I said, it all came to be because I had grown my network at that point or just me reaching out to someone at a company and saying, “Hey, is anything open?” And that made a very big difference, I would say. It took years, but it finally happened.
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[00:16:34] SY: So you went from project management to spatial computing, which is what you do now. Those seem very different from each other.
[00:16:42] AS: They are.
[00:16:44] SY: Okay. So how did we get to spatial? Well, first of all, let’s see what is spatial computing, and then tell us how you got there.
[00:16:50] AS: So I work within the area of extended reality and that encompasses all the different realities that we’re aware of such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and Mixed Reality is in there and spatial computing is in there as well. And within the Mixed Reality realm, that’s really a spectrum from augmented reality to virtual reality. And that’s when you’re able to interact with the virtual world while you’re in the real world. And when you start to bring spatial computing into it, that’s when you can consider experiences that are involved around really having those interactions with what’s happening in the real world and the virtual world. So a really good example, let’s say that in my like railroad office, I have my computer desk, for example. And in my device that I’m wearing, let’s say it happens to be a HoloLens. I have a holographic ball. And as we know in real life, balls are round. So if you were to drop a ball, for example, in real life, it would roll because that’s what you expect it to do. Now if I were to put this holographic ball on the surface of my real life desk, it’ll stay still where it is. It probably won’t move. But the moment that I actually move this holographic ball to the edge of my real world desk, it’s going to roll over and fall and then what I should see after that is this holographic ball should roll across the ground because now it has physics that’s been added to it and it acts like a real ball. So that ability to blend those worlds together and have these holographic objects be spatially aware of what’s in the surroundings, that’s when you get into the spatial computing area and a lot of stuff. There’s a lot more to it. That’s probably the most watered down version and example well that I can give.
[00:18:39] SY: That was a great example. I love that example.
[00:18:40] AS: But perfect. Yeah. So I do things like that. And how I got into this, that network, honestly. I was sitting on Twitter one day at LaGuardia, waiting to board my delayed flight. And I had saw a tweet from a Microsoft account about a HoloLens demo that was using speech translation. So the person who was speaking in English, they were having a shared experience and the person on the other end, they were receiving that output, translate it into their language, which I think was Japanese. So I was amazed by that and I said, “What do I need to learn to do this?” And then at that point, people from the XR community were chiming in with just resources and links and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And the folks that magically, they were kind of to reach out and said, “Hey, we’re doing a workshop coincidentally in LA this weekend. Are you interested in coming?”
[00:19:40] SY: Oh wow!
[00:19:40] AS: And so I ended up going to that workshop and that was my very first time ever trying out that technology. And then the folks at Microsoft, from the Mixed Reality Team, had reached out and then we connected. So when I went to campus, during one of my visits, that’s when I got to learn more. And from there, it got to a point where I realized that this is something that I actually want to do as a job. I want to create content around us because for so long, I hadn’t been creating tech content, just all the side for fun. So I ended up being able to upskill what I needed to know. The rest from there I would say is history.
[00:20:23] SY: So what team were you coming from?
[00:20:25] AS: I was coming from the docs’ team. So the team that works with docs.microsoft.com or documentation platform, I was a program manager. I went from project to program. So I was a program manager with the docs’ team and I was responsible for interactive features. So features that you can interact with on our site, those were the ones that I helped bring to life. So that was the team that I was first with at Microsoft.
[00:20:49] SY: I’m assuming it was very helpful that you were already at Microsoft. You were already doing some tech stuff. You mentioned having some tech side projects, but still when I think about spatial computing, it sounds so other world language, which makes sense because of different realities.
[00:21:05] AS: Yeah. But I’m a big fan of VR and we had the vibe when it first came out. We had the Oculus Go, we have the Quest. We use our Quest almost every day. And whenever I’m in VR, I keep thinking, “I have no idea how to imagine beginning to conceptualize coding in this context.” I would have no idea where to think about beginning. And so going from documentation to that world, it feels like such a huge leap.
[00:21:33] AS: It was.
[00:21:33] SY: And you mentioned kind of upskilling.
[00:21:35] AS: Yes.
[00:21:35] SY: Tell me about your upskilling process. What did that involve?
[00:21:39] AS: It first started out with being overwhelmed by everything that I had to learn because I was brand new to this area and it got to the point where I was trying to figure out, “Should I start with this first? Should I do this other thing first? Should I know how 3D works? Should I understand how physics work?” So I ended up going to the different platforms that I personally knew of that had documentation that existed and whatever seemed remotely interesting. And that narrowed down to looking at Google’s documentation because they have the Google Cardboard, and then I also looked at a Magic Leap Pad and I also looked at what we had at Microsoft as well. And then I looked at courses that were available on Udacity because they had a program. And so I looked at what all these different documentations and courses taught. I didn’t sit and read and learn. I actually looked at what the main topics were. And I used that to help me put together what I titled my XR curriculum. And I had that to outline where I should probably start. And then for me, the one thing that everything had in common was learning Unity, which is a game engine. And it turns out that I needed to know Unity, really, to understand how to do all the different tutorials that I was running into. And so as I was figuring out how to use Unity, they have a really great set documentation by the way, in terms of how they do their learning, but I also learned that I needed to know a new language. And at the time I use Python. So I now had to learn C# if I wanted to do any scripting. So I spent time learning C# with Codecademy as well as within Microsoft, within Channel 9, Scott Hanselman and Kendra, and I always forget her last name, they both have a series of C# basics, and I literally sat and went through all of what’s sent through that so I can understand C#, not to master it, but to understand what was going on. And so once I had Unity, once I had C#, then I was able to start working with different tools. And for me, it’s primarily been the Mixed Reality Toolkit, which is one of the packages that we have, that you can import at Microsoft into your Mixed Reality experiences to help accelerate your Mixed Reality development. Once I started playing around with that a bit more, then I began to learn about other tools available. I had done some work with Magic Leap because I had the device. That was one thing I can say I was fortunate for, I had devices, and not everyone has that luxury either.
[00:24:16] SY: They can be expensive.
[00:24:17] AS: Yes, they definitely can be expensive, but it was really overall finding common ground between what everyone was teaching and helping that define where I needed to start. For me, that was 100% starting with Unity, then learning C# to understand scripting. And then from there it was a matter of, “Okay, what do I want to build?” And once I realized what I wanted to build over time, I started looking up how to do different things, whether it was on YouTube, for example, or just reading through different docs through people’s personal blogs. Because for this industry, I feel documentation is in its infancy, compared to like if I wanted to go learn Python, I feel like I can go anywhere and learn Python. That stuff is everywhere. But if you want to learn XR, it’s not the same. And you really have to do a lot of the legwork to go find documentation. And there’s no set path and learning how to do anything because so many of us had ventured into our own little areas of what we get into. And to this day, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff I still don’t know, but every time I started a new project, it opens the door to still learning. And I would say one thing that I wish that all managers did, because my manager did it when I started with this team at Microsoft, I had two months to focus on upscaling and that was all I’ll be able to learn. I didn’t have to create content or anything. I had a dedicated two months to just sit and learn.
[00:25:42] SY: That’s wonderful.
[00:25:43] AS: It is great. And even now that I’ve settled into my role, upskilling is still part of all of our day to day, not just me, but we’re also responsible for learning how things work. So every week I literally have time blocked on my calendar to sit and learn how to do something.
[00:25:59] SY: I love that, two months of just focusing on learning. Did you get to design your curriculum during that time or did they kind of guide you and tell you what you should learn?
[00:26:07] AS: We had a list of areas that folks on the team should be familiar with, not mastery, but familiar with so that we could at least speak to it. But then beyond that, if there were any other areas that I really wanted to get a little deeper in the weeds on, then by all means I go ahead and do it. But that’s why I say it was a mix. It wasn’t, “Only learned these things.” It was, “You should know these things and then whatever else you’re interested in.”
[00:26:36] SY: I love your approach to learning and how you designed your own curriculum. I think that’s a really great strategy because one of the big problems we have in our community of people who are learning how to code is resource hopping, right? You start with one thing and you’re like, “Ah, should I really do this other thing and go to this other thing?” And you’re like, “Man, I’m looking at this other book,” and then you just keep jumping around and you never finished anything. But it sounds like you almost like intentionally jumped around just enough to kind of look at the topics and figure out what you needed to know. You pulled all that together. You looked at what they had in common and then you build out your curriculum. I imagine you probably had more conviction in how you were learning and what you were learning because you’d already done the research and you were probably very confident in your strategy. I love that as a piece of advice for people listening who might be kind of figuring out how they should start learning a new language or a new framework.
[00:27:29] AS: Yeah. I feel like it’s inevitable to do a little bit of hopping around when you’re first starting, especially if you don’t have someone there to hold your hand. And for me, I was literally treading in brand new water and a lot of the folks that already worked in this area, for the most part, a lot of them have been doing it for so long and it was kind of hard to really get out of anyone. What should I learn first? Because everyone has their opinion on what you should learn first. A lot of it comes down to what is it that you want to do. And even beyond working at spatial, when I was even learning Python, for example, I narrowed it down to what it was I wanted to do. And for me, I wanted to create chatbots and AI assistance. And so I did the same thing that I did for learning stuff within XR for Python. And that was actually where I got the idea first was because I had my own Python curriculum that I created, and it was heavily tailored towards working with chatbots. And I know not everyone knows upfront what their end goal is, but I feel that when you are starting out with the basics and you get a good understanding of how it works, through looking at other projects or even in the midst of learning just the basics, it’s very possible that you’ll start to gravitate more towards a certain area. And once you realize whatever that area is that you want to gravitate towards, start building curriculum around that particular area. And sometimes you might think you like something a lot and you start to learn it and then you hate it. And that’s honestly how I started with Python because I thought I wanted to do data science and then I hated data science. So I think that’s okay because at the end of the day, you still learn something, but it’s okay to pivot and start learning something else.
[00:29:14] SY: So we spent a good chunk of time talking about spatial computing, but I want to hear about cloud advocacy. So we’ve had a handful of developer advocates on the show, but I want to hear about a cloud advocate. What does that mean?
[00:29:27] AS: Yes. So as you know, at Microsoft, we have our fabulous Azure and a majority of the content and awareness that we create around cloud services is all in itself dedicated to Azure and showing you what you can do and build and such and connect that with Azure. So for us over in the spatial world, lately for me that has been making a lot of use out of our speech services, for example, and that falls within our cognitive services. So most of the experience that I’ve been creating lately, essentially, there’s a mic in the experience that takes in an utterance and sends it to the cloud, which is Azure, and then it gives you an output as a string. And that’s how you’re dealing that communication channel going back and forth. As of literally maybe an hour or two before you and I started talking today, I got our bot working that we have with our bot service within Azure. So essentially, it’s showing us different ways that you can use our different Azure services with your own projects and our own experiences or your apps that you’re creating. And when you’re looking at the area of spatial, you can use a lot of the existing products that we have within Azure in your Mixed Reality experiences. And so for example, I’ve seen or I’ve even tried out using custom vision, for example, so that way we can do object recognition, if you will, and facial recognition as well, that you can also incorporate. And those features, if you will, are all possible because we have services that are available that heavily utilize or they have utilized because they are already part of Azure. So yeah. So a lot of what the content and awareness I create is around working with cloud services.
[00:31:32] SY: Coming up next, April talks about some of her favorite projects that she’s worked on in spatial computing, as well as some of her favorite resources to get into the extended reality niche after this.
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[00:33:17] LS: True to the Dev Community, DevDiscuss wouldn’t be possible without the input from all of you. So listen, rate, and subscribe to DevDiscuss wherever you get your podcasts.
[00:33:33] SY: Tell me about some of your favorite projects that maybe you’ve worked on or your team has worked on in spatial computing.
[00:33:40] AS: So it’s not quite spatial, but I want to share it anyway because I think that really helped create my confidence and being able to feel like I can do this. Just before I came into my team, I had attended my very first hackathon at MIT Reality Hack of this year.
[00:33:57] SY: Oh cool!
[00:33:58] AS: And it was great. The team that I was on, we created a dyslexia and dysgraphia therapy app for children. It’s a VR experience and it’s designed to be used by a speech therapist, if you will. And there’s a wizard in the experience and the child, they have a magic wand and they have to draw the letters of the words. So if you had cat, for example, you use your magic wand to spell cat out to write it. We incorporated or integrated ways to check that they were actually writing the correct letter and things of that nature. And then the very last piece of it is after they were able to write it out, we checked for the ability to recognize what the word was. So we had some speech thrown in there to listen for them to say an utterance, and if it was correct, then they cast a magic spell. So I really liked that particular project because that was my very first project. Prior to that, I did all these like little small tutorials here and there, but that was my first chance to actually put some skills to use. I worked on that speech component actually. So I was really happy for that. We won in two categories for that hackathon. And that in itself made me feel like it was possible to go on and do stuff in this area, even like beyond the same atmosphere, just doing it by myself. So I really loved that. But for things that I’ve been working on beyond that, the apps I’ve been working on lately because they involve speech, one that I shared recently was a flash card game, if you will. So I’ve been learning French since we been quarantined.
[00:35:53] SY: Good for you.
[00:35:54] AS: Thank you. And I’ve wanted a way to incorporate that into like Mixed Reality in some ways. So what I did was I created these flash cards and you either have like an English mode or French mode. And depending on the mode you’re in, let’s say the cards were all in English, for example. And so I would press on one, I would say the word in French. And if I pronounced it correctly, that I was awarded points. So it was a way for me to really learn a lot more of what I could do within Unity outside. I was able to learn how to create different scenes as well, which was not something that I had done in the past in Unity and scenes are essentially when you start a video game, you start on that main menu and then you go into like another part of the game. That other part of the game will be like a whole new scene. So I had never done anything that like switch scenes before. I only did a thing that was in one scene. So now I had the chance to flip between scenes. I had some voice that was in there. I did some scripting, which was like a big challenge for me because C# is not my language, but I had some success with that. So that one, I would say it was probably one of my other favorite ones, but I literally work on projects every week.
[00:37:09] SY: Wow! Your life sounds so exciting. So I’m curious, given the fact that you entered tech twice, you’ve done fashion, you’ve done project management, you’ve done IT, you’ve done so many things. I’d love to get your advice on how people can be where you are. If people want to get into spatial computing and be cloud advocates, what advice do you have for them on how to get started?
[00:37:33] AS: If you want to become an advocate, whether it’s a cloud advocate, developer advocate, one thing that I would say has been really helpful was to show the ability to create content and get people talking, because I would say I’m probably messing up the numbers, but either 70 to 80 percent of my job is creating content. And so for me, walking into this transfer that I had to this team, I already had content that existed on the internet for people to see. The managers that I had now and even his manager, who’s my skip manager, they were already aware of my work. So I didn’t have to prove to anyone that I was capable of doing like an interview of creating content because I already work that existed, whether it was blog posts or YouTube videos or whatnot. That was one really important part is already having existing content because it shows that you can create content, but also you’re able to engage with community because most of what we do is get engaged with the community. But start creating content. Don’t wait for someone to give you the permission to do it. Go create little mini YouTube video series. Go live stream. Go write blog posts on a topic area that you’re really passionate about because I feel like when you are creating content, it comes across as, first of all, more knowledgeable because it’s something that you’re always doing already. Personally, for me, I can feel emotion through reading people’s writing. So it gives me an idea of like how much this person likes this area. So that’s why I say if you’re doing content, let it focus on the area that you liked the most. I will tell you, it makes it 100 times easier to create content around stuff that you like.
[00:39:16] SY: Absolutely. And do you have any favorite resources for spatial computing in terms of leveling up and learning?
[00:39:23] AS: Yes, definitely. So with Microsoft, we have a really great amount of documentation within our Mixed Reality docs and search for Mixed Reality Academy should take you to our docs that we have at Microsoft. And there’s a good amount of tutorials there to help you get started. We also do link off to some other sites, like if you’ve never used Unity, we do insist that you learn Unity and we’ll point you in that direction. But I would say our docs, lie to you not, I still look at them every day for some reason. There’s always something that I need that’s already in there. So I go and reference that. But also beyond the learning, how to do this part, we have a lot of conceptual documentation around how to design for these experiences and what you should consider when you are working in this space. I think that’s really helpful too because the worst thing that you could do is create an experience and then it doesn’t follow any sort of best practices. So we have a lot of documentation in that area as well. So I know that if you go to aka.ms/MRAcademy, that’ll take you to those Mixed Reality Academy docs, and worst case, if you search Mixed Reality Academy through your favorite search engine, it’ll also be there as well.
[00:40:44] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. April, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:40:51] AS: I’m all set and ready.
[00:40:53] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:40:56] AS: Not to change my hair so much.
[00:40:59] SY: Oh, interesting. I want to hear the story behind this one.
[00:41:02] AS: Yeah. And I think it came from a place of well intention and also realizing and understanding that there are generational differences for folks who work in tech, because there are some folks who are my age, and I’m a millennial, and then there are some who are like my parents’ age and they’ve been there a little longer. And so I didn’t take it in a bad way. I took it from a place of we are of two different generations. And what you may have experienced as you are building your way up in your career may very well have been valid, but with where we are now, things are changing. So that was said to me as I was transitioning from my first job in tech into a whole new role and it came from a place of not raising too many eyebrows because I am the type of person that changed my hair like every week. My dad does hair. So by default, I fell in love with the idea of changing hair. Like even now, I cut all my hair off during the middle of quarantine. So I actually didn’t follow that advice. I went into my new role and I had all types of hair, Saron. At one point, I had black and white hair. I had done everything to my hair, but that just goes to show you that you should not feel pressure to succumb to a certain look to appease others when you are working and especially in this industry or to make other people feel comfortable. If there’s a certain way that you want to portray yourself like physically or aesthetically, by all means go do it. I’m not trying to fit this certain tech box. I still very much dress as though I’m still in the fashion industry. You know?
[00:42:40] SY: Yeah.
[00:42:41] AS: It makes me feel more free and it makes me feel like I don’t have to worry about trying to be a certain way to make others happy. So that was the worst advice.
[00:42:51] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:42:54] AS: The best advice I’ve ever received came from when I was working at Saks and one of our stylists had said to me, “We’re not curing cancer.” That has stuck with me for so long because the work that we were doing and like the styling world, we weren’t doing anything that was life-changing. And the point she was making there was that you can chill out. You don’t have to do this around the clock and let it worry you to death. It’s okay to take a step back and to chill. And that has also followed me into working in tech now because at the end of the day, unless obviously you’re working on a project that is working on helping secure any of the life’s ills that we have, you can take a step back and chill. You can take a break. It’s one of those things where you don’t have to drive yourself into the ground to finally make your code work, for example. It’s okay to take a break and chill out. So that’s been like the best advice.
[00:43:55] SY: Yeah. Absolutely. I like that. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:44:02] AS: Very first coding project, I’ll tie it into that one that I did within spatial. It was the app that we did at the MIT Reality Hack. That was my first actual project that I worked on. I loved it. I really did. I got to also tie in that speech component, which was one thing I was really super passionate about and it gave me the confidence that I have to stay, to work in this space.
[00:44:27] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:44:32] AS: I think I wish I knew was that you can go as fast as you want to. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that unless you are pressured to do something by a certain amount of time in terms of learning, there’s no real reason to rush and do it. Take your time and learn. Don’t feel that you have to learn X, Y, Z by Friday because you see so-and-so on Twitter talking about this project that they made. It’s one of those things where you don’t have to feel rushed to be as fast as everyone else, especially because you don’t know how fast or slow other people were in their own learning. It’s totally okay to slow down and take as long as you need. Literally to these days, Saron, and even though like I wrote a whole book, I still have to like search how to create virtual environments for Python, because there are just certain things that they might not stick and it’s okay to have to go back and reference them and we learn them and working with APIs, for example. Not my favorite topic, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with it, I would say. And there are times where I still need to go back and go back and review some stuff. But there’s nothing saying that like I have to quickly hurry up and go do it. It’s okay to slow down. And I think starting out, I was trying to speed things up and hurry up and learn. And for me, mentally, it doesn’t work that way. I need to take my time and let things sit and I need to sit and get comfortable and let things marinate in my brain before I move forward.
[00:46:01] SY: Absolutely. Love it. Well, thank you so much for joining us, April.
[00:46:04] AS: No problem. Thanks for having me.
[00:46:14] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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