Yesterday, we kicked off our OC5 Speaker Spotlight series, where we ask five questions that look back at each person’s own history in VR and ahead to the next five years of industry innovation. Today, we chat with Oculus Engineering Manager John Bartkiw, who will give an OC5 talk entitled “Bootstrapping Social VR” that looks at invites and matchmaking, coordinated app launch and Oculus Avatars, VoIP, and P2P networking.
What was your very first experience with VR?
John Bartkiw: My first VR experience was back in the early ’90s playing Dactyl Nightmare at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. My scrawny neck could barely hold up the giant HMD they put on my head, but it was all worth it as I was transported into a futuristic world of polygons using a palette of 16 colors.
When did you first realize that VR could change the way we connect with each other?
JB: I didn’t become a full VR believer until E3 in 2015 when I first got to try the Oculus Toybox demo. It was my first VR experience with hand tracking and the first time that I really felt social presence. It was a transformative experience for me, and I knew right then that I needed to be a part of this new industry.
Why did you join Oculus/Facebook?
JB: I've been lucky enough to have had a lot of fun experiences in my 20 years in the games industry. Launching a brand new console with the original Xbox at Microsoft and bringing PC gaming back from the dead with Steam at Valve are both highlights, but neither come close to being at the start of an industry. I joined Oculus because I wanted to be a part of creating a whole new creative medium.
Who is your personal and professional hero?
JB: I come from a family of teachers, and I’m always amazed with their ability to bring energy and passion to a job that is so challenging. The sheer magnitude of positive change they bring through their work always has me in awe. The software I shipped 10 years ago is hardly being used today, but the students they taught 10 years ago are still using the lessons they learned and are passing it along.
On the professional side of things, my heroes are those people still in this business after 25+ years. It’s hard to stay creative and keep learning in this industry, so when I see someone who’s been at it longer than me still growing strong, it fills me with my own motivation to keep moving forward.
Where do you think VR will take us in the next five years?
JB: There are so many technical innovations that can, and probably will, happen in both software and hardware in the next five years, but I’ve learned that attempting to predict the future in tech is nearly impossible. Instead, what I’d love to see is VR opening up more avenues for sharing empathy. It’s easier to understand others when you put yourself in their shoes, and there’s no technology better suited for that than VR.