Women Making History: Meet Neilda Pacquing, MindGlow
Women in AR/VR
Women Making History: Meet Neilda Pacquing, Founder & CEO, MindGlow
Sorry, boys; the women of augmented and virtual reality are 'killing it.' Nevertheless, the immersive technology industry has a ways to go towards gender equality. As in the technology industry as a whole, women in XR typically receive less VC funding and occupy fewer leadership and technical positions compared to men. So, for Women's History Month 2020, we're interviewing real women who challenge the idea that the AR/VR industry lacks visible female role models. Enjoy!
1. To begin, could you provide us with a little background on yourself and your career? What does your job entail and what was your very first encounter with AR/VR?
Neilda: I'm a UX Designer turned entrepreneur. I'm the Founder and CEO of MindGlow. We use the immersive experience of VR to train employees to know what to do in emergencies, starting with active shooter training. Our training mission is to save lives through empowerment and engagement. I'm also a Nasdaq Milestone Maker, Oculus Launch Pad and Mozilla XR Studio Fellow, Boost VC grad, and UCLA alum.
I came from a military family and studied Political Science in college to be an FBI agent. I'm motivated to help, protect and save people. After realizing that I could do so on a mass scale using technology, I transitioned into tech. Before launching MindGlow, I was a Senior UX Designer at Sephora and Vice President, Mobile Interaction Designer at Bank of America, where I worked across the product, user experience and innovation teams. Additionally, I served as Designer-in-Residence and mentor at General Assembly.
I tried on my first VR headset (the DK2) at the GDC in March 2014--just days before Facebook acquired Oculus for $3 billion. At that moment, I fell in love with the technology and knew it had so much potential, especially with training. I was non-stop learning about designing, developing, understanding VR's capabilities, and observing how it affects human behavior and learning. I must have gone to hundreds of VR events, meetups and classes throughout the years. I saw the opportunity to integrate my passion for AR/VR, safety and training together and started MindGlow.
2. What is it like as a woman working in AR/VR?
Neilda: It's been a wild ride and I'm lucky to have the support I did going into it. I wouldn't say that it was easy. I was extremely motivated to get to where I am today.
It's unfortunate that the AR/VR industry had its share of 'events,' like when UploadVR was hit with a scandal in 2017. During that time, I was actually taking their evening VR development classes and felt a bit uneasy knowing that I was supporting their business while it was happening. However, my main focus was learning how to make apps of my own so I stayed until the very end of the course. I don't regret this decision. If I wanted to have an environment that favors people like me, I knew that I needed to be a creator myself, provide value and help others feel welcome in it.
The community I've surrounded myself within this industry has been nothing but supportive. I've learned so much from them and I am fortunate to have the resources that I do, especially since I live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
3. What challenges do you face that your male colleagues and peers don't?
Neilda: Every person, male or female, has their own unique challenges. There was this time I met two investors from the same firm during an accelerator's demo day. Both expressed interest in my company and I was emailing them individually. One investor scheduled a meeting with me to learn more about my company. The other told me their firm wouldn't be interested and asked me out for drinks because he was more interested on a personal level. I'm not 100% sure how often that happens to men, but situations like this can make you question what you personally did to get that type of response. That time could have been better spent building your company or project.
4. Have you ever felt judged or overlooked because of your gender?
Neilda: I have by both men and women. It does upset me quite a bit, but I never let that stop me from where I want to be. I search for answers (for a why) and determine if 1) it makes sense, 2) it's something that can be resolved, and 3) it's worth resolving.
5. What about the user experience for women; how do today's XR devices fit and perform for women?
Neilda: I used to work as a Senior UX Designer at Sephora. Things I thought about when putting on XR devices were makeup and hair. How can we accommodate the different types of hair and hairstyles? For makeup, how can we make sure that the glitter and shimmer I put on my face doesn't go onto yours? With my headsets, I put VR Covers on them to make them easy to clean.
6. Do you feel there's a lack of content for women AR/VR users? What would you like to see?
Neilda: Yes, there's a lack of content. One thing I found interesting when learning how to create VR content is the number of VR learning tutorials and games that show you how to create a shooting game. I questioned why that was. When I learned how to build my first VR app using Unity, it was for a shooting game and there were a lot of free gun assets available for download. Another popular category is VR porn.
I'm working on the apps I'd like to see. The first is EmpowHER VR: Self-Defense Training, where we teach the basics of empowering self-defense. Through the movement- and voice-based games, you will learn about personal boundaries, situational awareness, verbal self-defense, and physical self-defense.
The second and third apps are VR Active Shooter Training: Office and University Editions. In the experience, we teach regular civilians with no law enforcement or military background about what to do in the event of an active threat. Users will learn the following in a variety of environments: 1) The most common firearms used during an active shooting and what they sound like; 2) How to identify sound locations to increase awareness (and avoid where the sound originates from); 3) The Run-Hide-Fight method; 4) How to identify the closest exits away from the shooter; 5) The difference between cover and concealment and how to quickly identify what can be used in your environment to hide; and 6) Identifying what can be used as an improvised weapon to distract and attack the shooter when there is no other option.
I believe AR/VR can be used for good and to solve big problems in the world.
7. What is your advice to women who want to break into AR/VR?
Neilda: Create a community of supportive peers who want to see you succeed and grow along with them. Join meetups, attend local AR/VR events, join Facebook groups (e.g. ARVR Women and Allies and Women in VR/AR), and take online tutorials to start learning the basics. Here's a link to one you can start now: https://learn.unity.com/tutorial/getting-started-with-vr
8. What would you like to say to men in the space? What should they be doing to help women in tech?
Neilda: Think about the people in your life who helped you get to where you are today. Who were they and what did they do specifically that made all the difference? Now ask yourself, "How can I do that for others?"
9. What is the most critical issue for women in AR/VR in the next decade?
Neilda: What's critical is being known as an expert, creator and/or partner. I'm a big fan of the saying 'Empowered women empower women." Having and being part of a strong support system will help women grow and stay in the industry for a long time.
Neilda Pacquing is a startup founder on a mission to solve big problems with human-centered technology. She is the Founder & CEO of MindGlow, a company using the immersive experience of virtual reality (VR) to maximize workplace safety and prepare employees for emergencies, starting with Active Shooter Training.
Neilda comes from a military family and studied Political Science at UCLA to be an FBI agent with the motivation to help, protect and save people. After realizing she could do so on a mass scale using technology, she transitioned to tech. Prior experience includes working as Senior UX Designer at Sephora and Vice President, Mobile Interaction Designer at Bank of America. Additionally, she served as Designer-in-Residence and mentor at General Assembly. In 2018, Neilda produced a self-defense VR app as a fellow at Oculus Launch Pad and Mozilla XR Studio. She is a Nasdaq Milestone Maker and enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge through keynotes and panels.
Neilda was born in the Philippines. She received her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Public Affairs from UCLA. She is also an M.S. Integrated Design, Business, and Technology part-time candidate at USC Iovine and Young Academy. You can find out more about MindGlow at https://www.mindglowinc.com and connect with Neilda via LinkedIn.