The use of VR and AR is no longer limited to the gaming industry. Jobs in these cutting-edge workplaces are now available in many sectors.
- Extended reality (XR) technology, which encompasses both virtual and augmented reality, has a growing footprint in fields from the military to manufacturing to consumer products.
- Technologists dominate XR career paths, but there are also opportunities for business professionals.
- Leading technology companies are significant sources of XR-related jobs.
- This article is for professionals interested in pursuing careers and opportunities in XR technology.
Emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are behind some of the most exciting developments in contemporary technology. Although though VR and AR are two distinct technologies, they frequently come up in the same conversations and are frequently referred to as XR, or extended reality.
New in-demand employment skills and interesting job prospects are being fueled by XR technologies. Although this technology is often linked with gaming businesses, there are a wide range of employment prospects in software, wearables, education, healthcare, retail, the U.S. military, and more.
We’ll look at the technology behind VR and AR and explore career opportunities in this rapidly growing arena.
What are VR and AR?
In virtual reality, a user often dons a device to interact with a virtual world, such as a helmet or goggles. For instance, well-known VR gaming systems are the Oculus Rift (developed by Facebook parent company Meta) and Vive headsets.
The subtlety of augmented reality might vary. With AR, you can see, hear, and feel things with digital additions without using a gadget. The yellow first-down line that can be seen during televised football games is one early application of AR.
The military’s tactical augmented reality (TAR) eyepiece for situational awareness, which will eventually replace night-vision goggles, is an example of a next-generation AR innovation. Another illustration is MIT’s SixthSense, a wearable device that enables users to interact with digital data using their natural hand motions. For instance, with only hand motions and this technology, a user could engage with a projected map.
The market for combination XR is growing quickly. Precedence Research estimates that the market will grow from $26.4 billion in 2021 to $345 billion in 2030.
Jobs in AR, VR and the metaverse
Although companies have spent years developing and refining XR technology, demand for skilled XR professionals is experiencing a significant uptick as more technologies emerge from R&D and enter the marketplace.
As you might guess, custom software development figures prominently in the XR job market. But there are many more roles in the XR space:
- Collaborators: Developers typically collaborate closely with software designers and 3D artists, as well as design architects and engineers who plan and create the hardware on which XR software runs.
- Validation engineers: System validation engineers test those systems and help resolve technical issues. They circle back with developers to ensure applications get modified accordingly.
- Marketing, sales and distribution: There’s also an entire business marketing, sales and distribution field that takes XR products to market and eventually puts them into customers’ hands (or around their heads).
- Industrial maintenance and support: Increasingly, factories use augmented reality to reduce machine repair errors and improve precision maintenance practices. 3D tools like MAYA, 3D MAX and Autodesk 3D are useful here.
- XR Gameplay and tools engineer: Gaming is one of the leading fields for XR. Gameplay and tools engineers build debugging, authoring and profiling tools to help developers reduce software iteration time. Expect to use Vulkan, OpenGL or DirectX.
- Researcher: Befitting an emerging field, researchers explore new ways to use XR and AR technologies. They might work in academia or a corporate setting and typically have an advanced degree.
- Product and project managers: Product and project managers work with product teams to create and develop new products for developers and consumers. These positions apply business thinking and rigor to new XR technologies.
Typical XR job salaries
It’s difficult to pinpoint precise salaries because of the broad swath of job types and roles in the industry, as well as geographic and seniority considerations.
For example, according to Circuit Stream, the average salary for XR software engineers is $101,000, with top earners receiving $155,000. In contrast, the base salary for an XR developer is $79,000.
Glassdoor estimates that AR and VR developers earn about $93,000 annually, with the highest earners topping $150,000.
ZipRecruiter breaks down average national salaries by popular technical job roles, such as $97,269 for VR developers and about $107,000 for AR designers. However, depending on location and seniority, some professionals can earn nearly twice as much as these averages.
Essential background and skills for XR jobs
Because so many different XR positions are available, we’ll focus on development and project management job skills.
XR developer skills
Employers want XR developers with the following:
- Application development experience: Employers want candidates with experience developing responsive applications, especially 3D and animation development, usually within Agile Scrum engineering teams.
- Design skills: Some employers also seek developers with design skills.
- XR platform proficiency: You’ll need moderate to advanced proficiency with at least one XR platform, such as Unity, or emerging products.
- Programming experience: You must also be highly skilled in C#, C++, Java or a similar language. Having programming certifications is a bonus.
- Additional background experience: Depending on the project, you may also need a background in motion capture, gesture recognition, networking, math or simulated physics.
- Education: You’ll frequently see a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in computer science or software engineering as a preferred or required qualification for such positions.
XR project manager skills and experience
Employers look for the following in potential XR project managers:
- XR project experience: The XR project manager (aka project lead, innovation lead or computer vision manager) should have ample experience working on XR projects, often as a developer or engineer who decided to jump onto the IT management track.
- Tech background: Employers look for people with a strong background overseeing technology projects in general throughout the development lifecycle, from inception to a viable product.
- Emerging technology experience: They also look for people with broad knowledge of emerging technologies, trends and industry best practices.
- Education: A bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science or a related discipline is usually required.
- Professional experience: They expect at least five years of professional experience.
- General skills: As with all project management positions, soft skills, like strong written and verbal communication skills, are necessary, as are strong leadership capabilities and management skills.
Getting started in an XR career
If you have programming skills but don’t know how to get started in an XR career, consider learning Unity. The company’s documentation is freely available; you can go through free tutorials from home. You’ll likely have to invest in some equipment, such as a headset, but if you’re avidly interested in XR, chances are you’ve already done that.
Practice extensively until you feel comfortable with XR development, and create a portfolio of projects that showcase your work.
Who’s hiring in XR?
Google, Meta and Amazon are some of the top XR players in the market. A LinkedIn job search (one of the best sites for XR jobs) and a search on Indeed.com for “virtual reality <job role>” or “augmented reality <job role>” in the United States will turn up hundreds of jobs – more for VR than AR currently.
Most of those positions are located in California or on the East Coast. But don’t assume you must work for a large corporation that may or may not be in your area. Many small companies are cutting a path into XR, and freelance work is on the rise.
Look for local tech meetup groups focused on XR (or artificial intelligence), which can be a valuable source of networking and job openings and a way to sharpen your skills.
XR is a huge opportunity
For many of us, XR has yet to become part of our day-to-day existence. However, it’s easy to see it will weave itself into our personal and professional lives. For professionals with ambitious career goals, especially those with technical skill sets, it’s a field worth exploring.
The other option is to hire designers at a more affordable rate. There are many companies out there that offer web design services at an affordable price.
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