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Target audience: Young people
Tags: Career tips (bootcamp), Inspiration, Entrepreneurship
Sectors: Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

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Sylvia A. published on 04 January 2016

From McDonald's to Star Wars: Be inspired by the gamechanger taking virtual reality to the next levelTranslate this

As Star Wars fever continues to grip Europe and the world, here’s an inspirational story from behind the scenes to get you thinking about your career path and the opportunities that await you in 2016...

In the early 1990s, 17-year-old Mary Spio was working in a McDonald’s restaurant in upstate New York. Though she’d had vague ideas of becoming an optometrist or a writer, things hadn’t worked out as she expected. One night, while working on a shift at the fast food giant, she realised that she wanted more out of life and she enlisted in the US Air Force.

It was while stationed in Turkey that something happened that would change the course of her career. A piece of communications equipment broke down. Despite their best efforts, the engineers in the team couldn’t fix it. Mary decided to give it a go and she succeeded where her seniors had failed, repairing the equipment. One of the engineers suggested she look into engineering and, on return to the USA, she did just that and enrolled in university.

After graduating, opportunity knocked again. Spio was working for Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, when Lucasfilm, the makers of the Star Wars franchise, approached them to help develop technology for the secure distribution of film. At the time, movies were distributed to individual cinemas in reels, an expensive and time-consuming process. Now, films are compressed and sent to theatres digitally thanks to Spio, who owns four patents for the digital distribution of film.

Today, the former McDonald’s employee turned rocket scientist, entrepreneur, and author, is at the forefront of the next web, creating new technologies that leverage the power of virtual reality in education, entertainment and sport through her company, Next Galaxy Corp.

In this exclusive interview, Spio gives advice to young Europeans at the crossroads between education and opportunity.

We commonly associate virtual reality with the gaming industry, but one of the areas your company is working in is medical training…

I figured that with games we’re basically teaching people to kill, so why can't we teach them to heal with games? So we've partnered with VR Health Network, which is an organisation that does a lot of training. We've also partnered with Miami Hospital Systems to convert a lot of the video and 2D training into 3D and virtual reality training so medical professionals can enter into a hospital room and be able to perform surgery and other types of medical training using VR.

How do you think VR and this kind of training can help fill the skills gap?

I think this is the biggest opportunity for us to fill the skills gap. For example, when you look at doctors who’ve been practicing for years, they don't get a chance to do a lot of these procedures because they can't practice, they can only watch on video. That means the first time they're fully practicing a lot of these procedures is when the patient is on the table. That’s not the time to practice. However, with virtual reality, they're able to practice as many times as possible. It allows them to create memories. So it's the same as if they're practicing a million times. They can actually cut a patient, they can touch a patient, they can move a patient, they can do all of that, and that's the same with any profession. Most of the time by the time you get to the workforce, what you learned in school is really not applicable and we can’t learn fast enough. Virtual reality condenses the process. Things that would’ve taken ten years to learn take a lot less with VR. By shortening the process of how we learn, it's going to make the difference. It's going to fill that gap.

What potential do you think there is for young people to take VR technology further?

These are the early days of the Internet. If you look at all the different companies that are here today - Google, Amazon, Yahoo - they all came at the beginning of the Internet. That’s how they were able to create all these tremendous and extraordinary companies. This is really the time and it doesn't matter how old you are. Palmer Luckey, who created the Oculus Rift, has been working on this since he was a young kid. And at 19, he was able to sell it to Facebook for over $2bn. He opened the whole notion of virtual reality for consumers. No matter where you are, virtual reality is the next level 3D Internet. We had Web 1.0, which was text. Web 2.0, which is what we have now with video. We're getting ready for Web 3.0, so it's early days of the Internet. So if you're going to do anything online, I would ask you to look into virtual reality, no matter what aspect you want to get into. Look into it. See what it is.

Your book is called,It's Not Rocket Science.” It's subtitled, Seven Game Changing Traits for Uncommon Success. Of these seven traits, which would you say are the three most important, and why?

It’s very important to be tenacious because no matter what you want to do, there are going to be challenges, and it's important to push through them. Without that, you're going to give up way too soon, just before that turning point. You have to start with the end in mind knowing that, regardless of what happens, one thing that's for sure is you're going get to your goal.

I also talk about audacity, being courageous, because when you set out to do anything new, you're going to go through all sorts of challenges. And you have to have the courage to really push through that with, what I call, radical passion. When you're radically passionate about something it gives you the courage to stand for it because you want to see that result in the world no matter what. A lot of people ask me why I continue to do what I do. It’s because I'm a radically passionate about seeing change in the world

The third thing I talk about is compassion. I call businesses charters of love because true, disruptive businesses are always transformative in nature. They transform the way we think, the way we live and our quality of life. Without that compassion to feel when people hurt and provide that solution for them, you're not going to be able to create a disruptive technology. Disruptive technologies are always about compassion and that's because they have to be able to transform people's lives.

Does everyone have the ability to achieve uncommon success?

I think everyone has the chance to have uncommon success. The reason I wrote the book is because I wanted to create a process for people to be very intentional about the types of outcomes they want to have. And I think anybody can have it and that's why I say it's not rocket science because, here I was thinking engineering and technology weren't in my realm because I didn't know anyone doing this stuff. But, then, once I discovered the process I said, “Wow, even though I was working as a rocket scientist, even rocket science isn’t rocket science!”

This interview was produced at the Web Summit, Where the Tech World Meets.