Interview with an… Augmented Reality Developer

Chris Dun, Engine CreativeWe’ve delved into many roles in our job interview series but we’ve been particularly keen to know more about work on the digital communications bleeding edge – augmented reality (AR). We talk to Chris Dun of Engine Creative about his work as an augmented reality developer.

What is your job title?

Employed full-time as a senior digital developer.

What does this involve?

  • Running AR projects for a technical delivery perspective.
  • Working with designers and creatives to realise and implement 3D and interactive AR scenarios.
  • Understanding various AR development platforms, integration and manipulation of 3D assets.
  • Web and app development, wire-framing, coding, testing etc.

What do you do in practice?

  • Buildout of scenes – creating AR scenes from assets provided by designers.
  • Working with the creative directors to deliver engaging AR experiences and user interfaces in real-world environments.
  • Investigating and integrating emerging technologies – such as iBeacons, which enables push notifications to be sent to nearby iOS devices – for various retail clients.

What qualifications/background are needed?

There aren’t currently any widely recognised qualifications specifically for augmented reality, although some of the platform vendors offer their own proprietary certifications. Typically most developers in the field that I’ve met either have a background in web or app development.

What is the biggest challenge in your work?

Engine Creative is unique in that we work with a variety of AR platforms, such as Metaio, Vuforia, Aurasma and others. Keeping abreast of the latest feature sets, and understanding the strengths and relevant delivery methods is quite a daunting task, but it keeps things interesting and varied.

And the best bit?

There’s a sense of fulfilment when a big client lays eyes on a working build for the first time – when they have the ‘Oh, wow!’ look in their eyes. It’s then you know that the hours you’ve poured into a project are worth it.

For me there’s also satisfaction to be found in improving your own abilities, not just to code but also to spot potential blockers (technical issues) before they become a real problem.

What’s the rate of pay?

Around £25k to £35k pa covers mid-to-senior ranges but it all depends on experience, location and many other factors.

Is there job mobility and security?

The AR market is growing ever larger, with more and more industries dipping their feet in every year. Because most of the skill sets can be applied in other industries, there’s a lot of scope for horizontal progression, but vertical is certainly achievable, too.

As with a lot of developer jobs, the way we work is also distributed, so you don’t always have to be tied to a desk in the office.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into augmented reality work?

Don’t focus too much on one programming/scripting language – while I’m not a fan of the so-called ‘pick and mix’ developer, I’m a big believer that learning other languages is one of the quickest ways to progress your ability to recognise the most appropriate way to approach a project from a code perspective.

Do furnish yourself with a fundamental understanding of design and UX. Knowing how an end user expects something to work on their chosen device is increasingly important with the lines between platforms blurring. Read around your subject and understand the medium that you’re working with.

Work out what kind of environment you want to be in – there’s a big difference between working on an iterative project in-house and working for an agency.

Any training and development options?

Competition for jobs can be tough, and while formal education is a great thing to have on your CV, it’s not the final word in getting the job you’re looking for – often real-world experience bears more weight.

If you’re looking to sharpen up your abilities, create a project and open-source it on GitHub, or join in the development of an existing one. It’ll give you exposure to working with other people’s coding styles, and force you to ask yourself whether other people will understand yours.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The future is mobile and wearables.

Chris Dun is a world-class developer and snowboarder. He loves nothing more than getting knee-deep into a line of code just as much as fields of snow. He works for Engine Creative, an independent creative agency based in Northampton in the UK, which has produced AR projects for clients ranging from Tesco to Top Gear.

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