Jessica DriscollJessica is an immersive technology specialist with an MA in Digital Culture and Technology.

Jessica’s wide range of experience with a variety of immersive technologies in the creative and industrial sectors, across each part of the value chain – from business development to content production – and prior experience at BBC Research and Development has given her deep technical understanding of immersive technology, as well as detailed insight into audiences and testing of new broadcast technologies at scale.

Jessica is shaping the support offered by Digital Catapult for startups and scaleups across the UK’s immersive economy. She oversees CreativeXR, a programme to support the creation of new cultural experiences using immersive technology, run in partnership with Arts Council England.

Previously Jessica has implemented immersive training solutions in educational and commercial institutions in the NGO, Oil & Gas, Aviation, Pharmaceutical, Construction and Automotive industries. Whilst working at the Cornerstone Partnership, Jessica helped to pioneer the world’s first VR experience for fostering and adoption services, as well as developing immersive therapeutic support using social Virtual Reality.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the Head of Technology – Immersive at Digital Catapult and provide technical leadership across all immersive technologies, including virtual, augmented and mixed reality as well as new forms of human-computer interface and advanced data visualization. This is achieved through a combination of commercial work, CR&D and core funded work designed to convene and grow the immersive ecosystem in the UK.

I have experience of working with a wide variety of immersive technologies – from training and development applications to entertainment – across a range of industries including NGO’s, Oil & Gas, Aviation, Pharmaceutical and Construction to name a few. I’ve also worked in BBC R&D on a range of award winning CR&D projects including testing virtual production workflows and capacity building in the UK’s immersive industry. I have an MA in Digital Culture and Technology and I’m particularly interested in the interplay between humans and technology. I am an award winning VR Producer on work which explores these themes, in particular the fan experience of punk indie wrestling through a female lens.

At Digital Catapult we run two large scale immersive programmes; CreativeXR with Arts Council England which is specifically to help companies in the UK’s creative sector, and Augmentor which helps investment readiness and accelerate growth amongst a broader range of immersive start ups. We also work closely with UKRI on the Audience of the Future programme.

Here is a little more information about the two flagship immersive programmes:

CreativeXR

Designed to allow creative teams to quickly experiment, iterate and bring immersive project ideas to reality. 20 teams are selected to receive £20,000 in prototype funding, alongside bespoke mentorship, workshops and introductions to the top financiers and commissioners in the global creative and immersive market at the annual Showcase and Market event. Teams are given tools such as prototype funding, workshops, peer-to-peer learning and access to facilities. Each year as a final phase of the programme, project teams also compete for further production funding with the aim of becoming market-ready and pushing the boundaries of what immersive technologies can offer.

Augmentor

Augmentor caters to the needs of the UK immersive technology community, focusing on four areas of support that guide B2B immersive companies on their journey to scale:

  • Access to investors to help attract greater private investment
  • Building scalability through technical and business support
  • Access to immersive technology hardware, facilities and labs
  • Business development and opportunities to pivot solutions into new markets

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

To be honest no. When I was a child I dreamed of being a scientist or an astronaut as my father was a scaffolder and taught me maths on a building site and inspired an interest in technology at an early age by buying my first computer and microscope at 5 years old. He got  a young guy from an FE college to teach me to code – not a typical activity for girls in a Catholic school in 1980s West Wales. I also really loved humanities so I did a Bsc in Social Anthropology and then worked in marketing. Then due to interest in humans and how they use technology I completed an MA in Digital Culture and Technology which led me on a path via Second Life to virtual worlds. Some of my opportunities have been serendipitous and I’ve also jumped into roles where I was unsure where it would take me.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

In many of the industries I have had contact with, Oil & Gas, Aviation, Immersive production, Research and Development, women have been in the minority with a lack of mentorship opportunities (especially in smaller organisations) from women further along in their careers. I have actively sought out mentorship from people who have inspired me and promoted equality in the workplace.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Working on the project team of the Civilisations AR app when I was at the BBC, as creating a platform that 30 museums around the country could showcase their amazing objects in an interactive, educational and entertaining way whilst being accessible and free for the user was fantastic. The app was named as one of the Apps of the Year by Apple and won several awards and the impact that smaller institutions like the Museum of Torquay achieved by being associated with a landmark TV series and the app was really satisfying.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I think that coming from a dual heritage background has equipped me with some of the tools I have needed to see multiple points of view and have empathy, whether that is with a client, a stakeholder, a user or a contributor. In addition to this, somewhat always wanting to be at the leading edge of technology and carving a space at the front is sometimes hard as those who aren’t involved in XR don’t know what you are talking about and sometimes view your work as ‘niche’, but after nearly 15 years working at the edge I wouldn’t be anywhere else!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Be curious and ask a lot of questions, one of them being ‘Does this problem need technology to solve it?’. When experiential VR was first hitting the headlines everyone wanted to ‘Do VR’ when oftentimes their requirement was actually a website or an app. If you want to excel you need to find solutions to the problems that your organisation, client, or society has and not lead with technology.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

As a mother of seven year old twins I definitely feel that there are still many barriers to women working in technology. Some are centered around work life balance, some around how work is structured in a production or development environment. For instance, there are many late nights and weekends which don’t fit a family life for a man or a woman. I think there is still a lack of role models for women; I did a talk a while ago and as part of it surveyed some people and asked them to name a female engineer or someone working in tech – some people said ‘Sheryl….you know the Facebook woman’ and that was it. The only people they could think of were Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – no women, not Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Heddy Lamar nobody….These barriers can be overcome by companies trying to better address work life balance and platforming more diverse people to represent businesses. This can also be addressed by having a female character in a soap who is a tech CEO – why not!

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Reverse mentoring (C-Suite & junior female staff) or any kind of mentoring! Reassurance that maternity doesn’t mean being sidelined after returning to work. Assertiveness training for those who would benefit, and better understanding of compensation and empowering women to ask for pay rise and promotion. More encouragement to go for roles that you might not have 100% of the requirements for – many women look at it and if they don’t exceed every criterion they will not apply.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Better STEM education, we lose the pipeline of girls taking STEM subjects at A-level & degree level. More tech focused apprenticeships, why are young women still pushed into the beauty industry when they could be a 3D artist? Create opportunities for diverse networking so that hiring managers meet people diverse to themselves to push against unconscious bias and may end up hiring more women.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Ada’s list & conference
Women Tech Charge Podcast
Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change by Ellen Pao
Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang
Pregnant Then Screwed


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