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How to Get a Job in Virtual or Augmented Reality

Updated Dec 20, 2023

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Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are burgeoning fields responsible for some of the most fascinating advancements in modern technology. Although VR and AR are different, they frequently turn up in the same discussions and are often referred to collectively as XR, for extended reality.

XR technologies are fueling new in-demand career skills and exciting job opportunities. While this technology is typically associated with gaming companies, career opportunities in software, wearables, education, healthcare, retail, the U.S. military and more present myriad options for professionals. 

We’ll look at the technology behind VR and AR and explore career opportunities in this rapidly growing arena. 

Did You Know?Did you know

VR and AR are part of a technology spectrum – often called the metaverse – that blurs the lines between the physical and digital worlds.

What are VR and AR?

In virtual reality, a user typically wears a device, such as a helmet or goggles, to interact with a virtual world. For example, Oculus Rift (produced by Facebook parent company Meta) and Vive headsets are well-known VR technologies in the gaming realm.

Augmented reality can be more subtle. AR attempts to provide a device-free experience that brings digital enhancements to what you see, hear and feel. For example, an early AR use was the yellow first-down line seen during televised football games. 

Next-generation AR includes advancements like the military’s tactical augmented reality (TAR) eyepiece for situational awareness, which will eventually replace night-vision goggles. Another example is MIT’s SixthSense, a wearable technology that lets users interact with digital information via natural hand gestures. For example, with this technology, a user could interact with a projected map using only hand gestures.

The combined XR market is expanding rapidly. According to Precedence Research, the market was around $26.4 billion in 2021 but is expected to reach $345 billion by 2030. 

Did You Know?Did you know

5G wireless technology is fueling AR and VR applications, expanding use cases and allowing them to operate with greater efficiency.

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.
TipTip

The best project management apps can help XR project managers collaborate, delegate, meet deadlines and streamline processes.

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.
Did You Know?Did you know

Regardless of the job role you choose, if you want to work for the federal government, U.S. military or a contractor, you often must qualify for a security clearance and undergo a background check.

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.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Mapping your career path in XR is similar to charting any tech career but requires XR-specific tools, skills and knowledge.

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. 

Alex Halperin contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. 

Adam Uzialko
Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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