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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

There's a New Work "Reality" You'll Want to Face Head On

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It's time to face reality: virtual reality.

Once the stuff of science fiction, this interactive, immersive experience has moved from the future into living rooms—and workplaces—around the world.

In VR, the experience is fully immersive: your mask virtually transports you elsewhere. Your senses, primarily vision and hearing (touch is in the works), are fully attuned to your new environment. AR is different: computer images are projected onto your actual environment. Both VR and AR allow you to experience and create in ways you—and your management—will find hard to resist!

In fact, Tim Merel, founder and CEO of Eyetouch Reality and Digi-Capital, has called VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) the fourth wave of technology. Note how the first three—PC, Internet, and mobile—changed the workplace, and get ready for a ride.

The good news? Whether you're a techie or not, your career can ride the virtual wave. After all, development companies will need lawyers and psychologists to address VR-specific issues. Business analysts will be in high demand, and storytellers will help create a seamless VR experience. Whatever your skill set, there's a sweet spot for you in the virtual world.

Sound exciting? Here are four trends to watch if you're looking to land a gig in this developing field.

1. The VR/AR Market Is Exploding

In 2014, there were 6.7 million VR users. By next year, 171 million people will put on a transportive headset.

Many of the features needed to run a VR device are right in your smartphone—so it only stands to reason that pricier (and sometimes cumbersome) prototypes will give way to affordable, convenient options. With better availability and evolving applications, the industry's net worth could grow to $162 billion by 2020.

Corporations are taking notice—and action. Amazon is already planning your first virtual reality shopping experience. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg plans to spend billions on development over the next decade, and the New York Times has hired a VR editor. Just two years ago, her position did not exist—which means yours could also be waiting in the virtual wings.

2. Your Job Doesn't Have to Be in Technology

The early market in virtual reality was all about the gamers, and most of the jobs were in game development.

Increasingly, though, VR is being implemented in a variety of workplaces. It could become the status quo for athletic coaching and integral to safety training. Managers will be able to walk through a warehouse and think “on their feet" as they deal with breakdowns, either mechanical or emotional.

And think of the possibilities for emergency response. VR can provide on-the-job training, without any real risk. As its use expands, design opportunities will multiply—and experts will be needed to help with the implementation and troubleshooting.

The entertainment industry has skin in the game too. The development of 3-D brought the action closer; virtual reality will place you square in the middle of it (imagine yourself as an attendee at the infamous Red Wedding or a bystander in the latest James Bond scene). And that's where you'll want to be when VR/AR really takes off.

3. AR Will Appear (Really Appear) in Your Workplace Soon

While the all-in experience could become crucial to certain industries, augmented reality actually promises more applications across many fields.

With AR, you remain grounded in reality while computer-generated content seems to visit, or overlay, your actual environment. Buried gas lines could become “visible" to maintenance workers. Students will examine projected geodes, and product designers could present 3-D prototypes to clients.

Ford recently used AR technology to transform new car models into 3-D computer-generated displays. As the presenter touted an interior feature, it would appear on the car as a painted overlay. Design elements dropped in before viewers' eyes, as though they were seeing into the car—through sheetmetal!

Companies like Inscale and Layar promise to keep your potential buyers amazed (or your employees awake) by helping you design stimulating AR presentations of your own.

4. It's Getting Easier (and Cheaper) to Buy In

It's a good idea to buy into VR/AR now—either as a career or an exciting tool to advance your current work goals. VR/AR could boost not only your productivity, but also your chance at employment. If that doesn't win you over, rapid improvements in the quality and range of virtual experiences probably will.

Get versed: follow a blog like UploadVR, and check their expo schedule for a local one. Immerse yourself in a VR adventure near you by checking out virtual games, roller coasters, or observatories. Download Google Cardboard and fold your own headset. Show management you're keeping up with the latest in VR by talking about innovations or asking to attend conferences. Offer to take the lead in researching possibilities for your company.

If you're considering a career in VR/AR, use a web service like InstaVR to try your hand at making apps, sign up for an inexpensive online course at Udemy, or take the leap and go for your nanodegree.

Picture yourself presenting the product of the century via holographic projection, or the discovery of a lifetime to researchers across the country. Sounds incredible, right? You must be in an alternate reality!

Quite possibly—but that's precisely where you'll need to be.