How to become a virtual reality developer

(Image courtesy Matti Piiroinen via Flicks.)
(Image courtesy Matti Piiroinen via Flicker.)

Virtual reality technology is on fire and definitely a stimulating field to be in these days, with areas such as computer animation, software engineering and virtual reality design in demand and thriving.

A career in one of these fields could be highly rewarding, but is not for everyone.

Take it for a test drive

Virtual reality design or programming can be attempted at any skill level. So a good way to see if this is a good fit for you and your upcoming endeavors is just to go and try it out.

Unreal and Unity 3D are the top programs to start with.

The Unreal tutorials are here, and are a good place to start if you want to develop for the Oculus Rift or for Samsung Gear VR.

The Unity 3D tutorials are here. Specific guides for the Oculus Rift and Gear VR are here. A nice collection of short video lessons is here.

You can also use Unity with Google Cardboard-compatible mobile headsets. Instructions for Android devices are here. Instructions for iOS devices are here.

If you live in a populated area, check out Meetup and other local calendars for virtual reality groups where you can meet with other designers and developers, participate in hack-a-thons, and learn more about the industry.

If there are colleges nearby, you can also stop by and visit those programs or audit some courses.

Intro to Games and Visualizations on Khan Academy

There are also game development sources offered by online universities. You can start with a free computer programming course from Khan Academy, or take Harvard’s free Introduction to Computer Science course from EdX, or MIT’s free Introduction to Game Design.

Udemy offers low-cost online courses, such as this Unity 3D Master Class – Game Development For Beginners for $26, just one of several Unity and Unreal courses offered by Udemy. Udemy also has three courses about the Oculus Rift, ranging from $15 to $17 in price.

Similarly, if you are interested in 3D design, one of the easiest places to start is Second Life and OpenSim, which have easy in-world building tools, and a wealth of online tutorials to help you get started. There are also many courses and tutorials about professional 3D modeling programs, including Blender, Maya and 3ds Max, if you are more into the graphics side than the programming side of things.

Formal education

A formal education in a degree-granting program is a good place to start if you’re just starting out, or are making a very big career change. In addition to actual programming or design skills, you will develop relationships with your industry peers and participate in internships and other industry programs.

“Learn the basic principles of 3D rendering, potentially coding in a common language like C# or JavaScript,” recommends Neal Nellans, founder and CEO of Austin-based Ghost Machine VR Studios. “Play around with getting objects to move in 3D space. From a developing standpoint virtual reality development is not much different from standard realtime 3D development.”

Academic Center. (Image courtesy Ringling College of Art and Design.)
Academic Center. (Image courtesy Ringling College of Art and Design.)

Nellans is a graduate of Florida’s Ringling College of Art + Design, and says that a solid education can offer an advantage in terms of having a broad understanding of virtual reality as a whole.

“Take the time to learn your craft,” Nellans told Hypergrid Business.

For example, if you want to become a virtual reality designer or developer, you aren’t limited to working for gaming companies.

The opportunities offered by a college or university can help prepare you for working in other industries.

Just as the Internet is being used in pretty much every profession and industry, virtual reality also has applications far beyond game development. There are applications in medicine, business, manufacturing, law, entertainment, education, tourism, real estate, marketing and much more.

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