Feb 14 • Immersive Insiders

Head of Technology at Holo-Light reveals how to get a job in XR

Philipp, thank you for having the time to do this interview, I’m sure it’s going to be super helpful for the community. Can you tell me what do you do, and what is Holo-Light? It’s one of the biggest companies in Germany regarding XR, so I’m really excited to hear what Holo-Light is doing and what you are doing in that company.
First, thanks for having me, I’m really excited to be here! Yes, what is Holo-Light? Holo-Light is as you said one of the biggest AR/VR companies, it’s a very fast-growing company mainly focusing on the industrial AR sector right now. We have two products, one is AR3S which is faced at end customers. The other one is ISAR, a product for developers, so probably also more interesting for this community here.

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AR3S is built for engineers, to review and use their CAD data in AR. It is one of the first and most advanced tools, which actually merges the virtual world like your CAD data with the real world. For example, our customer BMW uses it in their everyday work where they try to see if new parts are fitting in the already existing cars without actually building it.
ISAR is an SDK, which enables you to do streaming. That means, instead of having to code an app for your XR device and running it there with limited performance, your app runs on a server. Probably in the cloud, but it could also run local. So the app sort of has the power of an RTX graphic card instead of the power that these small devices have. So you have your unlimited performance, it’s really easy to use, and you also don’t have to worry about the device your customer might be using. If you buy the ISAR app, our team at Holo-Light makes sure it gets streamed to the device you want. That’s exactly what my job is at Holo-Light. I am leading the backend team that’s working on ISAR and doing additional backend stuff.
How does your application process look like? If I want to become a Holo-Light member now, how would I apply?
We aim at our interview process being really easy. It has exactly three stages.
  1. You send your CV and we will review it.
  2. We do a short personal interview on an online call. It takes only 30 minutes and is not that technical, but mainly to get a first impression, to see if the person is reasonable and if the CV is real. Sometimes applicants let recruiters write their CV’s, who then include things the person never did.
  3. If we want to proceed, there will be a second interview. It’s usually 3 hours long and if possible, we do it in person. During that interview, we ask a lot of technical questions and take the person through our office space. After that, there’s the decision period. So either you're hired or not, there’s no third interview.
What kinds of people are you generally looking for? What roles is Holo-Light searching for right now?
Our company is growing a lot right now, especially since we received an investment end of last year. That means we are searching in every domain, however, I can speak for development of course.
What we mainly search for is actual developers. I want to give you a task and then it’s your responsibility to get it done. I don’t want to have people who just code exactly what I write them, I want to have people who can solve problems. We won’t tell you “Use this coding language” or “Use exactly that API”, it’s up to you. In the end it has to work. Even if you are no junior developer, even if you’re a working student – they get their own problems to solve.
Of course we help each other and work together as a team, that’s very important. But in the end it’s your task, your responsibility and you decide how to solve it.
How can someone maximise their chances of getting hired at HoloLight or any other XR company? Do you prefer generalists or specialists?
I can answer that with 100 % certainty. I want to have generalists. I don't care about specialists.
Since we are working with cutting edge technology, I don’t know what specialists I will need. I need to have somebody on my team who knows as much stuff as possible, to then find out which is the best route to go down. If you take twice the time compared to a specialist, that’s fine.
When only working with specialists, I would have to hire new people everyday. In ISAR we use roundabout seven different coding languages, simply because we use what works best and results in the best experience in the end, and not because these are the ones we’re most familiar with.
Is there still some sort of specialisation that you’d want people to have, or should their skillset be super broad?
In my team, it’s important that people have at least a fundamental knowledge of C or C++, to just have the basic knowledge of how a programming language works. I have the philosophy that if you do something in C++ and know the basics, then you can learn every language. That’s one important skill and for the rest it’s more about soft skills. I don’t really care that much about what skills you have (apart from the one I just mentioned), the most important thing is that you’re able to learn them. 
Holo-Light works with Unity a lot. What do you think is the biggest problem with Unity developers today?
Yes, since we are working industrial-based and mainly on HoloLens, Unity is the way to go. So if you know Unity, that’s great! It just shouldn't be the case that you only know Unity. That works sometimes for building nice UIs, but as soon as you get into problems, even simple performance issues, you don't know what happens outside.
If we need to build an external tool which is not yet a Unity package, then you should be able to do that. I even had Unity developers who couldn't set up a computer, so that’s definitely the biggest issue for me. It's not only about languages, it's also about knowing how a computer works.
What is your non-negotiable when it comes to hiring someone, something absolutely crucial for you?
It’s sad that nowadays I have to mention that, but if you apply somewhere, know about the company. You don’t need to know the exact details, but at least a bit. If you go in there and they ask you “What are our products and what do we do?”, you should be able to answer that, no matter if you go into development or any other department.
You will be asked “Why do you want to work here?”. And let’s be honest, this question is always feasible. Your answer should not be “Obviously I want to earn money”, that’s not the reason why that question is asked. The reason for this is to get behind what drives you, what motivates you to not just get your hours done.
It’s an important question, because we know right away if you’ve thought about that question and are prepared and motivated. That’s already the first question where a lot of people hiccup.
Apart from that, it’s quite important that you are a fit for the team, into teamwork and won’t try to solve everything on your own. The third non-technical thing is about being interested in the matter.
What can people applying to your company do to stand out?
I receive a lot of requests, but I get so few good CV’s. I don't mean good CV’s in terms of what's written in there, just the outline. That’s again a thing of motivation. Especially for frontend and web developers: If every headline in your CV has a different distance to the side or you are using too many different fonts, it just doesn’t look good. Invest time in the outline of your CV since that’s the first thing I see.
Also, people who just finished University don’t need CV’s spreading over five pages. If you look at higher level management applicants, they have quite small CV’s with just one page, even though having 40 years of experience. And then there are new developers sending five, six pages which is just way too long. Focus on quality over quantity.
Looking at what the company does and only including skills essential for the company is also important. That makes it easier to skip through the CV. Additionally, rank your skills against each other. No need to rank yourself against the world, simply rank your skills personally from level one to five. That makes it easier for me to determine whether to invite someone or not, knowing what skills I need to cover. Example: If you’re a junior developer and think “That’s my best programming language”, rank it three out of five. Just don’t say one out of five or five out of five, that’s a lie.
That way you’re already a bit outstanding.
How long does it take someone from being a beginning XR developer to becoming junior job-ready?
I think it'll take you one to two years and then you can apply for an entry level position. In XR, we are not at a point where we can assume people have the required knowledge already. Even if you don't know about XR yet, you need to be able to code for the stuff you need for XR. But you don't need any knowledge in XR itself. It helps of course, but for a junior position that’s not possible. I mean, requiring 10 years of experience with HoloLens won’t work – it wasn’t on the market at that time. Also, how many people have a HoloLens 2 at hand? Not many.
One thing I’d also like to mention, a thing where junior devs have huge issues, is them starting and then feeling sort of depressed. Especially when coming from another field, because they think “How should I help, I can’t do anything here, I can’t do this, I’m too stupid”. That’s not the case. If you go into ISAR and especially into the core team, it usually takes you at least half a year until you’re familiar enough that you’re working at the same speed as the people who are here for a long time. Even if you’re experienced. Nobody expects you to work at the same speed as them.
As the last topic for today, I wanted to talk about your thoughts on the XR industry in general. What job opportunities do you see in the future?
As I mentioned before, the XR industry and all the companies in it are growing at a fast pace. We are searching for people and are already at a point where we don’t find any, so XR is not going anywhere and it’s obviously a safe job.
All major companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. are investing into XR already. So as a developer, you have a really good outlook on your job life. You will always find a position, the problem in my opinion is the other way around. Where should the industry get the people who can do that?
What is your final and best advice for upcoming XR developers? Something unconventional that they may not think about.
For me, that advice would be do it if you’re interested in it. It’s not about how much time you spend learning but you should follow the news, you should know what’s happening. That’s the difference between somebody who can code and a good engineer or developer, because they know what’s out there.
It’s a fast changing industry. If you don’t do anything besides your job and you’re not interested in the industry, you will fail. The languages that are commonly used right now were not in use five years ago. So be interested to catch up and just try out new stuff.
Awesome, thank you very much Philipp! It was fun having you and I’m looking forward to some future collaborations.

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