NR50: Next Reality's 50 People to Watch: Aileen McGraw
Microsoft has always been pretty good with customer service, especially from the developer's end point. In recent years, since Satya Nadella took over as acting CEO, the level of customer and developer care has become something much more. This software giant has gone out of their way to learn about what works and what doesn't and to adjust.
In the light of these adjustments, Microsoft has become a far more nimble company. The old idea that change in a corporation is a slow turning process no longer applies. Like a fine-tuned high-end sports vehicle, Microsoft can turn on a dime now, and it appears to be doing so very smoothly.
With BA degrees in Creative Writing and Communication and Media Studies, Aileen McGraw, the 25-year-old Northwestern University graduate, finished school and began working for Microsoft in 2015. Now, as a Microsoft HoloLens storyteller and product marketing manager, she is someone that actively wants to hear the journey of the HoloLens developer.
McGraw wants to know about our wins and losses; Being the storyteller that she is, there are times where she may even be able to help turn what appears to be a loss into a win by connecting the correct people together or telling a story to the right ear. Aileen is a big part of the reason Microsoft can make the changes they need to be even better tomorrow than they are today.
Aileen recently took some time out of her busy day working with HoloLens developers to talk with us here at Next Reality about what drives her passions and goals with her work — to help us better understand the role of a storyteller that has nothing to do with Hollywood, YouTube, or sitting in a library with a group of children after school.
Next Reality: With most things coming out of Microsoft rarely having a byline (blogs aside), as a storyteller, can you tell us what your day-to-day work day looks like?
Aileen McGraw: Yes! I like to think of what I do as contagious storytelling. I want the work our community is creating to spread like wildfire. For my day-to-day work, that involves first and foremost celebrating the developers, designers, artists, business owners, and educators (ah! to name a few) who are building solutions with HoloLens today. In short: It's my job to share and support your success. That could mean brainstorming with a developer, it could be curating our newsletters, it could be reaching out to my engineering comrades for technical insight (my creative writing background only gets me so far in Unity), it could be ensuring we know and champion the answer to "Why HoloLens?"
NR: Who gets to hear the stories you tell, is your work primarily for internal use?
AM: Number one: Thank you to anyone who's spent 30 minutes talking to me about their experience with HoloLens. I try to be clear that your passions and pain points help me shape the way I craft the work above and the feedback I give my team. But it's not a closed door! So who gets to hear the stories I tell? Well, the truer question is who gets to hear the stories we tell — I love collaborating within and beyond my team, for research, and for landing the stories anyone can find on our website, social media, and forums. The "How to scan and model jewelry" forums post is a great example — it started with Mike Taulty asking a question over email and resulted in a groundswell of crowdsourced resources that were too good not to share.
NR: As a developer, I am fairly active in the development community. Your name seems to come up often. You are so well known and well liked. We would have to assume that your focus is on the development end of HoloLens. Is this the case, or do you handle many facets of HoloLens?
AM: That means the world! My answer? Yes, and… what inspires me about HoloLens is that its "makers" are so multi-hyphenated, so I focus on connecting with developers who are also visual effects artists, with pilots who are also professors, with human-computer-interaction experts who are also theatre visionaries. (You know who you are! And thanks for all the "yes, and…" roles you've shown me.)
NR: Almost every HoloLens project I've worked on is tied up in NDAs. I can imagine it's similar for you at the world's largest tech company. Do you have any projects you're excited about that you can share with us?
AM: Any of yours! Call me a broken record, but the projects our community shares — be it on the HoloDevelopers Slack channel or our "Share your work" forum — have me so excited for the future, but more importantly, they have me excited for the now. It's awesome that developers, designers, and anyone who can build an app for Windows Mixed Reality can try to publish to the Store. (But yes, you need to have a Windows Dev Center account!)
I personally love Muralize because that's improving the way tactile artists create their work. Serious digital-physical fusion — how amazing is it that we live in a time where technology truly brings us closer to our real world? I love the piece you wrote about the app, and its creator Sally Slade is an inspiring tour-de-mixed-reality-force!
I'm also excited to see if and how people approach UI and middleware. How do you navigate things like 3D modeling and buttons in an environment that frees you from the screen? How do you create photorealistic assets with lower polygon counts? These answers are the Simplygons of the world. Mike Farrell's Verto Studio VR is a great example of the hunger to rethink how we create and share in mixed reality. And these are just my ideas — new people and projects emerge every day.
If you talk to her for any length of time, one thing is clear, Aileen McGraw is a white hot ball of fiery energy and passion. Not only is she a force that any development community can use in spades, she is one of the very active elements making Microsoft an essential force in the coming age of immersive realities.