Seattle’s Women Pioneers of VR

Ada Lovelace. Would have createathonned the shit out of VR if she was alive today.

The day before Father’s Day I took my nine year-old daughter to the VR Women’s Createathon at UW’s Startup Hall. There were reportedly around 100 participants, women who are interested in creating new VR tools, apps, and experiences. Some were absolute novices, others had more experience coding and more familiarity with the devices. The purpose of the event was to learn, share knowledge, and make cool VR stuff.

The createathon somehow managed to feel both relaxed and buzzing with activity. Groups of developers and volunteers from the AR/VR Collective studied monitors, tried out their apps with Vive or Oculus headsets, and handed out unicorn stickers. My daughter got to experience Tilt Brush on the Vive for the first time. We demoed an app, designed by a team led by Rachel Umoren, that teaches medical students how to resuscitate an infant. (I did a horrible job in that virtual operating room, and I clearly should never be admitted to med school.)

I love that my daughter  is growing up in a world in which a woman will be President, and I’m grateful that I can expose her to this VR community of women and feminist men who honor creativity, curiosity, and invention. I want her to take it for granted that she can  make art, write software, launch a startup, and chair a board of directors. Events like the creatathon provide such a positive example to girls, and as the dad of a girl I’m thankful.

Women have been instrumental in every stage of civilization’s transition into the Information Age. The first computer programmer, after all, was Ada Lovelace, after whom one of Seattle’s coolest bookstores, Ada’s Technical Books, was named. When my grandfather was in the army he worked a bit with the ENIAC, considered by many to be the first modern computer, which was operated mostly by women programmers. A decade or so ago I worked at a startup for a woman named Sue Collins who was an early hire at Apple, and who was a member of an unofficial group that called themselves the DOLS, or Dirty Old Ladies of Software. Now the VR community is establishing, from the very beginning, a tradition of inclusion and diversity that will mean more brilliant people working and creating in this thrilling new medium. This is going to make a huge difference for Seattle’s VR industry, and I can’t wait to see what the ladies come up with next.