Profile: HTC's JB McRee on what its like to spend your working day in virtual reality
HTC, the Taiwanese technology firm, will be one of the biggest names exhibiting at CES in Las Vegas.
The technology convention serves as one of the largest technology gatherings of the year, and is an ideal time to show off and demo key products – such as HTC’s Vive virtual reality headset.
One man at the heart of the Vive’s development is JB McRee, a 33-year-old American who is senior manager of product marketing for HTC’s VR division – a role he describes as a “wonderful opportunity”, having spent five-and-a-half years with the company.
It’s a sharp rise that now places the young Seattle resident front and centre of HTC’s drive to deliver virtual reality to the masses.
And although now he has the enviable job of working with virtual reality every day, McRee’s career path and story will give heart to any graduate.
“Upon college graduation, my first job was in sales for a commercial construction company,” he said.
He then moved to a dental surgery, and spent two years there before a friend told him they’d got a job with HTC.
“I was unaware at the time that HTC was the behind-the-scenes designer and manufacturer of the phone I was holding in my hand.
“After our conversation and a bit of research I discovered that not only did HTC have a rich heritage of innovative ‘firsts’, but was on the cusp of revolutionising the smartphone industry by launching the first Android smartphone. I wanted in.”
The same friend then told McRee that a field job had opened up at HTC, and after applying and being offered the role, McRee says he “packed up everything that my car could hold and drove 2,000 miles to what seemed like the other side of the world”.
He spent the next five years working across the company before joining the Vive VR team in August this year, and continuing a relationship with technology he says has existed since childhood.
“I grew up with toys. Ones that every boy dreams about, from go-carts and dirt bikes to a fully restored Jeep CJ5.
“My obsession with speed and the fascination with how things work were directly influenced by my father, who had a talent for repairing and re-engineering just about anything. So from a young adult, high-end technology and equipment intrigued me and paved the way to where I am today.”
As for his current job, McRee says the response from first time users of virtual reality is the best aspect of the role.
“It is so rewarding to witness the exhilaration and excited reactions from others as they remove the HTC Vive headset,” he said, before adding that demonstrating the technology has brought him his career highlight so far.
“While on the Vive world tour, I was given the opportunity to guide a physically disabled attendee through the HTC Vive demo.
“The magical moment started a few seconds into TheBlu by Wevr. The attendee immediately discovered that he was submersed 150 feet underwater on the bow of a sunken ship. He was surrounded by fish, large and small, manta rays, and eventually a life-size blue whale.
“Thanks to room-scale tracking on the HTC Vive I rolled him forward, allowing his movement to be mirrored inside the virtual world. From experience to experience, the emotion in the room increased exponentially.
“At conclusion the headset was removed where he inhaled a few long breaths, and then said, ‘The fact that you’re giving me an experience that I could never have in life is priceless!’ By far, my career highlight.”
Virtual reality is expected to have a breakthrough year in 2016, with several headsets, including the Vive, set to go on-sale to the public for the first time.
McRee speaks of the “complete transformation of the way we consume information and interact with the world around us” that virtual reality offers – something that many developers, including HTC, will be keen to show off at CES.