Dioselin Gonzalez is a VR Principal Engineer at Unity Labs. Before that, she served as a Character Animation Engineer at Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. While in the latter role, she was also selected to be the Tech Lead for an immersive storytelling platform.
Because of her vast industry experience and her demonstrated desire to support girls who are interested in STEM, she was asked to become a Made By Girls Role Model!
Dio was a panelist at our “A Conversation with Women in STEM” event, which was hosted at the Girls’ Middle School in Palo Alto in December 2015. “Mentors are people who want to help you for nothing in return,” she told an audience of excited girls and their parents at the event, sponsored by DMA’s Made By Girls initiative.
Dio is also working directly with DMA as a curriculum developer in our Unity game design course and game design academy to make sure those courses are on the cutting edge of game development and virtual reality.
Unity will provide DMA with professionally developed assets and materials to use in the course, so students can have tons of stuff to create with, as a part of our new Unity Curriculum.
Please tell us about your journey through the world of tech. What got you interested in computer science and engineering?
It started with an after-school programming class I took in 6th grade. We learned Basic – quite an old language not taught anymore. My “Aha!” moment came when we learned about pixels. We wrote a program that drew a few lines. I was fascinated about how we could translate mathematical formulas into drawings on the monitors. That’s when I decided to be a programmer.
I cherish the moments I spent with my students, and I try to stay in touch with them, even after more than a decade.
– Dioselin Gonzalez, VR Principal Engineer at Unity Labs
What’s something about computer science or tech that you think would be surprising to somebody just coming into it?
Programmers in the field of interactive graphics are very creative, perhaps because the results of our work are beautiful audio-visuals. Many of my colleagues are musicians, painters or photographers in their free time. My last manager at DreamWorks Animation was Mitch Dowbrowner, who is a wonderful and quite well known photographer.
What sparked the decision to switch from animation to virtual reality?
Actually it was the other way around. I started working with virtual reality in 2002 as a graduate student at Purdue University. My Master’s-degree specialization was collaborative virtual reality. After graduation, I worked as a VR researcher for a few years. At that time, there were very few VR jobs in the industry and so I went to the animation industry. When DreamWorks wanted to get into immersive storytelling, they offered me a position in a newly created department, because of my background in VR.
After inspiring young girls during the morning session, Dio’s VR demo provided one of the afternoon’s highlights at our A Conversation With Women In STEM panel.
What is/was the coolest thing bout working at such amazing tech companies like Unity, Pixar and DreamWorks?
At Unity, the opportunity to talk to so many developers, artists and creators making games, interactive movies and other types of VR applications is always cool.
For Pixar, walking to my job everyday involved passing by big sculptures of famous Pixar characters. Very inspiring.
With DreamWorks, it was dragons! Working with the artists and creators of the “How To Train Your Dragon” series was an incredible honor. They allowed me to see the process from “behind the scenes.”
I also worked as a lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore. That was one of the most memorable life experiences I have had, not only because it did a lot for my career, but it was also an amazing personal experience of living and making friends in Asia. I cherish the moments I spent with my students, and I try to stay in touch with them, even after more than a decade.
I was fascinated about how we could translate mathematical formulas into drawings on the monitors. That’s when I decided to be a programmer.
– Dioselin Gonzalez, VR Principal Engineer at Unity Labs
What do you find most challenging and what do you find most fun and rewarding about being an engineer?
The most challenging aspect during college and at the start of my career was dealing with numbers and calculus. I have never been diagnosed but I believe I suffer from dyscalculia (a learning disability that consists in severe difficulty making arithmetical calculations). Embarrassment caused me to not seek help. Now I think it was silly because it did not limit my development as a visual scientist. Today I am a happy, proud programmer in the interactive graphics industry.
The most rewarding is always when I see abstract models and formulas that start on paper “materializing” as beautiful movies that make kids smile, or apps that teach or entertain people.
Dio also visited a Made By Girls Java programming course last summer to mentor students on pursuing their STEM dreams!
Do you have any advice for girls who are interested in computer science or tech but don’t know where to start?
Either take any programming class that will allow you to explore programming and find out what you like, or be a student volunteer in any of the many technical conferences so you can have an insider’s view of what it means to be an engineer. Explore!
Who were some of your mentors along your journey? What encouragement did they give you that helped keep you engaged in your studies or work?
My undergrad advisor, Marilenis Olivera, was the one who encouraged me to volunteer at conferences, which also became a self-exploring journey in learning what I like. Laura Arns, my grad school advisor, taught me to not give up, even when things go wrong or you get rejected. And Hilder Mock, one of my DreamWorks Animation managers who became a mentor, taught me to not doubt myself and dream big. These are all female engineers I admire!
Does CS impact other parts of your life?
Yes, my brain works like an engineer in many areas. I mentally write algorithms for everything. For example, my bicycle training. [Editor: Dio loves road biking and is training for her first century ride this year.]
Anything else you’d like to share?
I also wanted to say that technology is a very big field with many subareas: databases, web programming, encryption, virtual reality, compilers, hardware design and many more. You can find an area that is as abstract or concrete, creative or mathematical, collaborative or individual as you want.
I’d like to encourage girls to explore it and talk to as many professionals as you can and give it a try.