When people hear the word engineer, they usually picture a career that requires a lot of advanced education — a master’s degree or maybe a PhD. While this is certainly true for most, it was not the path for Alex Okita.

In high school, Alex was into metal music and even played guitar in a metal band himself. When he wasn’t thrashing on his guitar, he was spending a lot of time on his computer, which sounds pretty typical for a high schooler until you realize that it was the late ’80s and early ’90s.

“I was the only person that had these computers. I didn’t know anyone else that had any of this stuff,” says Alex.

Back then, personal home computers were not common. In fact, it was somewhat of a luxury. Luckily for Alex, his mother’s boyfriend at the time worked for IBM. So, he had access to a powerful computer in his own home. Alex began playing around with 3-D modeling applications, using a stylus and plastic pad to design objects and characters.

Because of these computer skills, right out of high school, Alex was able to work on small projects for video game companies like Atari. At the same time, he was studying art and 3-D animation at a community college. He soon found that he was getting a better education at work than at school. The video game companies he worked for had high performance computers and 3-D software that the community college simply couldn’t match. So, Alex left college before getting his degree.

“Instead of paying for the experience, I was getting paid for a better experience,” says Alex.

Alex continued to jump around to different video game companies, doing concept art and 3-D animation, picking up new skills and learning programming along the way.

Today, Alex is a spatial interaction engineer. He teaches computers to see like we see, allowing computers to understand and interact with the real, 3-D world. He works for San Francisco-based tech company Occipital, where he designs and develops games and applications for the Structure Sensor, a small device that attaches to an iPad that can 3-D scan rooms, objects and even people.

Want to learn more about how computers can be used to interact with the 3-D world? Check out the video 3-D Mapping Your World with a Backpack.

Career Spotlight: Spatial Interaction Engineer 13 July,2016Derek Lartaud

Author

Derek Lartaud

Derek Lartaud came to the Bay Area after nearly five years of researching schizophrenia and diabetes at Yale University. Determined to tell visual stories, he’s worked for the BBC, Al Jazeera America, TIME, PBS, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. He has a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in journalism. When not holding a camera or editing a story, he’s trying to rebuild his 1969 Honda CL350.

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