A lot of attention was paid to Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement late Wednesday that he’d hired former Xiaomi vice president Hugo Barra to be vice president of virtual reality at Facebook and to, in Barra’s own words, “lead the Oculus team.” Barra is a well-known and respected name in tech circles, and his hiring marks his return from China to Silicon Valley, where he was previously an Android vice president at Google.
From this viewpoint, it’s pretty interesting that despite Barra’s tech chops, he appears to have little-to-no formal experience in the virtual reality industry. In a comment on Zuckerberg’s initial post about the hiring, Barra wrote that “It’s been a dream of mine to work in virtual reality even back when AR/VR were just figments of science fiction. Now we’re taking selfies in virtual worlds.” Oculus did not comment when I asked what the rationale was for hiring a leader for the Facebook VR division who has no professional experience in the field.
That seems like an important question at a time when Oculus is trying to establish itself as a leader in the VR industry, fending off spirited challenges from competitors like HTC’s Vive, Google, and others, and after its CEO, Brendan Iribe, recently stepped down into position running Oculus’s newly formed PC division. Of course, the consumer VR industry is still fairly new and the roster of executives with direct experience is limited. Plus, there’s also certainly precedent for company leaders with minimal experience in their new fields–think John Sculley as Apple CEO after a career in “sugar water,” for example. Still, it’s an interesting development and, one would think, a sign of Zuckerberg’s strong feelings about the broad applicability of Barra’s leadership skills, that nevertheless raises questions about Barra’s ability to fully understand the technology he’ll be overseeing.
[Photo: Flickr user BagoGames]