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Caitlin Kalinowski is shaping the metaverse

The Head of AR hardware at Meta (formerly, Facebook) is No. 5 on Fast Company’s third annual Queer 50 list.

Caitlin Kalinowski is shaping the metaverse

“How do you design an interface for augmented reality that allows you to both interact with your device and the real world seamlessly? How do you keep screens bright without any overheating? How do you get binocular vision—where the left and right side overlap—to match up properly in the real world?”

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These are just a few of the questions Caitlin Kalinowski works on everyday, having just joined Meta’s AR team in March to work on an AR wearable, code-named “Project Nazare.” It’s a growing area of focus for Meta, as the company marches steadily toward the metaverse, where the physical and virtual worlds are set to converge.

“The whole point is to enable deeper connection through social presence,” Kalinowski says of her work, emphasizing the possibilities that an increasingly connected world holds—like not having to stare down at a phone while getting directions in a new city (your AR glasses will take care of that), or having long-distance conversations with a friend as a hologram, instead of a disembodied voice or 2D face on a screen.

The technology it will take to accomplish all of this, however, “doesn’t exist today,” she says, and packing it all into a device people can wear on their heads for hours straight is “one of the hardest problems our industry has tried to tackle in a long time.”

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Luckily, Kalinowski and her team love a challenge. “It’s a little humbling for me to enter this team because there’s so much knowledge and talent,” she says. “These are the folks who are going to be inventing the future.”

Though Kalinowski’s been shaping this future for the past nine years at Meta, previously as the company’s head of VR hardware, this past year, in particular, has been a banner one for the metaverse—evidenced in part by Facebook rebranding to Meta in October, and the company’s $10 billion investment in the technology that aims to bring it into existence. While it’s still early days for this virtual world, Meta’s bullish position gives Kalinowski a lot of on-the-ground influence. “Everything we’re building contributes to [the metaverse],” she says.

Diversity and inclusion are top of mind as Kalinowski builds, she says. “You can’t design in a vacuum,” she says. “You have to make sure that you get as diverse as possible as early in the design process as possible.” That means working with teams of designers who represent various races and gender identities—and different shapes, when it comes to wearables. (Kalinowski’s self-described “tiny head” reminds her to create for smaller frames.) 

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Of course, a team’s diversity doesn’t come out of nowhere. Kalinowski helps promote it by mentoring tech workers both in and outside Meta, focusing on women in early stages of their careers. Her advice for them? “Find allies. Define your goals for yourself. . . . Ask for what you need,” she says. “Ensure that your manager sees your magic.”

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