Jesse Clark is here today to speak about his work with Explore Interactive in the Augmented Reality Learning space as well as his own learning experiences in IT. In addition to Jesse’s own advice for navigating the IT work place, he’ll touch on his personal development. This will cover how gaming inspired him to dig deep into technology, security, and eventually augmented reality learning itself.

Intro to IT

Jesse has been in IT and software for 9 years now. He started as a kid interested in video games by playing NES to modern systems. Jesse built his own PC and got hooked. He was hooked so badly, he quit band senior year to take his first programming class. It started with QBasic where he built an ATM and elevator program. Afterwards, he decided on a whim to go into Computer Science.  Jesse got his bachelors in Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts. He also minored in math and focused on Information Security. The Digital Forensics course he really found interesting. From there, he went to GE Digital.

Jesse had an opportunity to go into software but chose not to. He also choose not to go into a career as a Systems Administrator. Instead, he decided to join the IT leadership program in GE. In this role, he rotated around the country for 2 years on various assignments. Fresh out of college, he was placed on the GE Messaging Team for an Exchange migration to faster storage.

Ghost Red Coast to Coast

For his next assignment in his rotation, he worked in Insider Threat as a Security Engineer and focused on end point data loss prevention. Jesse then moved into Product Management for an API gateway technology at GE. During this time, he nabbed his MNA as well.

Red Ghost

In this Product Management role, he ran security competitions and community outreach. Due to this experience, he moved into GE’s Ghost Red which converted volunteer competition efforts. He had the opportunity to run a software team. The software could be used for developing a platform for supporting tech competitions and education games. This was to be used for talent acquisition, internal employee development and community outreach.

Ghost Red is not being used in GE today. All the code and the content is there however. But, while Ghost Red was shutdown, it’s social media accounts are still open on Facebook, Twitter and possibly LinkedIn.

Jesse transitioned out of GE and found Explore Interactive. It focuses on Augmented Reality Learning. There he is performing marketing and Product Development while working full time time as in technical Product Management and other things for Capital One.

Moving and Learning

Jesse found the time moving around for 2 yrs at GE valuable. As a young person, it was great to see more than Massachusetts. He went and saw the world cup in Africa. When he got off the plane from the world cup, he went straight to a connecting flight for his first day at GE in Cincinnati.  The shifting roles every 6 months gave him a lot of breadth and he met a lot of people who are still friends. For him, it was a great way to figure out what he was interested in and he never would have found Ghost Red without it.

What’s Jesse’s advice for someone starting out in IT? None of us know what we want to be when we grow up. When you are early on in your career, the key is positioning yourself such that the likelihood of finding something you can get truely passionate about is higher. This helped Jesse to find new opportunities and to learn new technologies. When he found a person who had a behavior he saw as a role model, he would reach out and learn from them whatever he could. These were the key characteristics to being successful and finding his own passion.

The Tri-force

Jesse referenced a tri-force. Yes, that’s a Zelda gaming reference. He found it at the intersection of business, software, gaming and education. So, probably more of a prism than a triangle. As a young kid into video games, you have an idea in your mind of what it’s like to build games. You probably see it as a lot like Harry Potter…a lot of wizarding and wonder and glamor and behind the scenes things you don’t understand. It’s a sexy position you think and it draws you in.  He wanted to move toward game development but, didn’t know how. While in college, he learned he really liked security and had a passion for it. He was never really good at programming or math, but got through it with a minor in mathematics. When he discovered the GE IT leadership program, now called the Digital Technology Leadership Program, it seemed like a perfect match.

It was during this time he a lot of moments where he fell in love with gaming and technology. When working in tech while not being a programmer, he has taken a bit of ribbing. But, he was able to be in a technical field and flourish while finding and using his strengths. It’s advice he shares with others as well. It led to the formation of Ghost Red which was this body of his tri-force. It was security while relying on games to make it fun and a learning experience. Jesse fell in love with the notion of it being his job as it called back to when he first started down the tech path.

Explore Interactive

With Explore Interactive, it really is the continuation of that dream. A lot of factors brought him to his tri-force for games, software, education, and security. The augmented reality learning space seemed a perfect fit. It usually is a multitude of factors that bring people into the space they end up in.

So, how did Jesse get involved with Explore Interactive? As he was transitioning out of GE, he leaned into his MBA network and was looking for Technical Product Management or team leadership for software teams positions. His corporate finance professor become the CEO of Explore Interactive. She reached out to see if he was interested in working with an augmented reality learning technical education company. He would say it was luck, but again…luck isn’t a thing. He positioned himself so the likelihood of finding what he was looking for was higher. Having those connections in his MBA helped. That little used math degree also probably helped with this equation. Working with Explore Interactive to build relationships is something he loves. As a bonus, it will further position him for future success.

Augmented Reality Learning

This is an augmented reality learning system for educating 3rd to 6th grade students. It is geared toward a state level curriculum using kinesthetic learning techniques. They are looking to build the course work in line with state standards while using all the senses to tinker

Child learning

and enhance augmented reality learning. Kinesthetic is tactile feedback to enforce concepts paired with experimentation. Basically, you experience what you are trying to learn.

This will be in the form of a companion trading card game to overlay 3D objects. These could be items or characters or environments. The application will be available on the IOS app store and with come out for Android devices as well.

So, getting a lot of positive feedback. Everyone seems to love AR and it’s a buzzword so, they are riding that excitement. Using AR’s strengths to put an end to the notion a visual learner can’t learn from a textbook. The same for auditory learners. Everybody can learn using augmented reality learning. It’s using AR in the way it was intended.  An augmented reality learning experience makes absorbing information more immersive for the person learning.

What’s the what?

What’s the trajectory currently? Where is Explore Interactive heading, and what’s the end goal? They just raised $100,000 in investment through various organization in West Lafayette Indiana at Purdue University. West Lafayette is where the organization operates from. The focus now is using the investment to finish a MVP (Minimum Viable Product.)

MVP has been bastardized at lot in tech circles.  MVMGPP (Minimum Viable Multi-Generational Project Plan) is what Jesse prefers though that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. $100k is not a lot of money. It forces you to create as small a product as possible but, with as many features packed in as possible to still deliver value to the customers. The goal is to deliver the experience at the quality a 3rd-6th grade student would expect. So, they are currently focused on using what funding they have for the 3D modeling quality and the software engineering quality. Both of those paired with a core competency for content development of the curriculum aim to deliver and raise another round of funding for their augmented reality learning product set.

“Whatever you are putting out, make it something of value. If it is something of value then it can likely sell itself. “-Tony V

CEO (Amanda Thompson) and founder (Wesley Vert) and the CEO’s 12 yr old did a great job pitching the product at a few competitions over the last 6 months to get support. So, hats off to them and Dante the budding chemist.

Feedback and Funds

How much feedback and guidance are you getting from your investors?  Majority of funding has come from business case competitions or pitch competitions. Purdue Foundry is a huge advocate for Explore Interactive so there are a lot of press releases from Purdue. They will be on a local Indiana news outlet in the next couple of weeks. Local support has been overwhelming.

Because funds have been raised in this way, it forces a refinement in the business strategy and go to market strategy. You get a lot feedback during this process. Another sponsor has tagged $10k for advertising. So, there has been a lot of guidance there as well. A lot of good business and marketing assistance and broader awareness through advertising with the Purdue network.

Finally, a Product

For Jesse personally, the best part of the experience is finally being able to work on a product after wanting to for so long. He loves the philanthropic aspect of the augmented reality learning space and it’s why he works long evenings and works through lunches for it. Having grown up in IT and having mainly internal users is limiting for this type of product. When you have a passion for product marketing, it limits your experience in a product development environment. The mindset in a large organization is divorced from a consumer experience. So, now he feels more at home and welcome in this stance of being in a consumer market with a consumer facing product. He is learning a lot everyday and with every interaction. At the Games for Change conference was an educational experience. Also, potential partnerships with organizations like Global Tinker who spun out of the Sesame Street organization. They are building similar intellectual property for kids in the same age range It’s a unique and emerging area for EdTech and Augmented Reality Learning.

Could this be something standardized in schools or something people, can buy online or at a store? You can buy it online now. Explore Interactive isn’t looking to segment differently for schools vs. parents. They may offer different versions or simplified versions of the kits for certain areas of the world where you may not want the cards to be lost.

Curious Kids Please Apply

A parent with a curious kid can give it a try for $20-$30. If you run an after-school program and want to mess with free tinkering kits, give it a go. If someone orders a pre-order kit, it will contain 30-40 cards, the cards will be items and/or characters. They are called idea cards. Place a card in view of a camera from your smartphone or tablet. Fun facts or tidbits appear on the screen of the camera to reinforce learning. You will also have access to the AR app as well. They are hoping for 4-6 hrs of game play in a challenge/story mode. Also working on an open play mode…sort of Mindcraft-esque. You could then use items to build widgets or craft and create your own world using the things you learn in challenge/explorer mode.

Explore Interactive is figuring out how to deliver this currently. You can use a phone, but you could also use a head mounted or stand camera potentially. It’s being positioned for new product lines beyond a table top game as the cost of existing technology goes down. Think about any sort of media you used growing up to learn. Popup books are a good example. Think about that as an AR book. A planets popup book would overlay things like the planets, or velocity, or atmosphere of the planet. Right now, the focus is on the first great product to really set the stage for the future.

Looking for Help

Currently, they have 6-8 people working on this project. Some are part-time. They are looking for other to assist as well. In fact, they are always looking for more assistance. Engineering help and game designer help for example. Specifically, they are looking for Unity Developers, Technical Artists, Game Designers, and User Experience Designers. Basically, people passionate about education content, curriculum and early development. In person events are great to participate in as well. If you want us to run an event near you, reach out.

Check us out at https://learnwithexplore.com Twitter or Facebook @ExploreARPlay or reach out to Jesse at jclark[@]exploresupport.com

Circle Back

We’ll come back to Jesse near the end of the year to see how things progress for Explore Interactive.

IT/Geek Speak this episode:

  • AR – Augmented Reality – Reality, but augmented? Aim your smartphone camera at something. If you have the right software installed, your phone display will show any number of different things on your screen around that thing you pointed at. Same can happen for some VR goggles, or stand cameras.

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