Jeri Ellsworth interview for AT blog (English version)
Some time ago I published the interview in Spanish, now it’s time to publish it in English (original). I hope you like reading it as much as I liked doing it. ¡Jeri is amazing! Do you have any doubts about this? Read more…
Complete Jeri Ellsworth interview
I follow your work, but for our readers who still don’t know you… Who is Jeri? How do you define yourself?
I’m a self-taught electrical engineer and entrepreneur/inventor. As a child, I was always fascinated with how things worked, and I would always tear apart electronics to discover what was in them. Eventually my father got tired of buying me new things, only to have me tear them apart, so he put a bin outside of his automotive repair shop for people to dump their used electronics. He’d bring me bins full of these used electronic devices, and I would have fun tearing them apart and harvesting parts for my own projects. In my late teens I got into dirt track racing, and I started my first business building custom dirt track race car chassis. Later, in the 90’s, I opened a chain of computer stores that were very successful. However, when the 2000’s came, margins in this business faded away quickly, so I offered the stores to my employees and left the business. I began building my electrical engineering career by picking up contract jobs in the Bay Area. I quickly became known as the person you would call in if you needed to get something done quickly.
How were you when you were a kid? And when did you interest in technology start?
Answered mostly in the last question. I’ve always been fascinated with how things work, and I started tearing apart electronics when I was very young. My father encouraged this by collecting used electronics from people in our town. I also used to go to the library a lot as a kid, and I ended up meeting my first mentors there. They were older Ham Radio operators, and they saw my interested in electronics and they shared their knowledge with me. They also gave me some of my first electronics equipment, including soldering irons and oscilloscopes.
Your beginnings were in the world of mechanics and motorsport, building cars and driving cars (Dirt-track). Wow! Do you still love about that world?
I definitely still love dirt track racing, although now I participate as a spectator. There are some dirt track speedways near the Bay Area, and occasionally a group of us will go out to check out the races. I still love the smell of racing fuel. Nothing I have done since then has matched the adrenaline rush I felt while racing.
What project or work do you feel most proud of? C-One, C64-DTV, castAR, Tilt Five…
I’m most proud of the work we’ve accomplished with Tilt Five. All of the work that I’ve done previously has led me to the work I’m doing now, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
Any goal that you would like to achieve and you haven’t yet achieved (personal or work)?
Really I just want to see the Tilt Five out in the world, with people enjoying them. I’ve worked so hard, for so many years to make this happen. With our Kickstarter campaign, we’re that much closer to this goal being achieved, and I couldn’t be more excited than I am right now.
Any mistake that you made in your beginnings that you wouldn’t do again if you could go back?
Trust myself and my abilities more. It’s easy to get imposter syndrome in this industry, particularly as a female. I put a lot of faith in other people, who I thought knew more about running a start-up. I have had to learn to trust myself more. I’ve run successful companies and projects in the past, but something about running a start-up was scary for me in the beginning. I’ve learned so much through the process, and I have so much more faith in my abilities now.
You have been involved in two sectors that men dominate: motorsport and STEM. Have you ever felt discriminated against or belittled at any time? Do you feel that you have had to fight more or show more than men?
Definitely, and it still happens even now. As a woman, you have to work so much harder to show that you know what you’re doing. I’ve been lucky that there are people in my life, both men and women, that have spoken highly of my abilities, and that helps, having these champions in your life. My Youtube channel has also helped in my career.
We want more and more women in tech. Any advice to all women who want to start in the world of technology? (And specially for girls)
If it’s something that you love doing, don’t ever give up, no matter what people say. The world doesn’t get to decide if women or men are better at doing some field of work. That’s such a fallacy. Do the thing that makes you happier than anything else, and disregard the naysayers. Find mentors in your life that believe in you, and absorb the knowledge they have to share with you. And be a mentor yourself. It’s so important as women to give back to the future generation of young girls that aspire to STEAM-based fields.
I usually cook, gardening, DIY, etc., to “disconnect” and relax. I know you’re fond of pinball, amateur radio,… but also I know that you often change your hobbies. What do you currently spend your free time? And What is your favorite “toy” now (forbidden to say something about “Tilt Five” hahaha)?
Ham radio has definitely been one of my favorite hobbies lately. I love relaxing with a bit of FT8, and I love spending time with other ham radio operators. It’s such a great and supportive group of people.
I’ve also gotten into gold prospecting as well. It’s a great way to get out in nature and do something nerdy. I enjoy taking my camper out to some nice places in the California Motherlode and panning for gold along some of the rivers in the state. I occasionally get to pull out my Gold Bug 2 metal detector as well.
Can you explain to our readers what is Tilt Five? How the idea came about? Will this game be the only product of Tilt Five?
I was hired on by Gabe Newell of Valve Software back in 2011 to build their hardware R&D lab. Gabe had tasked me with finding a way to bring the family together around the table playing games. During my work at Valve I discovered a method for Augmented Reality (AR) that would fulfill Gabe’s desire, using micro projectors and retro-reflective material. Valve eventually chose to go down the Virtual Reality (VR) path instead, and the whole team working on the AR project, myself included, were let go. I convinced Gabe to let me take my work on AR with me, and that formed the basis for my first company, Technical Illusions, which later became castAR. My new company, Tilt Five, has built upon the work done prior.
Tilt Five is focused on building Augmented Reality hardware for consumers, specifically in the tabletop gaming space. We wanted to créate lightweight, comfortable, AR glasses that a person could wear for hours of extended gameplay, and we wanted it to be affordable.
Why that name?
I can’t tell you how the team came up with the name, that’s a Company secret. We actually enjoy the speculation regarding our name.
Next step (any plan for the future)?
We will definitely spend the next few years iterating and improving on our first product, and eventually, when there are better solutions for near-eye AR, we’ll start producing glasses that don’t require retroreflective game boards.
As a Linux user… When will we support?
We actually use Ubuntu in our office for most of our development work. Supporting Linux officially can be a bit tricky though, since there are so many different Linux builds. Unofficially we can support Ubuntu.
Can we buy it in Spain?
And yes, people in Spain can buy Tilt Five now through our Kickstarter.
I usually play a game with the people I interview. An interchange of questions. Valeria is my next interviewee. She is 11 year old girl who wants to inspire other girls to join the world of technology. And She wants to ask you something: How much effort did you personally have to make the prototype (Tilt Five game)? And Do you think you would have created the project without funding?
Tilt Five took years to develop. I started working on it while I was at Valve Software years ago, and we’re just now getting a product ready to go out that I’m happy with. It has taken multiple iterations, and a lot of hard work, from a lot of great engineers, to get it to where it is today. There is no way we could have created something like this without funding. There is also no way I could have done this alone. Tilt Five is the culmination of work from a lot of really talented engineers. Hardware like this takes an amazing team to bring to fruition.
Do you play? Then, your question for Valeria is…?
What excites you about technology? What is the thing that drives you to want to learn and explore more?
Thank you very much Jeri, thanks for having dedicated a bit of your time. For me it’s a big gift. And please, Never stop being like you are. A greeting and goodbye. Keep hacking… 😉
About tabletop game of Tilt Five
More information about Tilt Five
Crowdfunding site (complete campaign) – Kickstarter
Oficial website – Tilt Five
More about Jeri Ellsworth – Wikipedia