Rachel Rubin Franklin is the head of social VR at Facebook. With more than 20 years of experience in launching interactive entertainment products, she’s an expert in leading engineering teams and building brands. Before joining Facebook, she served as an executive producer and general manager at Electronic Arts, where she led The Sims 4—one of the most successful PC games of all time. Prior to that, she was the cofounder and president of Moonstone Interactive, a lucrative website design and online marketing firm, and worked with clients such as the Academy of Art University, San Francisco; IBM; Adobe Systems; Microsoft; Nickelodeon; and the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, among many others. She holds a BS in applied mathematics and computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.
[OnlineEducation.com] How did you initially get into video games and VR?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] I started playing games on my dad’s work computer when I was around seven, and immediately I was hooked. Games have incredible power to engage people, tell stories, and bring fun into people’s lives. That’s why I’ve spent my whole career in interactive entertainment products. In my current role, I see VR as a perfect culmination of my prior experience involving technology and people. It enables a huge leap forward for connecting with others that you care about in ways that were never possible before.
[OnlineEducation.com] Tell me a bit about your career trajectory.
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] I went to college at Carnegie Mellon University, where I studied applied mathematics and computer science. While there, I got into both programming and acting—I really loved the opportunity to activate both my right brain and my left brain with those pursuits.
After college, I got my first job as a programmer for a Department of Defense contractor. I had top secret clearance! After that I spent some time studying acting in London, then returned to the US and joined Activision where I eventually became lead programmer.
From there I started my own company in the early days of multimedia and the web. I sold it eight years later. Continuing my journey in tech, I headed up the US branch of a successful Dutch SMS company connecting teens, then went to OnLive where I did product management and marketing for hardware and software. Before coming to Facebook, I was a VP and executive producer at EA, where I oversaw development of The Sims.
[OnlineEducation.com] Who have been your greatest mentors?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] I’m most inspired by public figures who are excellent at what they do and have strong opinions on things I care about. A few examples include Oprah, Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, and the Dalai Lama.
[OnlineEducation.com] What are the demographics of the VR industry? Are you usually one of the only women in the room?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] In all things tech, I’ve been one of the only women in the room many times. That’s why, as I build my team at Facebook, it’s my top priority to make sure all types of people are represented. I want to build a diverse group so that there’s never only one woman at the table, and more importantly so that we can build better VR products for everyone.
[OnlineEducation.com] What are the unique challenges women and minorities face working in video games and VR? Have you ever experienced discrimination in the industry?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] I think many professional women, including myself, can think of times in their careers where they were treated differently because of their gender or another characteristic. It absolutely shouldn’t be that way—everyone deserves an inclusive working environment where they feel comfortable and are treated fairly. And while the industry may not be where we want it to be, I’m glad that Facebook and others are taking steps to get there.
[OnlineEducation.com] Compared to when you started your career, how has the situation changed?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] In general, I find that there’s a lot more openness to talk about diversity, the importance of building a diverse workforce and the challenges that exist. There are also more places to go for support. Early in my career, it wasn’t always easy to find people I could open up to, discuss challenges, and get advice. As a leader, I try to provide this openness and support for my team, and I see many other leaders doing the same. I think that’s a really encouraging trend.
[OnlineEducation.com] What advice do you have for women who want to become leaders in VR companies?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] First, find what you love. That’s not just for VR, but for any industry—you’ll be most successful if you align your efforts with something that sparks your passion. If you can’t wait to jump out of bed in the morning and get to work, you’re doing the right thing! Next, educate yourself. The more you immerse yourself in something, the more impact you can make—whether it’s learning a new technology, reading up on industry trends, or building relationships with interesting people. Invest in developing your expertise. And lastly, be resilient. Understand there will be setbacks, but never let them dampen your greatness.
[OnlineEducation.com] Are there any core skills, educational programs, or specific experiences you’d recommend to people interested in careers in VR/AR?
[Rachel Rubin Franklin] What’s so exciting about VR right now is how the industry brings together so many fields and specialties, from game design to filmmaking to computer vision to sound engineering, just to name a few. Because of this, there’s no single set of skills needed to break into the industry—it’s really about finding what’s exciting to you. Once something sparks your interest, there’s no shortage of online courses and tutorials to help you build and sharpen your skills, whether it’s learning how to train a neural network or studying how storytelling can be done in 3D. Do a search on Udacity or Coursera and dive in.
If you’re still looking for inspiration, I recommend spending as much time as possible in VR, experiencing everything you can get your hands on and paying attention to what interests you, whether it’s an intriguing game or a touching 360 documentary. I also recommend reaching out and connecting with other like-minded people in the industry. Join a Facebook group, like Women in VR/AR. There are so many interesting problems that people are already working on, and joining the conversation is a great way to learn.