Engineer Profile: Diana Hu, Director of Engineering & Head of AR Platform at Niantic Labs

diana hu.jpg

Diana Hu is the Director of Engineering and Head of the Augmented Reality Platform at Niantic Inc. Diana leads the engineering team, building core technology that enables developers to create shared AR experiences that seamlessly blend the real with the digital. Previously, she was the co-founder and CTO of Escher Reality, a startup that was acquired by Niantic.

In this profile, she shares what tech means to her and the philosophy behind her work and drive to unearth the future’s potential.

What is your favorite part about working in tech?

My favorite thing about working in tech is getting the opportunity to invent and build the future. As a child, I was very curious as I enjoyed taking apart (and breaking) a lot of things, reading a variety of books from literature to sci-fi, and dreaming about alternative realities. A mentor once told me that the best way to shape the future is to be there to make it. I find technology a space that can be wildly creative and pragmatic at the same time, which is super exciting. In addition, I can succeed at it based on skills, intelligence, and hard work rather than how I fit in with the social norms.

What is your typical work day like?

  • Meetings: rallying all of the teams so we can all be in the right mind to set and execute where we’re going; lots of 1:1s with people on my team in order to give personal attention to helping them with their careers while coordinating and syncing our work plans

  • Reviewing technical designs and planning within the team: establishing where we already are 

A holographic camera installation that Diana worked on

A holographic camera installation that Diana worked on

What differences have you noticed between technical work and being a leader?

In technical work, I have a lot of control over the outcome of what I work on because I am the maker of my code, easter eggs and all, that is shipped with the product. As a leader, it is more about trusting my team to deliver. My work changes from maker to nurturing the makers in my team. I have to step away to see all the pieces and see how we can march along to frame the big picture. The exciting thing is that I can accomplish so much more! As a director, I have to manage multiple teams, which changes my role to that of a manager of managers, so it becomes more important to develop good ways of tracking the pulse of the team and the product development. I also have to act as a wishbone between business and engineering, carefully balancing the needs of both.

What particular people skills are needed for a director?

A director needs to be empathetic to the needs of many constituents who may not speak the same “language”, like engineering, the product, and customers.  While empathy is a good skill to have for all roles, for a director, it’s even more so because many more people are involved and more is at stake. Another crucial skill is knowing how to set limits and say no to things because you will have many ideas and requests come your way.  Finally, it’s important to be able to work under ambiguity and uncertainty because things move quickly and you never have enough information.

Like a director in an orchestra, he/she doesn’t play a specific instrument (aka code as much); their role is to set the mood, the tempo and the vision for how a piece is interpreted.

Like a director in an orchestra, he/she doesn’t play a specific instrument (aka code as much); their role is to set the mood, the tempo and the vision for how a piece is interpreted.

- on the work of being a Director of Engineering

What is important for you in a company culture? 

What the company does to make sure everyone is on board for the collective mission of the organization is what sets it apart. In other words, mission-driven companies stand out.

What was the course of your journey to Niantic Labs?

My company was acquired by Niantic Labs, so the process was a bit different than what other people might go through. Niantic’s CEO believed in the direction of my company. 

What do you do at Niantic Labs now?

At Niantic, I lead the teams that build the AR platform.  This is a core piece of technology that allows developers to build advanced augmented reality applications.

What has been your favorite project that you worked on at your company?

My favorite project is the real-world platform that goes in Niantic games. It’s exciting because we can ship cutting edge technology to millions of users. This is rare for nascent frontier tech like AR, which usually has a small audience of early adopters. 

At SIGGRAPH

At SIGGRAPH

What is the best career/personal advice you’ve ever received?

Follow your curiosity. If you are looking for something to exist or a change in a system and can’t find it, it isn’t because of some external factor, it might simply be that you are the best person to build it.

What is your leadership style?

I have a more execution focused style. I allow things to proceed and give engineers the space to make their own mistakes and grow in their own way at their own pace (of course, not too many mistakes). 

What’s your favorite book/food/social media?

Book: Camille Fournier’s The Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change. She’s former CTO of Rent the Runway. In the book, she details how her career journey changed as she moved between different positions.

Food: anything tasty, I love good food

Social media: @sdianahu (on Twitter)

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Life takes you in strange directions sometimes, so this is a hard question.  But based on what I know now, it might be interesting exploring what is beyond AR, perhaps augmented consciousness?


Diana will be sharing more about her experience at ModelExpand’s upcoming #WomeninTech Breakfast: The Path to Leadership in Tech. The #WomeninTech Breakfast Series provides a space for women to connect, inspire and uplift one another. Check out our upcoming events here or learn more about our sponsorship opportunities.

ModelExpand: ModelExpand is a diversity and inclusion advisory firm that helps companies attract and retain diverse talent through strategic consulting, workshops and events.

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