Elbert Perez was a junior in high school when he landed his first software development job.
“Our computer science class was more like an introduction to scripting. They were teaching us QBasic, which at the time was an archaic language,” recalls Elbert. “Still, I found I had a talent for scripting, and I was able to finish a basic game as part of a class project.”
The other kids in the class took notice and started going to him for help on their own projects. Eventually, Elbert just offered to do their work for them… for a small fee. True, some people might call that cheating, but the way Elbert sees it, it was a savvy business move.
“I was contracting out my services,” he laughs. “I don’t call that cheating, I call that being an entrepreneur.”
It’s been years since Elbert acted as a ringer for his classmates, but the entrepreneurial spirit remains. In addition to working for tech giants like Microsoft and HTC, he’s also successfully crowdfunded a critically acclaimed indie game and spent years cultivating various side hustles. At HTC, he was a Senior Software Prototype Developer for the HTC Vive, one of the most advanced VR headsets on the market. And he recently cashed it all in to start his own company, Doghead Simulations, which promises to change the way distributed teams work and relate to one another. Not bad for a kid who just wanted to make games.
“Making games was the only thing I could ever pursue with a passion. I couldn’t be a doctor because I don’t like blood. I couldn’t be an engineer because I don’t like having to be too precise. I couldn’t be a lot of things for one reason or another, but I liked that games require you to be creative and technical at the same time. I could do that.”
So after high school, Elbert made the 9,000 mile trek from his family’s home in the Philippines to Winter Park, Florida, where he enrolled in Full Sail’s Game Development degree program. It was a big change, but one he says continues to impact the way he navigates a career in tech.
“Full Sail instilled a work ethic in me that drives me to this day,” he says. “A big part of that is how passionate everyone around you can be. It’s a healthy competition. I didn’t want any of my peers to fail, but I wanted to patch their passion so that I didn’t get left behind.”
After graduating from Full Sail in 2005, Elbert picked up a contract job with Microsoft, who he worked with on and off for the better part of a year. At the same time, he was itching to make his own games. The Windows Phone had just launched, and there weren’t many developers putting out games for it, so Elbert took advantage of a niche market and put out 24 mobile games over a 12 month period. By the end of the year, Microsoft offered him a full time position as a technical producer.
Never one to get too comfortable, he also took an opportunity to launch a Kickstarter for Habitat, a 3D space-themed game he and his partner Charles Cox planned to distribute through Steam. The timing couldn’t have been better.
“I got laid off from Microsoft the same day we launched the Kickstarter. So I was let go at 9 a.m., and then we launched at 10 a.m., so I really only had one hour of grievance.”
In the end, Habitat was fully funded, though it never caught on as much as Elbert and Charles hoped. The experience of working on a 3D game was more than valuable, though. It led Elbert to apply for a job at HTC, where he spent the next year working on a top-secret project that would become the HTC Vive.
“What I love about VR is its ability to remove barriers,” says Elbert. “It allows people to have experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
“Personally, I would never want to replace my reality,” he adds. “We’re a long way off from living in the Matrix, but virtual reality allows us to do magic, and to gain access to experiences that might be beyond our grasp in the real world.”
Shortly after the Vive’s release, Elbert announced his next project: to start a new company, Doghead Simulations, with fellow Full Sail graduate and Hall of Fame inductee Chance Glasco. The company boasts another Hall of Fame connection — 2011 inductee Jameson Durall is Director of Design. The company will base its operations out of Orlando, FL, and employ a crew of Full Sail faculty and alumni.
The decision to leave HTC and strike out on his own was not inconsiderable, but Elbert felt confident in the fact that he’d made a significant contribution to the shift toward virtual technology. In a way, this made the decision easier: he’d already been a part of something that would change the world, so the prospect of failing at a new venture didn’t seem so scary. More than that, he wanted the opportunity to push the limits of the technology, to really explore how virtual reality could transcend the novelty of entertainment into something that was truly useful.
This is the mentality behind rumii, Doghead Simulations’ flagship product. While products like Skype and Google Hangouts are great for casual, 2D interactions, rumii seeks to immerse distributed teams in a fully collaborative virtual space by combining teleconferencing with productivity tools like Kanban boards.
“I believe this technology will change how we communicate,” says Elbert. “When a group meets in rumii, it feels very natural, because you’re closer to the non-verbal social cues that let you know someone is listening to you —the nodding, the gestures. Social presence is escalated.”
It’s been a busy year, but through it all Elbert has made time to return to campus often, working with students in Full Sail’s game and simulation degree programs. Early next year, he’ll take his place along other outstanding members of the Full Sail community when he’s inducted into the Eighth Annual Hall of Fame.
“For me, the Hall of Fame is a great responsibility,” he says. “It means I’m elevating myself to the next level — I’m not just working for myself, but for my family, my friends, and the students who look up to me.”