10 Questions with Aileen McGraw


Aileen is a marketing manager for the HoloLens and Mixed Reality Marketing team at Microsoft, and was named one of Next Reality’s Top 50 Influencers in the xR space. For many mixed reality devs, Aileen is the public face of Microsoft—she’s the person who answers your emails and always has a kind word to say when everyone else may be too busy to do so. She is also one of the chief storytellers on the team, charged with answering a deceptively simple question on a daily basis: why HoloLens? Here are her answers to the 10 Questions:


What movie has left the most lasting impression on you?
I’ll narrow it down to three! The Iron Giant introduced me to wit, how to embrace uncertainty, and just how beautiful animation can be. Ugh, I love it. Also, brilliant poster design and fan art. James Dean unleashes AMAZING emotional freedom in Rebel Without A Cause. I can hear him now: “You’re tearing me apart!” And that red jacket…aesthetic intoxication, and quite a legacy. Moonlight is beautiful – like HoloLens and spatial sound, it shows the power that audio can have on one’s experience, especially in relation to space and memory. All three movies made intense impressions on me because they exposed just how personal history is. And just how difficult but amazing authoring the truth is.

What is the earliest video game you remember playing?
Oh my goodness, Bugdom was my catnip growing up. My twin sister and I would play it on our laptop (in the Apple clamshell days) for hours on end. When we’d get stuck (almost literally, because as the game’s leading roly poly, we waded in honey to free ladybugs from angsty bees), we’d phone home (or Iowa) for help from our cousin. It would make a STELLAR mixed reality game.

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?
My twin sister Keara is a core creative inspiration in my life. Her illustration and burgeoning tattoo portfolio inspire me to always push my practice, rethink what I love, or what I think I’ve mastered. We give each other hell, but as we grow older and geographically farther (she’s in Chicago, I’m in Seattle), we build one and other up. I love collaborating with her. Recently, this manifests as she encourages me to champion stories beyond words. Yes, I’m a writer and a word nerd, but what I love is more than words: It’s the work that words do. And she inspires me to braid diverse mediums and communities together. That’s how you create something bold. Her passion for peanut butter almost eclipses mine, to which I say “challenge accepted” – just one example of the competitive spirit she sparks within me.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?
I’ll echo everyone in this series: just this morning (if not a few seconds ago). That said, I’m all about proof. You’ll change my mind if you champion something real, in real-time. And the same goes for me: I’m always on a journey to create something contagious, and I love the challenge to explain, unpack, or – even better – simplify my ideas.

What’s a programming skill people assume you have but that you are terrible at?
Wonderful question – I hope it’s obvious that I’m a writer and storyteller by trade! I’ve done Unity workshops (shout out to Marianna Budnikova for her awesome HoloLens app workshop with VR/AR Collective) and love diving into technical successes and stresses. My language and syntax differ from programming, though. 😉

What inspires you to learn?
The people who build and use mixed reality, and the folks who’ve guided me towards where I am today. I’m also inspired to learn because of a question that’s been pounding in my mind since studying creative writing: So what? I love finding and defining why things matter. It’s a drumbeat almost as constant as Seattle rain: So what? So what? So what? Answering this is always a social journey – I meet incredible people along the way.

What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?
I need to believe that creativity matters and that people are willing to be uncomfortable in order to create something equitable and true.

What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?
There’s no such thing as too spicy. Though I’m always happy to try and defend this…please send your hot sauce recos my way.

What will the future killer Mixed Reality app do?
Remove barriers. Personally, I think mixed reality dissolves the definitions we tolerate today – human, computer, physical, digital – so that people can create, remember, heal, and teach beyond boundaries (my list goes on). You can be a graffiti artist improving your tactile work or you can be a surgeon planning your next procedure, or you could be tomorrow’s version of today’s social media addict. But I think that no matter who you are, with the killer mixed reality experience, you’ll braid together the things that matter, defying space and time.

What book have you recommended the most?
Hmmm. Most recently, Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. It’s a beautiful, biting memoir that shares a searing look at motherhood through prose and poetry – makes my heart sing and cry and question. If you want to shake up your idea of sanity, read The Vegetarian by Han Kang. As a vegan, it rattled me (in the best way?). I am in awe of the way Ruth Ozeki fused research and her own life into A Tale for the Time Being. Read that!

One thought on “10 Questions with Aileen McGraw”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *