Dioselín “Dio” González’s best stories can bring her to tears. She is enthusiastic and uninhibited. “You have to tell me to shut up or move on,” Dio says. “I can talk forever.”
Dio was born and raised in Venezuela. In sixth grade, she took a course in computer programming. “Converting mathematical formulas into a picture on the screen” fascinated her. “Ever since then, I thought, ‘That’s what I’m going to do,” Dio says. “‘I’m going to be a programmer.’”
At Simón Bolívar University, Dio studied computer engineering. Her singularity of purpose—computer graphics, above all!—was such that she secured special permission to replace a required database course with a computer graphics course. “I wrote a letter to the head of the department,” says Dio. “And I explained—like a soap opera—‘Let me tell you about my life and my dreams!’”
From Venezuela, Dio went to the United States of America, to continue her studies at Purdue University. Laura Arns, who would become Dio’s academic adviser, had been recently hired to establish a virtual reality research lab at Purdue, the Envision Center for Data Perceptualization. Arns had been a student of Dio’s compatriot, the Venezuelan VR pioneer Carolina Cruz-Neira. “It was great timing for me,” says Dio, who, despite an interest in VR—stemming in part from her admiration of Cruz-Neira—had been unaware of Purdue’s new program. With Arns as her adviser—and Cruz-Neira as her “academic grand-mommy”—Dio secured a Master’s degree in computer graphics.
When Dio graduated from Purdue, VR research was limited to the ivory tower. For the next few years, then, she taught games programming in Singapore and worked as a VR researcher in Louisiana. In 2009, she moved to California, where she spent several years in the animation industry, mostly at Dreamworks. Dio cried when she first saw her name in the credits of Rise of the Guardians. “That’s a big deal, right?” She says. “I just went back to my cubicle and sent an email to my boss Bill [Ballew]: ‘Bill, I’m crying; I just saw my [name]…’” At Dreamworks, Dio was part of a team that developed new animation software for the widely acclaimed How to Train Your Dragon 2. “I have the poster [for How to Train Your Dragon 2] mounted in my bedroom next to my bed,” Dio says. “I’m very proud of what we did for the movie.”
Dio has been with Unity Technologies since October 2015. At Unity, Dio focuses her energies on her primary passion, “interactive immersive technologies: VR and beyond.” Though, in the popular imagination, virtual reality tends to be associated with gaming, Dio is more interested in its other applications—in education (“Parametric surfaces and volumes—that was one math class that was very difficult for everybody in college because the professor had to explain a surface or a volume on a blackboard…that’s a perfect scenario for virtual reality”) and in therapy (VR has been used to treat PTSD).
If Dio’s passion and volubility gainsay stereotypes of programmers, so, too, does her identity as Latina. “Silicon Valley—my goodness!—has a diversity problem,” Dio observes. As a woman and a person of color, Dio is, she notes, a “double minority.” Nevertheless, she’s directing her tremendous energy and considerable talents toward addressing these inequalities—she and several other women (including another Behind the Tech interviewee Sargun Kaur) have a tech diversity project in the works. “When I become CEO,” Dio begins—for someone like Dio, the question is when, not if.
--Thea De Armond