“I’m a better designer when I love the products I’m designing,” says Lilli T., a design lead. “I’ve always been passionate about making tools to help people create art, and the metaverse is such an incredible new canvas for creation.”
A lifelong art lover, Lilli is building the things she once dreamed about while studying computer science at the California Institute of Technology. Immediately drawn to machine learning and computer graphics, she remembers imagining what she might eventually create with “tools that didn’t exist yet.”
This intrigue led Lilli to pursue a career as wide-ranging as her artistic interests. She built game engines as a software engineer, went from engineering back to art school to study animation and then used those diverse skills as a product lead in the startup world — which brought her to Meta. When Meta hired Lilli, she joined the company as a product manager. “This role taught me how important it is to have diverse perspectives and connect ideas across disciplines — everyone thinks and analyzes problems differently.”
Bringing her affinity for art and technical innovation together, she joined the research design team in Reality Labs in 2020, leaping further into the metaverse.
Exploring the limitless world of Reality Labs research
The Reality Labs research team develops next-generation technology, such as new kinds of sensors, displays and ways to interact with computers. “The research team is so deeply science-focused that ‘design’ means something different — ‘impact’ isn’t shipping pixels. It’s changing the way people think about the future,” Lilli explains. “We’re working toward a 10-year vision, thinking about ‘impossible’ futures. Design plays a key role in helping people imagine things they’ve never even considered, and in bringing abstract and scientific concepts into reality.” Connecting the dots between big ideas and practical applications for people is when Lilli feels most inspired. “Anytime you give me a new piece of technology, I think, ‘I wonder if you could make art with that.’”
“Research is so exploratory and entrepreneurial — and demanding! It’s been incredibly exciting to use my science, engineering and creative skills all at once.”
The design org within research is highly integrated and cross-functional. Hardware, software, research science and design all collaborate closely to bring research to life. “Being multidisciplinary is incredibly useful in a research environment because there are so many ways to approach a problem — sometimes you need to bring out the humanity of a technology, and sometimes you need a clever new process or engineering solution,” she says. “There’s no one ‘right’ way.”
Building an inclusive future in the metaverse
Lilli sees the metaverse as an opportunity to build a future where more people have access to tools that enable them to create. “I want to empower creative people who have unique points of view to share. The metaverse is a new canvas where people can express themselves in entirely new ways — If we build the tools right, we have the opportunity to hear from all kinds of people who’ve never had that kind of voice before. I’m so excited to see what they make!”
To imagine a different future, Lilli’s team is focused on unlocking big far-future ideas. She believes it’s more important to nurture novel innovations than to understand exactly how they could be productized. “New ideas are so fragile, and they take time to develop roots. Product thinking can be so relentless, but you don’t take a delicate plant and expose it to the harsh desert sun,” she explains. “You’ve got to give it shelter and let it grow until you see what it’s going to become.”
“My goal is to empower people to be as creative and courageous with their ideas as possible, which requires a lot of care.”
In the metaverse, Lilli wants people to feel present when they aren’t physically together — which is a complex technical problem to solve. When considering how to transmit personality in an avatar, for instance, Lilli draws on her animation background. “Studying animation teaches you just how nuanced human emotion and interaction is,” she explains. “Bringing that subconscious understanding into design is a research area I’m fascinated by.”
Making mentorship a priority
Lilli’s range of roles are connected by a common thread: her passion for mentoring the next generation of women in the technical field. After charting her path in a male-dominated industry, she cares deeply about ensuring women don’t experience the “otherness” she felt early in her career as a woman engineer in the games industry.
At Meta, Lilli has joined groups and events where women network and inspire each other to pursue engineering, including Women in Engineering, Women in Design and Women of the Metaverse. She’s also part of a formal mentorship program where she draws on her career journey to coach women mentees. “Being a good mentor isn’t about doing any one specific thing — the most important thing is to be there. Just being visible and providing an example is one of the most powerful things you can do.”
“Representation matters. The young women I mentor will likely forget everything I say, but they might remember I existed — an example of a possible future.”
Speaking directly to the next generation of women in tech, Lilli offers a simple piece of advice. “There will be a lot of people who want to tell you what you can’t do. Don’t believe them.”
Lilli has been dreaming about the future for her entire life, and she sees a world where creators have a way to express themselves, big ideas break through boundaries and women thrive as leaders in their careers and communities. It’s no wonder she loves exploring her imagination — it’s a beautiful place to be, and she’s bringing everyone with her.