Mary Lou Jepsen
Head of Display Technologies · Facebook/Oculus
Mary Lou first started hacking at 4 years old when she scratched up a lenticular cover of her Thumbelina book. “I wanted to get inside the 3D image and live in the book”. When she was 8 she started making her own parallax barrier and lenticular images. As a teen she built a version of Pong using smiley faces on her family’s Apple II Plus. She double majored in Electrical Engineering and Studio Art at Brown University . She has a Masters in Holography from the MIT Media Lab and a PhD from Brown University in Optical Science.
Mary Lou’s technical interest and prowess is vast. To scratch the surface: she built moonlit holograms of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; designed a system to project holograms onto the moon; served as a CS professor at both MITs: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia; co-founded MicroDisplay Corp and served as its CTO; was CTO at Intel’s Display Division, co-founded and served as CTO for One Laptop Per Child; co-founded Pixel Qi Corp. and served as CEO; founded and led two ‘moonshot’ programs in Google[x], and is now a Head of Display Technologies at Facebook/Oculus where, among other things, she is building the next version of augmented and virtual reality.
Of all of these accomplishments, Mary Lou is most proud of designing, building and shipping the $100 laptop for One Laptop Per Child. “It’s not a stripped down laptop. It’s still the lowest power laptop in the word by 10x”. It has a sunlight readable screen, the laptops create a network with other laptops within 2 kilometers of each other. Amortized over 5 years, it’s cheaper than buying textbooks. “We got every head of state except 3 in the world to say they wanted to buy into our program. I led the invention, architecture and then shipment of millions of laptops the next year.” This was the fastest growing new consumer electronics device ever.
“People thought I was crazy and tried to stop me. I realized heads of companies would meet with me because they wanted to laugh at me and tell me it was impossible and it would never work. I would leverage that. I’d ask ‘list the reasons why it won’t work’, write the reasons down, go through their lists and address issues we’ve solved, and then ask to come back in a couple of months to see if we’d resolved the new issues they would help unearth. I unwittingly got the top executives at most of the top electronics companies in the world to help me design the $100 for free.”
When facing challenges, Mary Lou says “there are two types of people in this world — those who build sandcastles and those who smush them. I try to surround myself with people who are builders, not smushers.” She says “find something that you love that also can have vast impact to change the world. At times I thought I would die if I didn’t keep going because I loved the work so much”.