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Niantic’s Engineering Program Manager Nidhi Kurani Is at the Center of the Future of AR Gaming

Each day, tens of millions of enthusiasts explore the exciting intersection of mobile gaming and augmented reality. At the center of this entertainment phenomenon is Niantic Labs Company, the creator of worldwide favorites that include Pokemon Go, Monster Hunter, Harry Potter Wizards Unite, Campfire, and its cutting-edge AR platform. Behind each one is a team of hundreds of dedicated developers, whose highly specialized skills must be leveraged to take a game from a promising, but imperfect, idea to a flawless final product that is ready for players to enjoy. Meeting that challenge is Nidhi Kurani, a Sr. Manager, Technical Program Manager at Niantic, where she uses her ten years of experience in the gaming industry to shape the future of technology – on time and within budget.

Nidhi’s journey to the top of the augmented reality industry began in India, where even as a young teenager, her analytical mind, innate leadership skills, and ability to visualize the big picture stood out. In particular, she was fascinated by STEM and was not deterred by the reality that it was a traditionally male-dominated industry.

“I believed that if you had the aptitude for something – in my case, STEM – that your gender should not be a barrier,” Nidhi remembers. “I was also very forward-thinking, as I could see that augmented reality would have a tremendous impact on the future of society. I was determined to contribute to it and have a career in an industry that I loved.”

Nidhi ultimately left India to come to the United States, where she earned her master’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. Upon graduation, she found herself in demand in America’s thriving tech scene, rising quickly through the ranks as a QA Engineer for several companies before joining PlayStation as an Engineering Program Manager. As Nidhi worked on the company’s microservices, such as Wallet, Accounts, and Identity, her supervisors quickly realized that she possessed a unique capacity to introduce order into complex processes, identify goals, and create strategies for accomplishing them.

“PlayStation was an amazing opportunity for me, as I worked across departments with varied stakeholders to develop roadmaps and resource plans,” Nidhi remembers. “I really got to dive into cross-functional collaboration and use my technical expertise to manage projects. It was definitely pivotal to shaping my career’s trajectory.”

Nidhi came to Niantic because she was intrigued by the company’s ambitious vision of gamers who could enjoy AR games on their phones as well as its mission to create a thriving community, whose members would get outside and connect with the world around them. Niantic was already well on its way to achieving its goals, as it employed some of the industry’s most talented developers. What the company needed, however, was someone who could step to the forefront of this vast multidisciplinary team, pull them all together, and boldly lead them to complete state-of-the-art projects, all while meeting deadlines, mitigating risks, and staying within budgets. Nidhi, with her technical expertise and ability to eliminate chaos and develop synergy between diverse stakeholders, was tapped.

Nidhi quickly got to work at Niantic, using her executive capacities as a team manager to create a common vision for multiple departments: experimentation, cross-functional collaboration, risk management, and mentorship. This strong foundation for future projects allowed for increased trust and communication between hundreds of team members.

“It also helped that I spoke their language, so to speak,” she says. “I was working with people from Legal, Marketing, and Engineering as well as others, and I understood that everyone had unique criterias and KPIs. I was able to become a focal point, the person they could go to when they needed explanations, feedback, or assistance. That alone increased productivity.”

One of the core projects Nidhi spearheaded was Niantic’s Real World Platform, which allows developers to create their own AR applications via its tools and services. Its cutting-edge features streamline how real-world elements are integrated into games and applications. Through its request system, game teams can ask for specific features and requirements and have immediate access to core data that is needed for game development. She was especially proud of this platform because it cemented Nianic’s position at the forefront of the mobile AR gaming industry.

Campfire, the popular social media app designed for Niantic’s games and communities, was another success impacted by Nidhi. During the first phase of its development, she stepped in to finetune its timeline for execution. She quickly understood the app’s big vision, spotted potential risks in releasing it, and created a deadline for deliverables that were met right on time. As a result, Niantic was able to launch Campfire and cultivate a passionate global community of online gamers, all while driving brand loyalty.

Two other major projects led by Nidhi will be familiar to mobile gamers: Harry Potter Wizards Unite and a webstore for Monster Hunter Now. “Our Harry Potter game had all the right components and was destined for success in the market,” she believes. “Its release was being hindered by a lack of efficiency, so I introduced a faster, cheaper in-house data platform, which ultimately made its development much smoother.”

As for Monster Hunter Now, Nidhi collaborated with marketing, legal, and game teams to first scope out requirements and then create an ambitious, but achievable, timeline for its execution. Within a month, the webstore had been launched, allowing players to purchase different items within the game and becoming a major revenue stream for Niantic.

Internally, Nidhi introduced more efficiency into Niantic’s gaming pipeline by designing and implementing a new ticketing process for handling requests regarding live operations. By concentrating on the elimination of friction in communication, she has empowered Niantic to reach multiple live operations in the last six months alone. She also replaced a third-party, direct marketing tool with one created in-house, which resulted in money saved.

Nidhi says that her experiences in leading hundreds of incredibly talented people to accomplish the impossible in augmented reality has taught her something very important: every detail, no matter how small, matters.

“It may be the team member who needs an encouraging word or a suggestion for how to code more effectively. Perhaps it is someone in the Legal Department that just doesn’t quite see the vision clearly. Regardless of the issue, it must be solved so that productivity flows,” Nidhi says. “At Niantic, we understand how to zoom in on those details while still managing the overall landscape. All of our incredible team members are interconnected, and that is allowing us to define how augmented reality is used in gaming.”

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