This piece initially published 29 March 2023 on LinkedIn
Hello, industry professionals! The Women in 3D Printing happy hour at Formnext 2022 [image credit: Wi3DP]
Earlier this week, I offered some free advice for additive manufacturing companies. That’s all well and good, but I want to take a closer look today – at the people making it happen. Is that you? Let’s dive in.
I’ll start with a caveat: I’m a non-technical individual with degrees in theatre (acting and directing) and English (creative writing and literary analysis). My minor was in Spanish (language and literature), but it’s been a long time since I’ve been fluent. I’m not an engineer, I’m not a technical person, and in fact I’m quite bad at any math beyond the basics.
So my background may seem unlikely for someone dedicated for the better part of a decade to 3D printing, but – that’s the magic. The inflection point for my formal education essentially comes down to translation. I’m well studied in translation: from page to stage, from Spanish to English, from Shakespeare to 21st century. That itself translates neatly to my current drive: translating engineer to layperson, or technical to decision-maker, or “additive manufacturing” jargon to digestible “3D printing”.
The other part of that weird magic formula is more broadly applicable: this industry has a place for everyone, and our unique backgrounds enrich the entire landscape.
This industry has a place for you. And I have some thoughts on how you can make your mark – and build your career.
Some of the best advice I ever received while pursuing my BA in theatre was from our technical theatre professor: Done is good.
Me, right, acting in Waving Goodbye at Muskingum College, circa 2005 – a prop/scenery-intensive show that required a lot of technical work. [image credit: Dr Diane Rao]
He said this most often to my classmate who was a notorious perfectionist. She would work all hours to achieve the best possible result – which is admirable, but not always realizable. So Mr Lauck would tell her, simply, that done is good. The show, as they say, must go on, and that’s not just a cliché when it comes to theatre; the show literally has a curtain time. The seats will fill, the curtain will rise, and whatever is onstage is what’s in the show. If it’s not done, it’s not there, even if it’s still in the scene shop an inch from perfection.
The counter to that is that if you don’t start, you can’t raise the curtain at all.
So start somewhere.
On a personal level, I wandered into this industry off the streets, naïve newbie I was way back when in 2014. I saw a job posting for a “tech news site” looking for an editor and writer, took a chance, and within a week was the second full-time employee at 3DPrint.com. Less than a year later, I was the site’s Editor-in-Chief – and had found my career, unexpectedly, and after other long-term ventures where my heart wasn’t in it. I took a chance, and now this industry is my home. These are my people, these are the technologies.
So take the chance. Take the leap. Start.
Something I've heard a lot lately and totally agree with is that for as fast-moving, as fast-growing as AM is, this industry essentially works in dog years. That is: One year in AM is equivalent to x years in other industries. Experience builds fast. Start now. You'll grow quickly.
Family – and #fAMily
There’s an ever-more-popular phrase that floats among the folk of this tightly-knit small industry: #fAMily. (Get it? It’s family but with AM in it. Clever. We love putting “AM” or “3D” wherever we can.)
Let’s make a quick, vital distinction. Your colleagues, however wonderful, are not your family. Your coworkers, your teammates, your competitors, the people you see at every event and cheer successes for on LinkedIn – they’re not your family.
Your family is who you come home to, the non-work people by blood or choice who are home.
And both can be your why.
For me, the people of AM are my why. I’m not an engineer, I’m not going to file the next big step in IP, I’ve never operated industrial equipment. But the people who do those things are my heroes, and they’ve become my why: I want to share their stories, further the possibilities and potential, and get them on the map. Also I like so very, very many of them as people.
The #fAMily: People collage from IMTS 2022
I love the #fAMily. Events are fAMily reunions, with hugs and genuine connections and long-awaited catching up on different continents and in different factories and customer sites and convention halls. This technology is incredible because of the people, and I willingly and intentionally dedicate my time to strengthening connections. Many colleagues have become real friends over the years.
But my family is my husband and my son, my cats, my dog, my parents and siblings and niblings and in-laws. My family is my home. My family is why I work at all.
#fAMily is why we do this work. Family is why we work at all.
I want to build a better world for my wee boy-o, I want my Geo to grow up in a world better than I did. Just as my mom wanted for her, and her mom wanted for her. Just as good parents always want for their children. It just so happens I think AM will help make the world better for our next generations. But closing the office door at the end of the day to pick my son up from school, or coming home from an invigorating, exhausting conference to my husband’s embrace – those are my actual whys for any of it. And the distinction needs to be made.
Read Between the Lines
If there’s one singular thing that has cut AM short time and time again, it’s hype. Make anything! It’s magic! It’s Star Trek! It’s…
My dudes, it is manufacturing. None of it is magic. It is engineering, it is making, it is designing, it is business, it is industry.
It is advanced manufacturing, it is Industry 4.0 (5.0?), it is incredible – and still nascent. It’s a young industrial revolution, it’s a suite still held back by risk aversion and low adoption, it’s a steep learning curve, it’s a shallow and shared talent pool of true expertise.
So let’s not get caught in the hype. Let’s let the hype go.
I’ve talked about this a lot over the years. Read press releases for what’s actually happening, beyond the hype, and learn to recognize the red flags. If you’re the one writing a press release, don’t fall into the same old patterns. 3D printing is exciting when it’s boring. And I heartily mean that: boring means it’s real.
So learn the industry, love the industry – and understand it for what it actually is. Then push it forward.
Never Stop Learning
To push it forward, push yourself forward.
Keep learning. Learn everything you can. Read everything you can.
Read trade news – I endorse and subscribe to, for example, and presented in alphabetical order: 3DADEPT Media, 3Dnatives, 3DPrint.com, 3DPrintr.com, AdditiveManufacturing.com, Additive Manufacturing Media, All3DP Pro, DEVELOP3D, engineering.com, Fabbaloo, TCT, and VoxelMatters.
(*I’ve written for several of these publications, to be transparent, including editorially managing 3DPrint.com and Fabbaloo for three years each.)
If podcasts are your thing, listen to them – there seem to be more AM-specific ones arising all the time. Watch the YouTube channels – far too many to list, but shoutouts to Joel Telling / the 3D Printing Nerd and to Grant Posner / 3DMusketeers, among so very many. Definitely follow Naomi Wu / RealSexyCyborg on all channels.
Upskill. Many certificates can be earned asynchronously online, and many for free. Invest in yourself with workshops, certifications, and coursework that will build your knowledge base and expand your skills – and help advance your career journey.
Formally and informally, keep learning.
As Bill Nye the Science Guy famously said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't”. Take every opportunity to learn from them.
What I like best about AM is that my overall life philosophy is to never be the smartest person in the room. I’m always in the right room in this industry.
Understand Your Value – and Your Potential
Anyone working in this industry is doing just that: Working. Whether early-career or CEO, whether academic or entrepreneur, whether technician or recruiter, we all work – and we’re all subject to the whims of macroeconomic conditions and the overall job market.
Layoffs are rife in AM right now. (And we’ll talk more about that in a future thought piece.) Hiring is also still rampant. The talent pool in AM is small but mighty. As the industry grows, so too do opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to bring your whole self to work – tattoos, gender identity, natural hair, and all. As diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) topics continue to abound in AM, we continue to grow in understanding that celebrating individuality leads to better work, better performance, better revenues. So celebrate your individual self and invest in yourself in terms of finding an appropriate and healthy work environment. Culture is important.
Also do your homework on salary ranges, pay disparity and how to overcome it, and opportunities for growth.
…As it turns out, I have a lot to say about working in AM. What’s the best advice you’ve ever personally/professionally received?