This piece initially published on 5 April 2023 on LinkedIn
Formnext 2022: organizers of the #TogetherWeAreStrong auction to support Ukraine. Here with Aleks Cizsek (3YOURMIND), Björn Hannappel (EOS), and Christoph Stüker (Mesago)
Additive manufacturing as an industry comprises so many sectors and aspects: OEMs (hardware), software, materials suppliers, designers, service bureaus, regulatory bodies, end users, R&D, academia, and so many others in between. Let’s not discount tooling, molding, casting, or other traditional manufacturing users bringing additive manufacturing into their workflows.
The big question to someone wanting to work in 3D printing, whether student, early career professional, or someone looking for a change, typically revolves around the kind of company they want to work with – which technology suite, which aspect of AM? 3D printing isn’t just one thing, AM isn’t just one thing. So what work do you want to be doing?
There’s something I say a lot about the work I do – the work I want to do – in additive manufacturing: I just want to do good work with good people.
But…what does that mean? And is it possible?
What does “good work” mean?
To me, it means leveraging the best of AM for the best future for making things. To me, that’s an all-encompassing statement.
Good work means, to me, a well-rounded operation incorporating:
Good technology is the first on this list, and it’s the first thing I bring up in prospective client calls – and more often than not costs me a second call. My question here is:
Does your technology do today what your current public-facing materials say it does?
That is: does your stuff work like you say it does? Yes? Let’s continue the conversation. No? I’m not an aspirational marketer; I’m not the best fit for your team.
That’s my question, but it’s an important foundation to understand where a company – especially a prospective employer – is currently.
Foundational values mean commitments to the world. The two areas I personally look for here are commitments to diversity and to sustainability. Other important commitments include, for example, dedication to teams’ professional development, such as through tuition reimbursement or paid certifications, or transparency in terms of reporting results (primarily for private companies, which are not compelled to do so, but offer a look at actual adoption and growth).
A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is foundational for me in terms of how I approach my personal and professional life, and is vital to me in understanding who I’m working with – what we’re working toward. A lot of this is also simple (if, in these examples, US-centric): ADA compliance for an accessible workplace, parental leave policies that go beyond FMLA, sufficient PTO to allow for work/life balance, equitable hiring practices, and representation among senior leadership. Deeper commitments speak highly of a company’s values, such as those teams actively investing time and money in training for leadership and all personnel on DEI topics.
Commitments to sustainability show that a company is aware of the precarious state of the world today. (Global warming is – gasp! – real.) Sustainability statements, “green” goals (but not greenwashed statements), participation in environmentally-focused trade organizations and/or initiatives – these are all, pardon the fully intentional pun, green flags.
Forward-looking vision means there’s a plan for next quarter, next half, next year, next five years – not just in two decades. Understanding the vision going forward and having plans in place, with or without KPIs but all built on a business case, helps create buy-in among employees and prospective employees. There’s a lot of time between “what we’re doing today” and “what the revolution looks like in 2045” – let’s mind it.
Third-party validation is important, plan and simple. Has a neutral outside party independently confirmed lab results? Have real-world customers offered testimonials? Are certifications and regulatory conditions met? Can we expect a shakeup after every Board meeting because of the sheer amount of apparent surprises revealed?
With my client, Matthew Pearlson of PrintFoam, an undeniably good person doing good work.
You’d think this would be the easier aspect to describe – and yet it’s the trickier side. There are no KPIs to “good personhood”, no single measure that creates a simple validation of ah, yes, these are my people.
Though, to be fair, that is actually what I say of this industry on the whole.
When I started in AM in 2014, quite accidentally as I meandered off the streets of market forecasting straight into an editorial role at 3DPrint.com, I thought I’d found a nice job. In 2015, I wandered further in through a new role as Editor-in-Chief of that site. After my first in-person conference, I had a very different vision: This is my career, these are my people.
It was meeting the people of the industry, seeing the tech first-hand, and understanding in the real world the impact that these technologies can truly offer both people and the world – that’s what changed things for me.
Nearly nine years on from that initial foray, I’ve lost a lot of the rose tint from my glasses. But I’ve lost none of the drive or commitment.
This industry is an industry, and as such is prone to the conditions of business, of workforce, of manufacturing, of messy macroeconomics. Coming with that then are the “it’s not personal, it’s business”-minded folk, the bottom-line studiers, and the other realities of our capitalistic world. It is business, and that means a business case must exist for each decision, from hiring to product development and release to partnerships to M&A.
It is possible to be a good person within this scope of business.
I’ve met life-changingly good people in AM. My single biggest drive in this industry has been, and remains, my volunteer work with Women in 3D Printing, where I have been on the Board of Directors since it was founded in 2018. I established our DEI programming in 2021 and continue to drive that. I work with incredible people the world over to build a better industry – one more representative of the world in which it operates.
The 2023 Board of Directors at Wi3DP: (L-R) Nora Touré, Kristin Mulherin, Lisa Block, me, and Janet Janet Kar
My other volunteer time, such as with the Additive Manufacturing Coalition’s Advisory Board, on the jury again for the annual 3D Pioneers Challenge, and organizing two editions of the Together We Are Strong auction to support Ukrainians, also inform moves I make. Through such initiatives, I gain access to brilliant technology pioneers to better understand their work – as well as decision-makers whose actions can sway the government’s investment into the future of manufacturing.
I want to commit to such work because it’s important to me, it resonates with me on a personal level, and fits the greater vision for “Industry 4.0” where a sea change is on the horizon.
And so I want to work with the people for whom this work isn’t “just business”. Because for me, it’s personal. We spend so much of our waking time in our adult lives focused on work – why wouldn’t I want 40 hours of each week to be spent among people I like working with, doing work I am invested in?
Terribly idealistic, maybe, but I’ve experienced that this is possible.
The beautiful thing about a career path in AM is that, as a nascent industry, every journey is hyper individualized. There is no one route to take. Mine is self-directed, and the decisions I’ve made for each move (those that have been my choice, anyway) have been guided by my very simple ethos:
I want to do good work with good people.
What’s your driving force in AM?