They say not to mix business with pleasure, but that particular “they” must not be working in 3D printing; as has been mentioned time and time again, this industry is pretty closely knit, and can feel like a family. If you go to tradeshows, maker faires, software gatherings, or any other event centered on 3D technologies, you’ll quickly come to recognize faces from event to event — and for the most part, that’s a good thing. One of the friendliest faces in the field is Mara Hitner, the director of business development at MatterHackers.
I’ve had the great joy of getting to know Mara as an experienced and enthusiastic member of the 3D printing community, and a rock star in her own right (literally; she’s the lead singer in a pretty rad band). She’s a proponent of that #3DPLife, showcasing how 3D printing can be used for the greater good and just for kicks. In thinking about Mara, the word that continually comes to mind is “enthusiastic” as she exudes great joy and very clearly has great passion for what she’s doing.
As with many who work today in 3D printing, she’s not necessarily where she would have expected to be a few years ago — but by now, she wouldn’t have it any other way, as she’s more than happy to discuss as we continue to put the Spotlight on Women.Can you tell us briefly about your educational/professional background and what led you to a career in the 3D printing world?
“I studied Creative Writing For Media at Binghamton University, then moved to LA with my acoustic guitar and some songs I had written to chase a record deal. My ‘day-job’ was selling print and online advertising for many years, before landing at AOL selling the targeting technology behind the video ads you are forced to watch online. NOT very inspiring work! I had been looking to get out of advertising for years but nothing sparked my imagination – until I saw 3D printing on an episode of ‘Elementary.’ I got obsessed! As a salesperson, all I knew was if I wanted to get into a new industry, I had to find a tradeshow and network my butt off.
So I flew myself to the Seattle for the 2014 3D Printer World Expo, and made my way around every booth introducing myself and collecting business cards. I learned SO much about who the players were in the space (machines, materials, software, service bureaus, etc.) and also about the technology itself from attending the sessions and panels – including the keynote by Made In Space, which made my newbie-brain explode! From there, I followed up incessantly with all of the contacts I made, and even purchased a Printrbot from MatterHackers. Five months later I offered to volunteer at the MatterHackers booth at the Burbank 3D Printer World Expo. The morning of that show, I got caught in mass layoffs at AOL. By the end of the weekend, MatterHackers had offered me the role of Director of Business Development, which I happily accepted.”
What drew you to work at MatterHackers? What makes the company a good fit for you?
“Initially what drew me to MatterHackers was the fact that I could learn about the industry from every angle: software (they develop MatterControl), desktop 3D printers (they sell 52 of them), and materials (they sell over 500 kinds of filament). But here’s the thing, the office is 60 miles from where I live (a two-hour commute) so my initial plan was to find a place to crash there during the week to avoid the daily commute, hang with the job for six months or so to learn everything I could and gain industry contacts, and then find something similar closer to home. Well, that plan is now over two years old (Happy Birthday, plan!) What I did not count on was absolutely falling in love with the people I work with, our customers, our partners, and the mission of the company – to make 3D printing easier for everyone.
I was given full autonomy from day one to explore anywhere I saw potential for growth, and just try stuff. The company culture is one where anything can be said, and anything can be heard. The next great idea may come from the CEO, or from the new person in shipping. I was seen as an equal by the leadership team immediately, and I am still inspired every day by the way CEO Lars Brubaker, COO Kevin Pope, and CFO Michael Hulse lead this company with respect, humor, and endless curiosity. We work hard, we laugh a lot, we put our customers first always, and I get to keep venturing out into the big wide world and bringing back ideas on how we can get 3D printers into all of the hands that could use them. ASAP. Because people being able to make things is important.”
What kinds of trends have you noticed as both MatterHackers and the 3D printing industry have been growing?
“I actually love that 3D printing is organically finding permanent, meaningful homes in so many niche industries and hobbies. When I started in 2015, there was still that desperate push towards mass consumer adoption, but the nagging question of ‘why does EVERYONE need a 3D printer in their home?’ couldn’t be answered to the public’s satisfaction…yet. Now we are seeing how 3D printing can enhance pretty much any hobby or business. I spent most of 2016 learning how MatterHackers could best serve educators and then delivering on it (combo of unbiased product advice, training teachers, and unbridled customer support), and I continue to be inspired every day by how 3D printers are being used in the classroom.
Now that major industries like manufacturing and government see that desktop 3D printers are not just ‘toys for tinkerers’, I’m excited to see what can be accomplished in the world when every engineer can produce prototypes and even finished parts from their own workspaces instead of waiting to use the ‘big machines’.”
MatterHackers often participates in design challenges such as Envision the Future and Within Reach; how do initiatives like these speak to the capabilities of 3D printing tech and the community using it?
“Creating ‘Within Reach’ and ‘Envision The Future’ with enablingthefuture.org and Pinshape are absolutely two highlights of my time at MatterHackers so far. And you could note that they were both founded by women in 3D printing (myself, Jen Owen, Lauren Watkins, Laura Galloway, and Erin Seaman)! Humans want to do good, and makers in particular want to be useful. 3D printing is a perfect tool for all ages to be able to create devices that change people’s lives for the better, or just print ones that someone else designed in another country for distribution to those in need locally.”
How do community-focused events like MRRF engage the 3D printing community?
“I have never seen a more inclusive, respectful, fun, inviting, brilliant, creative, innovative, and determined community than the one around 3D printing. Tinkerers, marketers, manufacturers, YouTube creators, the press, engineers, salespeople, designers, teachers, materials scientists, software developers…so many different types of people make up this community. It’s wonderful that there are so many opportunities like MRRF, Maker Faire, meetups (…at MatterHackers,) and industry trade shows and conferences around the world to get everyone together to exchange ideas and push the technology forward. Everyone supports each other because we know we have a long way to go before everyone has an answer to the question, ‘what do I need a 3D printer for?'”
YouTube/social media plays a big part in enthusiasm about desktop 3D printing; what are your thoughts on this aspect of the community?
“See above! I love them dearly, and while we initially become aware of each other online, interacting on social media on a daily basis makes it so much sweeter when we meet in person. Creating YouTube videos IS making. There are channels like 3D Printing Nerd, Make Anything, and Tom’s 3D that are all about 3D printing (reviews, advice, tutorials, etc.) and those who are using 3D printing intermittently because it enhances whatever their channel is about, like Tested, Punished Props, and I Like To Make Stuff. They all have their different audiences, and they all help to spread the enthusiasm for both the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of 3D printing. They give everyone, anywhere, an easy access point to find a voice that speaks to them personally.”
Do you feel, as a woman working with 3D printing, that your daily experience is at all substantively different from those of men in similar positions?
“It would be interesting for me to switch roles with a man for a day and find out! I know I’ve heard horror stories from other women in tech, but for me personally, I haven’t had any major bad experiences. Guess I’ve been lucky. In 3D printing, I’ve always been treated with respect by the people I spend any length of time with – men and women. I will add that I have not found any of the cattiness between the WOMEN in 3D printing that I sometimes experienced in previous industries. I’ve only seen women supporting each other, and that is what will make this industry continue to thrive and be a safe and attractive place for talented women to come on board and share their skills.”
What are your general observations regarding diversity in the 3D printing industry? How do you feel women are represented?
“Of course there are more men than women in this industry – especially in technical roles like engineering, software development, manufacturing, etc. Plenty of us in sales, marketing, and admin – we just doubled the women on the MatterHackers team because they were straight-up the best sales and admin candidates we interviewed. But we also interview women for tech roles, and we had a female web developer for a while, so I know they’re out there. Personally, I was never interested in technology or computers as a kid, unless you count my neighbor’s Casio keyboard, but I certainly had no interest in taking it apart or building my own! Maybe that was gender-bias, or maybe it was just my personal inclinations. I do feel that introducing 3D printers and 3D design in elementary schools will at least expose more girls to creative technology before gender-bias sets in, so perhaps that will help.”
What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in the 3D printing industry? The biggest benefits to a more diverse workforce?
“I think one of the biggest challenges to diversity in 3D printing is that it’s such a new industry, people just don’t know how awesome it is yet! But diversity in the workplace isn’t just about gender. Having people of different backgrounds, races, ages, and general life experiences in a company can only help to bring out new ideas and fresh perspectives.
At MatterHackers we have musicians, parents, surfers, church group leaders, ex-military, cosplayers, yogis, and psychologists on staff. Maybe that’s why our holiday parties are so much fun!”
What advice would you have for girls interested in STEM subject areas at school? Young women thinking about a career in 3D printing?
“For girls, go learn to make stuff. If your parents or teachers try to talk you out of it, be strong and find someone in your neighborhood or in your school who will encourage your curiosity and hang out with them. Watch YouTube videos on the subjects that interest you. Find a place to make a difference and learn a skill by helping others.
For young women thinking about a career in 3D printing, pick an aspect you are passionate about and either get REALLY good at it, or just keep knocking on doors till your drive to contribute something meaningful to a successful team – which only YOU can provide – can no longer be ignored. There are no shortcuts. Find your passion and keep asking around until someone says yes. Then go be awesome! And call me. MatterHackers is always looking for talent.”
I’ve found that you can always count on Mara to tell it like it is, and she’s shooting straight with her advice and input here. If anyone of any gender, any age, any background, has an interest in something like 3D printing, finding that passion is just the first step; chasing it can be trickier. With more initiatives in opening up STEM education, incorporating technology at younger ages in schools, and a welcoming community, we should be working toward a path where we are seeing a broader range of faces at events in the future.
To catch some of Mara’s enthusiasm yourself, be sure to find her on Twitter… or at just about every event ever, celebrating #3DPLife. Usually with some coffee. Discuss in the Mara Hitner forum at 3DPB.com.
If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this new series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.[All photos provided to 3DPrint.com by Mara Hitner]
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