3D Printing Spotlight On: Amie Dansby (Amie DD), Software Engineer, Video Game Programmer and Maker

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There’s an old saying: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’m not sure how many people would actually agree with that statement – no matter how much you love your job, you’re still going to face hard days and frustration. For Amie Dansby, aka Amie DD, however, the mistakes and the setbacks are all part of the process of learning and growing. Dansby, a software engineer, video game programmer, designer and maker, is one of those lucky ones who has built a career out of doing what she loves, although hard work and determination have much more to do with her success than luck. As she puts it, “…you’ll find a way, and if not, you’ll find an excuse. And I found a way.”

While Dansby’s first love is video game design, her work led her to 3D printing, and she’s become an incredibly talented maker who encourages others to experiment and learn through trying, making mistakes, and trying again. “Embrace Failure” is a philosophy she’s adopted, although in her mind, there’s no such thing as failure – only learning experiences. We were lucky enough to be able to speak with Dansby for our Spotlight on Women series.

Tell us a bit about your background – your history and the kind of work you do.

“Howdy! I have a degree in Game Programming and Simulation and started my career at Marvel Studios, working on Captain America and X-Men Destiny, I transitioned to Research and Development for development work on the Xbox and Playstation. I’m currently one of the Co-Founders of ATAT Tech, we are working on a Robotics, Augmented Reality Video Game codenamed: Project EvE.”

When did you first get involved with 3D printing?

“We used additive manufacturing and injection molding on a daily basis working in Research and Development, so I was familiar with the process. 3D Printing has opened so many doors for rapid prototyping over the past few years, including prop making and cosplay. I wanted to make a prop for Comic Con one year, I did all the research and design (using Blender, I’ve now transitioned to Fusion 360) and decided to invest in my own 3D Printer for the house. I now have multiple 3D Printers and having them running all day, it’s amazing!”

What drew you to the technology?

“Growing up I was an early adopter of new technologies and wanted to take apart my new toys as a kid. I remember making my first program that said ‘Hello World’ (the simplest program that everyone starts out with when programming) and I was blown away that I could make something and see my hard work on the screen. I literally told the computer what to do. That led me down the path of making a simple box on the screen move, and pushing myself to see what else I could make. That excitement of writing my first program would spark my way to a career in the game industry as a simulation and game programmer. I started taking things I was passionate about everything from books, video games, LEGO bricks, a broken piece on my garage door and started 3D Printing everything. I was able to create something on the computer and 3D Print it and hold it in my hands. The whole time feeling like Dr Frankenstein, thinking ‘Wow, I made this! My creation is aliveeee!'”

According to your website, the 3D printers you work with are Qidi and Prusa i3 MK2. What appealed to you about those printers in particular, and what do you primarily use each one for?

“When I first decided to invest in my own 3D Printer for my house, I wasn’t sure how much use I would get from having my own 3D Printer, or if I would burn my house down! Along the way I destroyed a few prints, didn’t level the level bed properly, had a few clogs with different filaments and ruined a few nozzles. I kept my first 3D Print, it was this little shark, and it came out terrible, but the entire journey I have created some amazing prints and every time something didn’t come out right I would learn from that and try to figure out why it failed, I pushed my creative limited through the process of figuring out to improve.

I bought the Qidi because of some great reviews online and their customer service was excellent, I was able to talk to someone before I made my purchase. It was around $500 for the printer and it came with 2 rolls of standard ABS and PLA filament. This has been a great starter printer, and I have been able to upgrade a lot of the parts. The printer has a heated bed so I could print other types of filaments, like carbon fiber, and rust iron magatable filament.

When I bought my second Printer (Josef Prusa i3 MK2) it was a kit that I had to put together, a lot of the pieces are actually 3D printed (A 3D Printer made from 3D Printed parts, awesome!). I really wanted to learn in more detail how 3D printers worked, and I wanted to make my own. ‘All parts of our printer are Open Source. From the first screw to the last bit of Firmware!’ you can print your own parts and upgrade the software easily. What sold me was that if you have a question about your Prusa printer or general 3D printing questions you can actually talk to Josef Prusa himself. It really showed me that the 3D Printing community is passionate and excited to educate each other and support the maker movement of creating amazing things.”

Do you have a particular project or career achievement that you’re most proud of?

“Getting a job in the video game industry at Marvel and seeing my name in the credits of Captain America was a dream come true, I didn’t think it could get any better. Now I’m part of ATAT Tech and we are creating technology that does not exist, we have prototyped our robots and 3D printed hundreds of hours. Without 3D Printing we wouldn’t be where we are today for our Project EvE prototype robots. We are arrow.com certified and working on custom hardware electronic boards to use in our robots. 3D Printers have become so affordable and contributed to the success of helping take a physical product to market with rapid prototyping. I love when people of all ages ask how the prototype robots were made, and I tell them we 3D Printed all of these prototype robot pieces you see in front of you! The future is now, and it’s exciting to see people interested in learning more, I’ve even convinced a few people to purchase 3D Printers.”

Tell us more about your philosophy of embracing failure as a learning experience. Do you think schools and other educational programs could focus more on learning from mistakes?

“Embrace failure, because it’s not actually failure, it’s part of the learning process. If you are a Star Trek fan you are probably familiar with the ‘Kobayashi Maru’ test, where the purpose of the test is a ‘no win scenario.’ There are many things you can learn from failure, and it’s a teachable lesson I was actually home schooled up until high school, I never experienced the ‘You have to be the best and it has to be perfect on your first try.’ I’m not sure where this attitude came from. Fear is a strong motivator and if you have fear that you are going to fail at something how do we expect to learn, create and improve? If there was an entire class that taught failure where you always had a no win scenario that would have been something I would have loved to take in school! Embrace failure and don’t define success as perfection.”

As a successful woman in tech, what are your thoughts about and experiences of diversity in the tech industry?

“There is a big division of brains and beauty in the tech industry, you can either have brains and beauty but not both. People will see a pretty girl in pictures or videos working with 3D Printers, or programming and say that company just has a pretty girl to use for their marketing, she probably doesn’t even know what a 3D Printer is. A few years ago when I was attending an expo I 3D printed a sword and I had a vendor ask me about it, I proceeded to tell him I made it with a 3D Printer I own. He laughed and told me he didn’t believe that I could afford to own a 3D Printer, I just smiled and said ‘I said no I don’t have a 3D Printer, I have 2 3D Printers, and I would be happy to 3D Print you something and tell you where to shove it!’ Most people are generally very positive and want to learn how 3D Printers work. I’ve had a guy tell me that the picture of me next to a 3D Printer was cute, he wondered whose printer it was because the girl in the picture had on makeup and had her nails done, it’s not like she knows what she is doing they just put her next to a 3D Printer for photos.

Unfortunately this is a normal reaction from guys and girls, it’s a nasty stereotype in the STEM industry. How to change that? I’ve started sharing my experiences, and when people approach me and say that there is no way that girl is actually into programming, I ask them why not? It has led to some great conversation and sparked some debate. Naomi Wu and I talk about this over Twitter quite often. Naomi says it pretty well, Tech is sexy, and the best hackers want to hack everything even the body. Girls are taking selfie photos, what I want to see is girls taking selfie photos at a Makerspace and with things they’re making, be proud of what you make and share it! If you need advice and feedback there are a ton of awesome girls in the tech industry that will share their experiences.”

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to diversity in tech?

“There is still this division of brains and beauty in the tech world. I’ve experienced it first hand, and still do. If you work in a male dominated industry where often you are one of the only girls, if you wear more makeup one day, tighter pants, or curl your hair you are viewed differently. Brains OR Beauty, you can’t have both, is how it is viewed. Is the marketing firm just hiring a pretty face for the commercial showing a female programmer or does she actually know how to 3D print? I want to be known as beauty, brains and a badass! Ask questions, I have found out a lot about how I’m viewed in the tech industry by asking for constructive feedback from others.”

What advice would you give to women considering a career in tech, or to girls thinking of pursuing a STEM-focused education?

“Don’t be afraid to be a beginner! Embrace failure, from failure you learn how to create and improve. Ask yourself what you are interested in, what technology are you most impressed with, do you love fashion, video games, biking, playing sports? You created your first program and it didn’t work right the first time? Figure out why, remember computers are only as smart as what you tell them to do! If you aren’t sure, see if your local area has a Makerspace, they are a non-profit that offers computer programming classes, you can learn how to repair a pinball machine, 3D Printing, sewing, photography, pottery, electronics, painting, robotics, and more.”

How do you think schools can better engage girls in STEM subjects?

“Embrace failure and don’t define success as perfection. I remember playing games and watching movies and there is the princess locked in the tower waiting on a guy to rescue her. In my mind I wanted to be the self rescuing princess and engineer my way out of the castle. Some of the best advice I ever heard was from Adam Savage ‘Everyone knows something you do not, so ask.’ Let them actually make something they are interested in! I’m currently working with the National Videogame Museum on setting up a scholarship for girls in STEM. I would love to see girls make some tech with new technologies on something they’re passionate about.

Younger girls view STEM as this stereotype of what programmers or tech people look like. I’ve helped out at a few schools for Code.org hour of code, and one of the groups (all 2nd grade girls) always came up with amazing well thought out solutions for solving the problems. STEM is problem solving. One girl even told me that programmers weren’t cool, I responded by asking her what she liked, her answer ‘Shoes, fashion, clothes.’ I told her she could make her own app to share outfits with her friends, or a style guide like Pinterest. Her face lit up when I mention Pinterest, she was telling me that her mom helped her find some shoes from the Pinterest app. The thought never occurred to her that computer science or programming was used to make her favorite fashion app. STEM has an image problem, like that little girl who thought that all computer programmers looked like Dennis from Jurassic Park. Spend time finding out what each girl likes, every single 2nd grade girl I met in that class had an interest in something else, and every one of them could have a STEM integration. Let them ask questions, do you think that Adam Savage or Limor Fried (Adafruit) knew exactly what to do the first time? Someone taught them, they asked questions and weren’t afraid to create it!”

Amie Dansby at Hour of Code

What are some of your plans for the future, in terms of projects and your career overall?

“Our robot operation team at ATAT Tech has been working long days, we are still recovering from PAX East (Largest video game expo on the east coast with 80,000+ in attendance) where we demoed out Project EvE prototype robot. Taking a physical product is very challenging, we are integrating our software and hardware solutions together and want to make sure Project EvE is capable of always improving and innovating with new technology. We are working closely with Arrow.com for our hardware and manufacturing. We will be launching a crowdfunding campaign for Project EvE and arrow.com partnership later this year. I do work on side projects, usually involving LEGO, 3D Printing, cosplay, electronics and servo motors. I try to provided my electrical schematic and 3D Printing files online for my cosplay projects so they can make everything I have made. I’m also very excited to be attending Dragon Con this year I am working on an entire LEGO suit armor dress, I’m using conductive lego bricks, and sensors and some 3D Printing.”

Dansby’s attitude toward work and creation is an inspiring one for all ages, but especially for young people who aren’t sure if they can turn what they love into a legitimate career. Dansby is proof that it can be done as long as you have determination, conviction and a willingness to make mistakes – and that tech is cool, no matter if you’re a boy or a girl. Share your thoughts in the Amie Dansby 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.

 

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