3D Printing Spotlight On: Poppy Lyttle, Former Education Specialist at MakerBot, Educational Advisor for 3DPrint.com’s Design Courses


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If you took our month-long, Formlabs-sponsored Beginner Design for 3D Printing course in March, it’s likely that you remember 3D printing educator Poppy Lyttle, the educational advisor for 3DPrint.com’s design courses. The session she taught was called “3D Printing Engineering Principles in Fusion 360,” and she started off by answering questions about Tinkercad, and then moving into a demo of Fusion 360. At the end, she focused on designing assemblies in order to print more complex models, and held an extended Q&A session with the session participants. Lyttle, who lives in Brooklyn, is also the program advisor for the summer courses for Edmaker – she chose the speakers, built out the homework assignments, and taught a session in the spring course. You can also see some of her unique designs on Thingiverse.

Lyttle with her 6-foot-tall Minotaur, developed for the “Epic Mess” DIY show

While Lyttle’s most current focus has been on 3D printing education, one quick look at her LinkedIn profile, which lists her as a “Designer and consultant with a passion for innovative ideas that take new tools to the next level,” and you’ll see she has experience in a myriad of fields. She has a BA in Environmental Design from Sarah Lawrence College (where she also worked in the theatre scene shop), took a summer intensive and completed a capstone design project at The New School – Parsons School of Design, worked as an urban park ranger, interned at Marvel Entertainment (!!!), and traveled to countries like Tanzania and New Zealand to learn what it’s like to live outside with small minority communities during her time with IHP Rethinking Globalization. She’s also an amazing artist (check out her Etsy shop!), a graphic designer, and from 2013 until this past February, was the Education Specialist at MakerBot.

I see from your LinkedIn account you’ve had quite a wealth of different educational and professional experiences – including an editorial intern at Marvel Entertainment (which I want to hear ALL about, including if you ever got to meet Stan Lee!), graphic design, and the education specialist at MakerBot. How did you get interested in 3D printing technology?

“Yeah, it’s true! I am a really curious person, so it’s important to me to learn in every aspect of my life, including my career. When I got the internship at Marvel, I wanted to see what the process was behind making comics (I didn’t meet Stan Lee though). A similar thing happened with 3D printing! I read an article about 3D printing a prosthetic leg, and I just got really excited! Originally I wanted to make my own 3D printer like a RepRap so I took a few physical computing classes.”

What first drew you to working for MakerBot?

“At a certain point, I went to a panel about 3D printing in 2013 that featured MakerBot’s Chief Product Manager, Rob Steiner (who just recently started a service company called Roboto NYC). He mentioned MakerBot was hiring a ton of people, and so I applied for a few positions. At the time MakerBot was the only desktop 3D printing company that everyday folks knew. I started working in the original SOHO retail store, where I began learning 3D design. From that foothold, I moved into corporate a couple months later as a trainer and consultant.”

It’s clear that you are passionate about DIY. What do you enjoy about making?

“That’s a tough question! I make a lot of different kinds of things. For awhile I was focusing on designing everything with 3D printing. I think the pinnacle of that process was a cosplay I did of a character from the Hellboy comics. Recently I’ve been working in metal, wood, and clay. I made a stool, which is one of my prized possessions. With clay, I am making a lamp that will have a 3D printed base. It still needs to be glazed, so I don’t have any pictures right now. In the future, I want to do more things with electronics and product design.”

Do you have a favorite 3D printer to work with? How about a favorite software program?

“I really like my MakerBot Replicator 2! It’s still a really solid 3D printer. I like Ultimakers, but I think if I were to get a second printer, I’d want to finally get a Prusa. My favorite software is really dependent on what I’m trying to make! I know a lot of modeling programs, but lately, I’ve been using Fusion 360 or Rhino. My next step is learning ZBrush.”

One of Lyttle’s MakerBot lesson plans

In putting together a class on 3D printing, what is the most important lesson you want people to learn?

“The most important aspect of 3D printing is the hardest to teach! It’s the concept of iteration! A design is rarely perfect the first time it’s printed. Even though I’m teaching 3D printing, the class is really about 3D design. A class has to include plenty of time to teach 3D design concepts, plenty of time for student mistakes, and of course, plenty of time to print!”

What are your thoughts about and experiences with diversity in the tech industry?

“Working in the NYC and Brooklyn tech industry, my experiences with diversity has been okay, mostly because I was in tech education, which has a lot of women. MakerBot was fairly progressive in how they hired. However, the hardware and software engineering departments were always about 25% women, which can be improved.”

What changes, if any, have you observed over the last few years in tech, in terms of diversity in the field?

“It’s getting better in certain places. I think more women have been drawn to coding and more tech-heavy design jobs in the last few years. Seeing the appearance of more women entrepreneurs leading tech companies is really exciting, but there is always more work to be done. There either needs to be more flexibility in hiring into tech positions or girls need to be promoted in tech at an earlier age.”

Lyttle’s 3D printed fascinator

What do you see as the biggest challenges to diversity in tech fields?

“If we really want more women to participate in these roles, better legislation needs to be passed that aids mothers in the workforce. Maternity leave should be standard. There should be milk pumping spaces in the office. I think there is also sometimes a ‘boys club’ kind of mentality when it comes to hiring. If you have a team of 9 men and you want to hire a woman, a) the woman might not want to work in that kind of environment, and b) men might hire based on appearance and personality over work ethic and skills.”

Do you have any advice for girls considering the study of STEAM areas in school? What about advice for women interested in working in the tech field?

“Just do it! It’s too important today not to have scientists/artists/engineers graduating from schools! We need women in these industries more than ever! If it turns out not to be something you want to pursue as a career, no one is going to see your degree and think you aren’t a hard and dedicated worker. If it’s something you want to get into from your current career, see if there is meet up for women in tech in your area, get some in-person guidance.”

How do you think schools can better engage girls in STEAM subjects and activities?

“This is a hard question. Often educators take something very gendered and wrap it with STEAM topics. I remember seeing this 3D printed bracelet class and feeling a little miffed because teachers think that girls will be interested in the bracelet first and the science later. Instead, I think girls are already interested in STEAM! They just aren’t supported in their interests by their teachers, peers, or families. There should be more girl-only programs (like Girls Who Code) where their learning can be prioritized.”

What do you see as being key to growth in the 3D printing industry as it matures?

“3D printing is going through the classic hiccups of a maturing technology. I’m not sure a 3D printer will be in everyone’s homes, but I do think 3D printers will become more common. I like the idea that 2D printing companies like FedEx will acquire 3D printing services, and people will be able to make custom parts in their neighborhood. The biggest gap in 3D printing right now is not the hardware but the software. 3D design is really hard for people to learn. Once the students using 3D printers in their classroom grow up, the technology will be more widespread.”

Do you mind telling me about your plans for the future?

“Making plans for the future has always been playing chicken with destiny. I can plan all I want and something different will still manage to happen. Haha! At the moment, I’m looking for full-time work and contract work in creative fields. Ideally, I would like to work for a smaller company, where my interdisciplinary talents could shine.”

Lyttle is obviously a passionate maker, with an equal passion for getting girls interested in tech at a young age. It’s been said that you should write what you know, and this can obviously also be applied to teaching. With the many different experiences she’s already had, and a wide-open future, I’d take any class that Lyttle teaches.

Share your thoughts in the Poppy Lyttle forum at 3DPB.com.

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this 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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