We spoke to Mara Hitner, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at MatterHackers, who found her way to 3D printing through designing assistive devices. She tells us all about the values inclusivity can bring to a company, and how we can continue to support women in tech industries.
How did your love for 3D printing start?
“I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a background in ANY of this! I sold advertising and sang in rock bands prior to seeing 3D printing on a TV show in 2014. I fell in love with the creative aspect, and the idea of anyone being able to manufacture anything they could imagine from their own home. I purchased a Printrbot Simple Metal from MatterHackers after meeting them at a trade show, and I designed and printed a pair of blue heart earrings to complete a costume I was working on for my band. I also helped a friend prototype a custom bracket he was developing. When I started working at MatterHackers and we designed assistive devices for my best friend Brandy to be able to overcome limitations of her hands due to Dupuytren’s Contracture, I was hooked.”
What skills do you need to work in the 3D printing industry?
“Curiosity and imagination. This technology is still very new, and certainly not perfect. You need to embrace that, be able to look ahead to the possibilities for additive manufacturing in the future, and then see where the gaps are that you can use your own particular skills and passion to fill.”
Do you think you or your female colleagues have faced any challenges at work that your male colleagues have not?
“I know that they have. I’ve been pretty lucky, but I hear horror stories from both male, female, and non-binary colleagues about avoidable, often unconscious, bias – which is no less damaging. I think gender bias is getting better with more focus on the talented people who are busting gender stereotypes in more public spheres, but we have a long way to go as a culture to really reach equity and true inclusion. I appreciate those who are using their current positions of power to mentor, hire, and promote those who have been historically marginalized. That’s the only way we will reap the benefits from hearing everyone’s voices and ideas.”
What value does a diverse workforce and inclusivity bring to a company?
“Different backgrounds and experiences cause people to come up with different solutions to problems. That goes for age, socio-economic background, career experience level, gender identity, all of it. Life experience…and beginner’s mind. All have something to contribute.”
In what ways can we support inclusivity?
“Modeling diversity and inclusion is the best way to support it. Right now diversity is often a conscious choice. Before you finalize a panel or event, check the speaker list for representation of diverse viewpoints. Look at your current network of subject matter experts and ask around for who else is doing inspiring work but might not always be asked to speak about it. If you have the time and means, reach out to a local school or mentoring organization and inspire young people who might not see themselves in a technical career, and introduce them to your passion for it. It might just be infectious!”
Has there been a project that you have worked on that really stands out for you?
“Working with Dave Gaylord and MatterHackers to design assistive devices for my friend Brandy was life changing. She has Dupuytren’s Contracture and can’t completely open her hands. We spun our initial designs into a design challenge where over a hundred models were created and posted for free to help people with challenges in their hand mobility. It was one of my favorite projects –and there have been many! You can find info here: www.matterhackers.com/withinreach.”
What should we be telling young women who want to work in tech industries?
“The same as any industry –find your passion, get really good at it, work hard, network with people who share your vision, and be bold in achieving it!”
What do you think the future holds for women working in tech?
“Fulfilling, rewarding careers with diverse colleagues and extraordinary results from our collective efforts.”