Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry identifies as a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in tech? In this interview series called Women in Tech, we spoke to successful leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead flourishing careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Snediker.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The pandemic happened, I was jobless, it felt like lots of people around me also weren’t working, and there was a general feeling of uncertainty everywhere. I was feeling a combination of lost and free. My friend and I were casually talking about what we wanted to do with our careers and he said, “it sounds like you could easily start your own 3D printing company”. I had just left a job at another 3D printing company, had a passion for the technology, and wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. These factors combined with the pandemic lockdown providing me with a lot of free time were enough to get me to reach out to the people who would eventually be my cofounders and ask if they wanted to chat. Week after week it became more real until we officially had an LLC, a few printers, a little office, and paying customers.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m still haunted by one of the projects we took on during our first year when we had just moved into our LiC office. We were a supplier on a 3D printing marketplace called Craftcloud and got a high-value contract to produce prototypes for a construction company. We were so excited to get a big project and didn’t take into consideration why it was such a high-value contract. We quickly learned it was because the parts were quite large and extremely difficult to print successfully due to a variety of geometric intricacies.
Each part took six days to print and we needed to deliver six parts total. We estimate that we started over 100 prints and had a failure rate of over 90%. This meant we spent days, nights, and weekends sitting on the floor watching prints, optimizing the printers, testing printer calibration, and restarting the printers when parts would inevitably fail at various points during printing. The wildest part of this project was that one of the parts that successfully printed did so on a printer that was vibrating to the point of shaking for multiple days due to loose screws.
We learned a lot during this project. We learned a lot about the hardware and software we use, but more importantly we learned a lot about how to deal with failure. We learned when to give up and when to persevere. We take lessons from this project with us up until today.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
A true moment of importance for us was when we were asked to speak at a tech event held by Cornell University. We were given the opportunity to be on a panel to discuss the future of hardware technology. One of Jett 3D’s aspirations is to be a thought leader in the 3D printing industry and speaking at that event was very validating for us.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Once the initial excitement of “we’re starting a company!” wore off and we realized that we needed to become sales people, that was somewhat overwhelming. I remember trying to find anything else to do that felt productive so that I could justify not doing cold calls and emails. I was creating all kinds of unnecessary spreadsheets and process charts. Eventually, I started asking other people I know in the startup world how they handled sales and that made the process a lot less daunting and made me realize that almost everyone struggles at sales at first. I now have so much admiration for sales people.
I’ve only considered giving up once, when one our cofounders left. There were a couple weeks where I thought there was no way I could continue without her. What kept me going was the amount of success we’d been having leading up to her departure and constantly reminding myself not to let my mind wander into negative scenarios. I focused on each day individually and reminded myself why I love this industry and company so much. A few new and interesting projects came through shortly after and kept me focused on moving forward.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
For years 3D printing has been marketed as a game-changing technology that will eventually be as ubiquitous as regular paper printers. That may be true, but in the meantime there is a large swath of the population that could greatly benefit from 3D printing but doesn’t have beyond a basic understanding of how to go about it. Jett 3D’s mission is the make 3D printing more accessible to people and companies. We work with clients from the earliest ideation stage all the way through the manufacturing stage. Most 3D printing companies expect you to come to them with a file that’s ‘ready-to-print”, we know that there are tons of steps prior to producing that file and we want to get involved with clients at those earliest points.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
Unless you’re some kind of superhero, I think it’s important to have a team of people who have a variety of skills. One thing that I believe is important for all founders to have is curiosity. It’s so essential to be curious about changes to the industry you’re in, the relevant technology that’s being developed, and any new areas you could be playing in. You also have to let your curiosity prevent you from getting tunnel vision about what your product is and/or who its serving.
The best way to stay curious, in my opinion, is to try to channel child-like thinking. Don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t be afraid to try things. You also have to be okay with failure. Adults seem to have an unreasonable amount of fear around failing. Obviously, try to manage the impact of your failures on others such as co-workers, clients, and investors (if you have them), but don’t avoid progress in the pursuit of perfection.
Let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
Google docs is great. And regular check-in meetings. Basically, communication is key. Oftentimes, the products we’re producing are being used as communication tools in some way or another. It’s important that we take a lesson from our clients’ projects and remind ourselves how important it is to be able to communicate our thoughts and ideas effectively. Having well-defined roles whenever possible is also very helpful in preventing tasks being duplicated or falling through the cracks.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
The strongest team I’ve ever been a part of, and a dynamic I continue to try to replicate, was a web development bootcamp course I took in 2015. We were a group of twenty to thirty somethings who were jumping headfirst into something new. We were all out of our element and that provided us the opportunity to be vulnerable and curious. It was a very authentic experience.
During one of our last days of class, we all created an impromptu circle to discuss what we had learned from the 16 week course. Almost no one talked about coding. We all shared how we had grown personally and created lifelong friendships. Many tears were shed and I feel like the course was significantly more effective simply because our group was so close and willing to help each other out.
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools do you consider to be mission-critical?
Besides Google Workspace and Gmail, which we couldn’t exist without, the number one software tool we use is Autodesk Netfabb. It’s a CAD software that allows us to open 3D files, create parts, repair parts, and export files. It’s simple to use and makes our jobs so much easier.
Beyond Netfabb, we also need a Slicing software to produce the gcode that 3D printers can read, for this we like to use Prusa Slicer. As far as online software, Canva has been a huge help to our marketing efforts.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
My answer here might be kind of controversial in the startup world, but I just don’t work that much. I don’t love to work. I love my company and I love what value we provide to the world, but I also love my personal time. We only take on the amount of jobs that we can handle at any given moment. It’s more important for us to provide a quality product and enjoy the projects we’re a part of than to be overwhelmed.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want this business to be and how that intersects with what I want out of life. For me to be truly happy, I need solitude time to do things like hike and explore. If I, or any of our employees, is truly unhappy, that will be reflected in what we produce, and that benefits no one.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”?
1 . Curiosity
We get a lot of inquiries to create things that have never been created before, which means we have to curious about how to best solve problems. Recently we had to create a hardshell backpack and to study how to make something wearable, we went and walked around stores and tried on different backpacks just to learn more about how they work.
2 . Remove ego
You’re going to mess stuff up. That’s part of the process of growing. It doesn’t have to be a reflection of your value. How you handle those mess ups is much more important.
3 . Collaboration
Sometimes it feels easier to just do things yourself. This is rarely the most effective way to come the best solution to a problem. I don’t know that much about engineering, but our CTO, who is an engineer, does. There have been many times that I’ve tried to come up with ideas and plans in an effort to take some of the burden off of him, in reality I’m usually just wasting my time and should have brought him into the conversation sooner.
4 . Acceptance of change
The way we do things now should not be the same way we do things in a year. We must ride the wave of progress instead of trying to fight it. It may feel scary to make changes, but being scared doesn’t mean you’re necessarily unsafe.
5 . Validation
I think sometimes we avoid validating our strategies or ideas because we don’t want to learn that we created something worse than expected. This happened to me when creating our initial sales outreach messages. I didn’t want to do any testing to validate their effectiveness because then I might learn that I did a bad job with them. After months of poor results, we were forced to re-evaluate our sales strategy. We did some time intensive A/B testing and learned that my initial messages were in fact not that great. But out of the testing we were able to validate effective messages.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No, there is no good reason why more women aren’t in tech, especially in leadership positions. We deserve to be here just as much as anyone else. This also extends to people of color and the LGBT+ community. None of these inherent traits have any bearing on intelligence or capability.
I believe the number one thing we can do to improve the presence of women in tech is to provide better access to child care. Parents, but this mostly applies to women, shouldn’t have to choose between a career and providing care for their children. This starts with access to contraceptives and abortion, extends to paid maternity/paternity leave, and continues on with free daycare. This will not only benefit women but will also help provide stability for some children who don’t get proper care early in life.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I’ve been a big fan of Alexandra Fine from Dame Products for a long time. Her company creates sex toys and accessories which have obviously long been considered “shameful” and something that should be hidden, or weirdly exploited. I think it takes courage to start and run a company that has to fight an uphill battle against weird ideas about morality and stigma.
She’s also refreshingly authentic and honest in all the communications I read from her. It feels like a lot of content and people are super curated these days so it’s nice to see someone who goes against the grain a little bit.
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