Words by Nora Touré
I started out wanting to be a criminal lawyer. I studied law and for various reasons, I decided to add a degree in international business management after my law studies. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this began my career in 3D printing.
I started working for a company called Sculpteo, an online 3D printing service that offers services to people who have 3D files and want to manufacture something. When I joined the startup, the team was mostly engineers, and I helped with the business side. After about three years, since the company didn’t have an official U.S. presence but was already successful in the U.S., I moved to America to open and run Sculpteo’s U.S. branch. I was 24 at the time.
Everything seemed to line up perfectly. I started working in a coworking space in San Francisco — and even though I had great support from the French headquarters, I felt like I was starting from scratch. I would go to all of the conferences for 3D printing and, thankfully, at that time there were lots of them in the U.S.
Those were exciting times for me. I was getting more mature as I was learning a new culture. But as I grew and changed, things got a bit harder: I was the only local representative for my company in America; starting a business in a language that’s not my own. I was young, a female in a male-dominated industry, and I was a non-engineer in a technical industry. So, there were many factors that made it a bit harder for me than for others in the industry.
Looking back, I really liked this period because I learned so much — and I think it played a big role in my getting to where and who I am now. It was around this time that I realized a few things about our industry. I was going to the shows, and I wasn't seeing that many people looking like me: young, female, a non-engineer and a foreigner. I also got a few unpleasant remarks from some event attendees whenever I tried to do my job and explain what 3D printing was, or what services Sculpteo was offered.
I was going to the shows, and I wasn't seeing that many people looking like me: young, female, a non-engineer and a foreigner.
More often than not, I would ask myself if I really did belong to this industry. I started building my network, and over time realized lots of other women had the same observations about our industry.
I think there's something else about our industry that's worth noting: 3D printing is a tool. So if you don't have an application or something to do with it, it's kind of useless. I realized that most of the people who actually have applications for this technology and manufacturing tool are coming from other industries. The second observation I made is that until recently, 3D printing wasn’t included in school curricula. You could be an engineer and still not know anything about 3D printing because it hadn’t been covered in your classes.
I do see it changing now, but it’s taken some time. After a while, I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of as a woman, nor as a non-engineer — because I knew I belonged to this industry the same way anyone else working in it belonged. I had already spent, at the time, more than six years in the field and I knew what value I was bringing to the table.
So, after my experiences and hearing all these stories from other women in the industry, I started Women in 3D Printing as a blog in 2014. I wanted to share the stories of all of us making our way in this industry.
I started by reaching out to the women I knew, asking if they would share their own stories about how they got into Additive Manufacturing on the blog. What began with one interview per month is now one interview per week. I had no idea so many women would want to be involved and share their stories.
Besides the online magazine, we now have a network of more than 30 ambassadors all over the world —with events happening on every continent every month. I got to see women starting a business together through Women in 3D Printing. Because of our events, companies now seek us out because they want to hire more women. They know there is a gender-balance issue in our industry, and they want to tackle the problem.
So, I am not an engineer, and yet I am working in a highly technical manufacturing industry. I had to learn everything by myself, and my dad always told me that “if someone [else] can do it, you can do it, too.” It doesn't matter what degree I have — if I’m interested enough and want to learn, I can do it.
It doesn't matter what degree I have — if I’m interested enough and want to learn, I can do it.
That was hard in the beginning. I realized I had to continually be better. If there’s something I don't understand or don't know, I have to work for it — go find the information and train and teach myself. That’s constant. But that’s also what I like about being in a tech industry. I realized that if you want to be in the technology field and aren’t willing to learn, it’s just not going to work for you.
So, my advice for anyone willing to enter this industry would be to try to find what you're really passionate about, tie it into technology, and be willing to learn. There are new machines or materials out there every six months. You have to go out there, go online, find information, try to visit companies. No matter what you do in life, you will have to do that — so why not start now?