Trailblazer: Shelly J. Smith
Shelly J. Smith
How did I get started? At the Savannah College of Art and Design, a light bulb went off. I felt a particular freedom with technology that wasn’t entrenched in old masterwork and critique. My focus really came about by exposure to new technology and combining it with my formal fine art and design backgrounds. To this day I use design problem-solving and conceptualizing skills in my daily work. Technology really clicked for me. I went on to get my MFA in Computer Arts at the School of Visual Arts. Coming out of the MFA Computer Art Program, there were a few women, but as a whole the New York technology scene was primarily male.
My focus in building the Advanced Media Studio (AMS), which preceded the LaGuardia Studio, was to put together a professional facility, team, and service portfolio that offered advanced 2D and 3D fabrication services. I also wanted to make sure the operational effort included learning the specifics of each client’s content to help develop their work through our services and deliver the highest quality production. I believe my greatest achievement was putting together the best team possible. I wanted to be able to build an exceptional team that had the ability to work collaboratively and help clients create and innovate. We are involved in every client’s content pipeline, even if our name isn’t on it.
When the Advanced Media Studio first started, artists were the first through the door because they were looking for new tools. They were willing to embrace the inherent properties and imperfections of the hardware, software, and output. Artists were definitely the ones who were most willing to look at the way things turned out — the unexpected imperfections — and run with them.
From what we saw in the early days of the Advanced Media Studio, 3D print technology didn’t work well for scientists because it wasn’t developed enough to deliver repeatable, consistent, and mathematically-accurate products. Today, the main focus for the LaGuardia Studio is science and scientific research. Interestingly enough, one of our first 3D prints at the AMS was the AIDS saliva field test prototype, meaning we actually did create a prototype for medical research right out the gate.
Scientists work within the boundaries of technical specifications, the data details. Artists want to see certain things happen. They want to know how we can make the technology work for them. These differing priorities have led us to work on a unique pipeline development for each job in order to fulfill the engineers’, doctors’, designers’, and artists’ visions for what they’re building. At the LaGuardia Studio we pay attention to new technology because we’re always looking to expand our capabilities to meet the needs of our clients, which includes those currently with us and those who will need us in the future.
What’s my advice for other women interested in technology careers? You have to stick to your guns. I’ve moved forward, using humor in particular. There’s going to be a mix of good and bad days so you’ve got to figure out a way to align with people who challenge you, particularly if you are the lone female. When I first started, there weren’t many women. It’s changed now and women are everywhere in this field. I think you really need to be practical and look for a job or trajectory that’s going to stabilize your life and offer continuous opportunities to learn. Look for something that you really like doing. I would say, if you really love what you do and it's a great job, you’ve hit the holy grail.
Read more about the The LaGuardia Studio (NYU.edu)