Why will the 3D designer be the next software engineer for startups?

Gartner Hype Cycle by Jeremy Kemp under CC-BY SA 3.0

“How many of you heard the 3D printing is the next big thing like the personal computing?” — when I ask it to the audience, many people raise their hands. Indeed, media and analysts keep saying 3D printing, or digital fabrication more generally, is a revolutionary technology that will change the world.

But when I ask the next question, only a few people raise hands. The question is “how many of you utilize a 3D printer?”

Emerging Technologies Experience Disillusionment

In fact, this is a typical situation when a new technology is becoming popular. According to Gartner, emerging technologies experience “trough of disillusionment” after the “peak of inflated expectations” (see the chart on top).

This chart is well known in the tech industry for years as “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies”. Every year, each emerging technology is plotted somewhere on the hype curve according to Gartner’s research in the market. Gartner shared their 2015 version of the hype cycle (the chart below).

Not surprisingly, “consumer 3D printing” is plotted in the “trough of disillusionment”. True, popular 3D printing manufacturers such as Makerbot and 3D Systems are having hard time on their businesses. Some people say 3D printing is no longer promising.

But if you believe the analysis on the emerging technology (and I do), it is a great time to invest resources in consumer 3D printing, as it will eventually become a mainstream technology.

In my previous post, I forecast social production will become popular as social media has been everywhere. The digital fabrication technology such as 3D printing will disrupt the way products are created and distributed. As millions of people create content on social media today, lots of people will make products on social production in several years.

Competition in social media services is getting tougher and tougher, and many people learn how to create web services or mobile apps and such software engineers are essential for startups.

Who made fortune during the gold rush?

In New York, a co-working space giant WeWork capitalizes demand of people to start a company, and General Assembly, a successful educational community pivoted from a leading co-working operator, leverages entrepreneurs’ demand to acquire skills for web startups.

So, when social production becomes mainstream, what will happen?

Many more hardware startups will be founded, because starting up a hardware company will no longer be as expense as it is today, thanks to the digital fabrication revolution. People will enjoy creating products and share data for social production. Like you creating and consuming content with the smart phone, people will create and utilize product data with the digital fabrication device.

Hardware startups will thus look for 3D designers. Market’s demand for 3D designers will skyrocket and many more people will want to acquire skills to become 3D designers.

That’s why I believe the 3D designer will be the next software engineer for startups.