Natasha Baker is the new guest of our Women in Tech series. She is the founder and CEO of SnapEDA. And you might have already read about her on our blog where we discussed the importance of high-quality PCB libraries. Warch her interview!
Sierra Circuits: Can you introduce yourself?
Natasha Baker: I’m Natasha Baker, I’m the founder and CEO of SnapEDA, and I would definitely say that a typical day is pretty atypical. So because we’re growing our user base and our community so quickly, there’s always a new challenge and a new opportunity to solve. So I would definitely say that every day is totally different but really exciting.
Sierra Circuits: What led you to embark on the SnapEDA adventure?
Natasha Baker: So I was actually working as an electrical engineer, designing circuit boards, and as I was going about designing a circuit board I couldn’t believe that the libraries that I needed to design my circuit board weren’t within the design tool. It was really in that moment that I realized that engineers needed one centralized place to help them design a lot quicker because it was a situation where engineers all over the world are recreating a wheel over and over again, creating all the libraries that they need to design circuit boards. That’s a tremendous waste of lost productivity, and also it means that engineers can’t focus on what they’re best at, which is inventing new things and innovating. And building great products.
And so that’s really the moment that I thought, “Okay, I need to set out to solve this problem, and build SnapEDA.”
Sierra Circuits: What challenges did you face, and how did you keep going through these challenges?
Natasha Baker: I think the biggest challenges were definitely around kind of the doubt that comes from starting something new. Right when we got started, or right when I got started in this, there was definitely, the environment was totally different. So if we look back like five or six years ago, the way that engineers designed electronics, the way that companies ran engineering teams, was totally different. So it used to be that if you wanted to design electronics, you needed to have this massive team of engineers. And you know, you would have just tons of engineers and you’d have these huge budgets, and all of these companies would have what’s called a librarian. And what a librarian does is they create all these resources for engineers. All the symbols, all the footprints, and things like that. And now it’s totally different in the sense that we have smaller design groups and things like that.
So I think the biggest challenges when I first got started were kind of like, it’s like the doubt that you have around the concept when you’re starting something new. So before SnapEDA came about, no one had really ever done this before. And so we were in this kind of position where I was going to ask engineers for feedback and ask them, “Hey, like, is this something that you would use?” And they all said to me, like, “Yeah, I can definitely see the value. This would be a great benefit. But I wouldn’t use this because we have a librarian at my company.” Or, “Because creating libraries is part of my job.” And what we’ve seen in the past five years is that that’s really changed. I mean, now we have over a million engineers that use SnapEDA every single year. And so that’s obviously not the case. But I think breaking through those periods of, you know, uncertainty, that was really definitely the hardest part of all of it.
Sierra Circuits: What is the best advice you’ve been given since you started working on this?
Natasha Baker: I think the best advice was to just kind of roll up my sleeves and do it. So when I first wanted to start this company, I didn’t know how to code, I didn’t have a team, I didn’t have funding. I really just had an idea. And someone said to me, like, “Look. Like, if you want to attract investors and talent to your company or to your idea,” because it was just an idea at that point, “You really just need to take action and build something. Because once you have something, then all of a sudden everyone can understand what it is. They see how they fit in.” And so that was really the best advice that I got, was to just take action and start building it.
So I sat down, learned how to code, I didn’t know anything about web programming, but built the prototype. And then once we had that prototype, then I could start going to investors or I could start going to, you know, engineers and saying, “Hey, look at this. We have over two thousand users,” or whatever it was at the time. “Maybe you should consider joining.” And I think giving them that sense of, you know, what this could be, and actually letting them envision that through something tangible was really powerful. So definitely say, if anyone has any ideas about things that they want to build in the tech industry, to just, you know, to just kind of take action and do it.
Sierra Circuits: What has been your leadership style and your philosophy of leading this new group of people?
Natasha Baker: So it’s, you know, I think leadership is something that I’m constantly always evolving. Every leader’s always constantly kind of evolving and growing on. I’ve been really inspired lately by this Harvard Business Review article about leadership, and it talks about kind of the different leadership styles and when to use them. They’re all beneficial in different kind of periods of time. But where I’ve really been focused is working on growing kind of more authoritative leadership, which is basically kind of motivating people towards a vision, really giving them a lot of ownership about how they do things, and just motivating people with our mission. And our mission being, we want to help engineers design electronics faster by removing barriers. And that’s been really successful in our company, and also coaching. So I spend a lot of time working with our team members, helping them progress in their careers, help them develop their skills. And I think that’s really been win-win both for our kind of team members and also for our company because it’s really helped our company grow a lot faster, too.
Sierra Circuits: Well, as we all know, there aren’t a ton of women in hardware. And as a woman shaking things up, can you say that you’ve seen improvements in diversity in tech over the course of your career?
Natasha Baker: I would definitely say so. I mean, I think that I’ve been really fortunate in the sense that I haven’t sensed a lot of barriers being, like, a woman in tech. I think that, I know that those definitely exist, but I think that I’ve been very fortunate in just being in very kind of environments where that hasn’t really been a big issue. But I definitely think we’ve seen improvements and I think that kind of, there’s a good dialogue happening right now and we’re seeing lots of kind of women elevated to you know, leadership roles. So I would definitely say we’re seeing great progress.
Sierra Circuits: What advice would you give Sierra Circuits?
Natasha Baker: So there’s basically all of these different nuances to how to design footprints. And I think anything that the PCB manufacturing houses and assembly houses can do to educate engineers based on areas where you’ve seen weaknesses, like where you’ve seen errors, would be hugely helpful. Because there are standards like there are the IPC standards, but the problem is is that they don’t cover, they don’t cover all the nuances and even then, a lot of the time they don’t cover, like there’s still border cases they don’t hit, right?
And so I think the industry really has to come together to educate engineers and to even educate the library standards companies, or library companies, because we follow industry standards but that doesn’t mean that that’s going to always assemble properly in these weird edge cases. It does work for 90% of the cases, but I think we need for everyone to come together, especially the manufacturing houses and assembly houses, to come together and say like, “Hey guys, don’t do it this way in these cases,” and closer communication between all the parties. Because with us as kind of this, at this point we’re more able to work with a lot of engineers. We have over a million engineers that use our site every year. We would really like to make sure that everything that we’re prodding to engineers is going to be based on best practices at the manufacturing company seed.
The best part is that tech is a meritocracy in that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what race you are, like, none of that matters. Really all that matters, like, tech is kind of like the ultimate level playing field. Because you know, you don’t need much to open up your laptop and start coding a website or start building a product. You can just like, go out and do it and prove to them that you can do it, and you don’t need to kind of convince them ahead of time that you’re capable.