What do you get when you combine a web developer, a neuroscientist, a violinist and a 3D printer? You get Kaitlyn Hova, a multi talented tech entrepreneur whose unique combination of interests is getting her recognized on a national scale.
Next month, Hova will be speaking at UNOmaha’s CodeCrush Summer Summit, an event geared toward high school aged girls that brings together the energetic community that is fighting to diversify the IT workforce and celebrate each other.
“I want to embody the phrase, ‘If you can see it, you can become it,’ said Hova.
Hova currently lives in the San Francisco area with her husband but her tech roots reach back to Omaha where she lived for a large portion of her life. It was at Omaha Code School that she launched her first major tech project, the Synesthesia Network.
“It was my capstone for Omaha Code School. At the time, I was a frontend developer and I really wanted to understand databases,” said Hova. “It’s Facebook for people who have synesthesia and acts as a nexus between synesthetes and researchers.”
Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which two senses are inherently crossed, meaning that a person’s senses are essentially one and the same. The most common form people recognize is in the appearance of numbers and letters. People with synesthesia will associate numbers or letters with specific colors. For Hova, her synesthesia causes her to see a certain color when she hears a particular musical note.
“It’s really hard to research even though 1 in 23 people have some form of it,” said Hova. “No one knows about it so I try to raise awareness. The Synesthesia Network is actually an aggregate of data for research.”
In addition to her work with synesthesia, Hova and her husband Matt have pioneered 3D printing programs with their company Hova Labs after buying one for fun while underemployed.
“My husband bought a 3D printer against my best wishes,” joked Hova. “I was like, ‘We have no jobs! What are you doing?’ But we started messing around.”
The Hovas came across a friend they know on Autodesk’s Instagram account. He featured in a photo with a violin that was made with a 3D printer.
“It was essentially just a stick, but it worked,” said Hova. “We decided to make our own. We had this idea to take our synesthesia light show […] where I play a note on my violin and it lights up lights, and bring it inside a violin.”
They launched the Hovalin, an open source 3D printable acoustic violin, soon after. After the launch, they realized the potential that existed for the Hovalin to help a lot of people, specifically students.
“We’re seeing this trend unfortunately with music programs being systematically underfunded, but STEM grants are being given to these same schools,” said Hova. “These STEM grants are actually giving kids 3D printers to use in their class.”
The Hovas had the idea that students could 3D print their own music programs.
“They’ve got to print something, it might as well be something helpful,” said Hova. “We have a pilot program going on right now in Oakland.”
The success of the Hovalin then led to the next tech innovation for Kaitlyn and Matt.
“We were printing so many violins that it was cutting into our Netflix time,” said Hova. “[3D printers] are so great except for one thing––they need you to have all your files on SD cards and you have to [load the files manually] on this horrible interface.”
What resulted was a program they created for Autodesk called Machine Collaboration Utility.
“Now when we’re on the couch Netflixing, we can [select the printer] and drag the file onto it and print over wifi,” laughed Hova.
Along the way, Hova has still found time for playing and performing music, speaking around the country for events like TEDMED, appearing on Fox’s Superhuman, working on Women Who Code’s core team and being the lead developer at Limbforge.
“[Limbforge makes] 3D printable prosthetics,” explained Hova. “The idea is that you can train prosthetists, then send down 3D printers to underprivileged areas and the prosthetists can print out the bulk of a prosthesis for a fraction of the price.”
Limbforge currently has a pilot program in Haiti where people with limb injuries from the massive 2010 earthquake are still awaiting prosthetics. Hova built a web app where all the prosthetists have to do is put in measurements and then they can rapidly and easily configure upper-limb prosthetics.
So many of Hova’s projects and innovations focus on utilizing tech for practical applications in everyday life, something she focuses on when she speaks at events, and something that she’ll be discussing at CodeCrush.
“When I was growing up, I used to think that tech was what my dad did,” said Hova. “He was a coder […] and the problems he was solving weren’t interesting to me.”
Hova said she was never directly encouraged to go into tech, but as she explored ways to solve the problems that did interest her, she realized that tech is actually a means to an end for solving a huge variety of things.
“It’s not this crazy sector where there’s tech and then there’s everything else,” said Hova. “What I found is no matter what you’re doing or where you’re at in it, if you’re on the cutting edge, tech is there.”
Hova says that these days, it’s easier to get into a tech field than ever before and she wants girls especially to know that if they have a problem, tech will be there to help solve it.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t think there was anything creative about tech at all,” said Hova. “I want [girls] to see all the possibilities of it because I think girls want to solve creative problems and tech is this toolbox to help them do that.”
Registration is still open for the CodeCrush Summer Summit 2017 on July 25 – 26, 2017 in Omaha. Visit their website for more information.
Christine McGuigan is the Associate Editor of Silicon Prairie News.