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My Journey to Making

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. - Rumi

I have a confession to make.

I’ve only been a self-described maker and tinkerer for about eighteen months. I’m “all in,” as they say, and I frankly cannot believe that I waited so long to get into this space.

For almost two years now, I feel like I’ve been making up for lost time. From a simple SparkFun Inventor’s Kit that Sarah gave me for Christmas in 2014, I’ve gone on to acquire a veritable standalone maker-space full of microcontrollers, microcomputers, sensors, tools and gadgets, some to support things I’m actively working on, others “just in case” or for future endeavors. Sarah would probably tell you that I need to reign it in a bit.

It hasn’t stopped with microcontrollers, either. In mid-2015, I purchased an Othermill, an amazing Desktop CNC Mill that has been eating up nearly all of my free time. I’ve used it to create my own PCBs, engrave dog tags and luggage tags and create wax molds for Batman-shaped chocolates. Recently, I used the Othermill to create a fully-custom PCB for a home brewing project I’m working on. More on that one in a future post.

For Christmas last year, I convinced Sarah that I needed a 3D printer. In spite of her being slightly skeptical of my use of the term “need,” she relented and bought me a LulzBot Mini, which I’ve used to print dice, straw spoons for the boys, a Jenga case (because they used to come with the set, didn’t they?) and an enclosure for that home brewing PCB.

I have a blue notebook on my desk, dedicated to making, that’s quickly filling up with project ideas, dreams and half-cocked inspirations. I have more ideas than time and skill, but I’ll take that over the alternative, any day.

Late start aside, I have found that I love being a maker. I don’t have the EE background and deep understanding of electronics that many do, but I’m learning a lot and loving every minute of it.

Over the last few months, I’ve reflected on my still-nascent journey and asked myself, “what took me so long” and “why now?”

You, dear reader, no matter where you stand in relation to the maker movement, might wonder this yourself as you observe more and more people flocking to the world of making.

Am I just following the crowd? Maybe, though that argument, in and of itself, is a specious one. “Crowds” by virtue of their size, have more power to convey value and generate excitement around new ideas than a silent minority—slogging away in dark basements—ever could. I find it hard to diminish someone for picking up a new skill, hobby or idea solely because the popular its of said skill lead to their discovery of it. It’s the crux of the hipster mentality to hate populist ideas; that is, except for the ones that are so mainstream to everyday life—like eating, sleeping, reproduction and cell phone usage—as to be unavoidable. I suppose it’s important to have principles.

This is no tirade against hipsterism, so I digress.

Am I here just to exploit new and emerging trends around “the IoT” and attempt to find a way to make a quick buck? Hardly. Like all other pursuits, the world of making, IoT, physical computing or whatever you want to call it is filled with its success stories and epic flops on the margins. Along the rest of the continuum are earnest people who tinker for fun, to keep themselves grounded, to teach others or in an attempt to build something that maybe enough people would desire them to create and sell. I won’t bother hiding the fact that I’m interested in moving my career into this space in any way I can, but the reasons have little to do with latching onto a trend on the upswing in an attempt to strike it rich.

Instead, the reasons have everything to do with why I jumped into this movement in the first place.

I desire to be a maker because I want my children to grow up as makers and tinkerers themselves.

I have three boys, ages seven, five and two, and over the last two years, I’ve been amazed to see the desire to make and tinker come to naturally to my older two boys, Benjamin and Jack. From LEGO to electronics to paper, brads and cardboard boxes, I’ve watched my children create and use their imagination to create something out of nothing over and over again. When Sarah got that first SparkFun Inventor’s kit for me, I spent many evenings with Benjamin and Jack carefully placing LEDs, resistors and jumper wires into a breadboard and watching simple circuits come to life. They ask often to “build circuits” and we have a growing list of things we plan to create together.

I love being a self-described maker, and I’ve no doubt that I’d pursue it no matter what. But to see my children light up alongside the LEDs they string together, and to see their imaginations run wild as we talk about robots and sensors and things we could build together, is a far greater reward than the pursuit itself, and I’m so excited to be on this journey alongside them.

I started this post months ago, and as I finally get around to finishing it, it seems fitting as the first entry for a new blog dedicated to this pursuit. The pursuit of breaking down the physical world in order to understand it, to teach others about it and to create new things for it.

My journey is just beginning, and I have no idea where it will take me, my family and those around me, but I can’t wait to break some things and find out.