I’m afraid “selfie” will never be the word of the year for me. If I had a say, I would nominate Arduino (especially now we’ve celebrated the microcontroller’s 10th birthday). For a couple of years now, I’ve been aspiring to be a maker; learning, experimenting (i.e. trying, failing, and trying again) and sharing all those experiments. And if I borrowed HACKED.io‘s motto for this post, it’s because it serves the point I’m trying to make.
I recently heard someone say: “Learning is complicated”. I strongly disagree with this; learning is easy. Teaching, however, can be. What is complicated is trying to share the knowledge about a subject matter your interlocutor is not necessarily interested in. On the other hand, find a subject they love and, as mentioned by D. Thomas (or in another talk, by Sir Ken Robinson), nothing can stop them from learning everything about it, “because it is not what they do, it is who they are”. All it takes is a bit of inspiration.
I would say that in most of the things I do today, I am self-taught. My interest for technology only dates back a few years, but never ceases to grow. As I stand now, I’d never want to stop learning. The subject matter might change, but curiosity is strong; there are so many things I want to know about! In a tech environment, particularly, things keep on evolving by the second. To try and keep up with it, I rely on the tech/maker community and attend a lot of conferences and events and try to take part in MOOCs. (On that note, I’d like to say a warm THANK YOU to EventHandler, the London Arduino group, IOT London, 12Devs, Coursera,… to only cite a few, and all the people behind these events who give their time and energy to make them happen.)
Trying to learn purely from going to conferences is tricky, though. I find that you can’t fully understand something just by listening to someone talk about it for 20 minutes, you’d have to try it for yourself. You might get inspired, but learning becomes effective when you start making.
Learning and building are interdependent. Sometimes, you just want to skip the theory, straight into making; I say, that is the best way to learn. Failure is not something to be frowned upon, but embraced, as it helps you improve. (If you tried and got it right the first time, good on you! 😉 ). What’s important, really, is to have fun trying to make something. If you achieve this, you might find it’s very rewarding (and if you learn things you’re able to re-use at a later date, even better!).
My advice would be, don’t rush into a project if the aim is just to get a finished product that will make you rich. With the current craze for the Internet of Things, you see a lot of people convinced that they can turn an Arduino and a few sensors into a billion dollar, original idea – and I’m not saying some of them won’t – but they all end up making roughly the same product. Very often you see ‘suits’ that only think in terms of business model and want to brand everything ‘IoT’ because it’s trendy.
I am a maker because spending my spare time creating things makes me happy; I’m really not interested in the marketing side of it. All I care about is the learning outcome of building gadgets. One thing I’ve learnt, for example, is: always be prepared to improvise. There is a great chance plan A won’t work as expected. Working on 300 LEDs before Xmas, I realised that loads of the activities wouldn’t work as originally planned; some of them were just too ambitious given the time constraints.
Time constraints are also present in a hackathon situation. Last year, at HACKED.io I spent more time debugging the library I wanted to use than actually working on my idea. On the second day I had to simplify the whole thing, ended up not using a servo but just a DC motor and making a small platform from coffee sticks. Yes, plan B wasn’t that elaborate, but it forced me to make it work in only a couple of hours. Hackathons really challenge you creativity and offer huge learning outcomes. They also allow you to share your experiments, which brings me to my next point.
Once you’ve built and learned, sharing is the next natural step. Every time I explore a new technology, I rely a lot on the existing community supporting it. People share their knowledge and passion and are always here to help newbies learn. That’s why sharing (e.g. writing a blog post, reply to questions on forums, or on Twitter) seems like a normal thing to do.
This year I have also decided to stop being just a spectator at the conferences: I’ve started running Arduino workshops. I will also be speaking at Devs Love Bacon in a few weeks, sharing what I learned about e-circuits during my Christmas project.
As a conclusion, I would say that “learn, build, share” is not exactly the process, it is more something like “be curious, get inspired, try it, learn, and share”, but I’m content with the shorter version. Thanks again to everyone who makes this possible! Keep up with the good work!