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We’re excited to announce “Zero to Maker,” a new column here on MAKE. Over the coming month-plus, David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is going to be immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’ll be regularly chronicling his efforts, what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing (um… or not). Should be a fun ride to follow along on. Please help me in welcoming David Lang -Gareth

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to join a friend on a day-long excursion to Maker Faire one sunny May Saturday in 2009. I’d heard nothing but good things about the event, and was genuinely excited to see what all the fuss was about. The train ride from San Francisco to San Mateo, full of interested and excited faces, young and old, from nuclear families to theme-outfitted groups, made me even more intrigued. When we got to the San Mateo station, nearly everyone on the train flooded onto the platform. We followed the crowd to the colorful gates of the fairground.

As soon as we walked in, I knew I was going to be part of something special. I was a little overwhelmed by the newness of it all, but totally fascinated by the sights and sounds around me. As we wandered around from booth to booth, I quickly came to a realization: I’d found my people! I was blown away by the pervasive attitude of the Faire. Not only was everyone incredibly nice and welcoming, but they were working on such completely different and fascinating projects. It was clear that each exhibitor was truly passionate about what they were doing. By the end of the day, after soaking up most of the exhibits and sitting in on a few presentations, I knew I wanted to be a part of all this. I was particularly inspired by a presentation on DIY biohacking by Eri Gentry and hearing about how she got involved without a traditional biology background. So, I approached her to learn more. She invited me to join their Meetup group and has been introducing me to other makers ever since.

Fast forward a year and a half, and that first day at Maker Faire sticks out as a turning point in my life. I made a number of great friends that day, but I also made a decision: I want to be a maker! I want to feel the passion and satisfaction that comes from creating and building something myself.

Since that day, I’ve attended numerous MAKE meetups, and have been hanging around with makers I admire. It’s been a great experience (and a lot of fun). I’ve learned about projects I never could have imagined prior to Maker Faire. Through the community, I met Eric Stackpole, a maker who’s building an open-source underwater ROV, and I have been helping him organize his passion into a growing online community, OpenROV.com. My involvement started to come full circle as I was able to help organize OpenROV’s Maker Faire Bay Area booth this year. The entire experience has only reinforced my initial hunch that I’ve found “my people.”

However, there is one major, underlying problem: I don’t really know how to make anything! I wouldn’t even classify myself as beginner. Whatever the level is before beginner, that’s were I am. Newbie, maybe? When eager onlookers visited our OpenROV booth with technical questions about the project, I stared with a blank face and had to quickly grab Eric to explain. The basis of the problem is that I don’t know where to start. Being surrounded by such passionate people and groups, as inspiring as it is, has made me intimidated to ask questions. I have a sense of fear about getting started; that I’m too uncreative, uncoordinated, and un-knowledgeable. However, my growing ambition to create has spurred me to re-commit to my decision to join the maker community and to face my fear head on (and, if need be, to look as foolish as necessary in the process).

I’m not aiming for total mastery, as that would be too ambitious at this point. My goal is to simply become a decent beginning maker. I made a similar commitment to learning Spanish four years ago. I have since learned enough vocabulary and understand the general structure of the language so that I can communicate clearly with a native speaker, as well as figure out any word or phrase I don’t know. I call this the “Enough to be Dangerous” Level — the point at which you know what questions to ask and where you can find the answers.

Over the next month (and beyond) I plan to chronicle my journey of going from Zero to Maker in this column here on MAKE. By rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty, talking with other makers about how they got started, and my willingness to ask “stupid” questions, I hope to learn enough to be dangerous, to take an idea from inception to reality. Based on my conversations with other newbies, I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to conquer my fears and delve deeper into this community and craft. I sincerely hope you’ll join me on the journey and I welcome any advice.

What do you think? Are you in a similar boat — anxious to get going, but not sure where to start? Do you have any ideas or suggestions for me on my journey? Please share in the comments.

[Top image from TechShop, for the Metalworking class webpage.]

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!


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Comments

  1. Chris Hayes says:

    I have to say that I’m somewhere in the middle. As a woodworker, I know my way around a project and various tools. As a professional geek, I know how to find solutions to what I don’t know via the intertubes. However, the really cool stuff –electronics– I know next to nothing about. 90% of what I see that’s cool is electronics based…and I don’t have the patience to sit and read gobs of books on exactly what to do– so I continue in my wood stuff and drool on the electronics posted here…

    1. Anonymous says:

      Electronics holds the same draw for me. I can’t do the text book thing, either. As Gareth told me, the best way to learn is project-based. He said the Make: Electronics book is entirely that – learning by doing. I’ve ordered the book and am taking a few electronics/arduino classes at TechShop. I’ll let you know what works best!

  2. Greg Linster says:

    In some respects, I’m definitely in a similar boat. “Enough to be dangerous”- I like that concept!  I’m looking forward to reading the column, David!

  3. Cool project David! Look forward to reading along.  

    And I’ve been doing something similar with my Year of Living Shareably blog where I’m trying out all kinds of asset sharing services and social designs: 
    http://www.shareable.net/tag/the-year-of-living-shareably

    1. Anonymous says:

      Thanks Neal! I love your Shareable Year project. Maybe you can help me with my next post about tools. As I’ve been getting started with the Zero to Maker project, I’ve noticed that I need a lot of tools that I simply don’t have. I also am on a really tight budget. I think tool-sharing is going to be a really important aspect of the project. So far, the best solution I’ve found is TechShop. What else could I use? Rentalic? Rentcycle? 

      1. Andrew McKay says:

        Excited to follow along David, I feel as though I am in a very similar position, but perhaps with a diybio twist.  

        I also share your plight trying to find tools: tool lending libraries (Berkeley and Oakland libraries have them) seem to have a fairly limited selection, TechShop-like places seem to be rare, and I don’t get the sense start ups like frents.com have the critical mass yet?  Would be nice to organize local pools of interested parties who could go in on a purchase, but then there is still the issue of where the items “live” most of the time… I’m sure solutions are just asking to be found/made: will keep looking and I can’t wait to hear what you come up with!

        1. David Lang says:

          Thanks for your input on this Neal and Andrew. More on this in the latest post – Access to Tools http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2011/08/zero-to-maker-access-to-tools.html#more-108266

  4. Cool project David! Look forward to reading along.  

    And I’ve been doing something similar with my Year of Living Shareably blog where I’m trying out all kinds of asset sharing services and social designs: 
    http://www.shareable.net/tag/the-year-of-living-shareably

  5. M. Eric Carr says:

    Great! Making stuff is fun. My particular niche is microcontroller-based projects (PIC and Arduino, mostly), but the combination of learning new things and getting to build something yourself is addictive! There’s a lot of things to learn, but the beauty is that you don’t have to learn it all right away — or ever. With many projects, a little knowledge (as you say, “enough to be dangerous”) is all you need. Enjoy!

  6. Right now I’m a college student getting my Bachelors in Welding Engineering Technology. Bit by bit I am learning more about classical mechanics and about Electrical engineering. It’s frustrating sometimes.

    On one end of the spectrum, you have traditional classes. Which while informative are often filled with needless information, which often goes unused, especially with the advent of personal computers.

    On the opposite end you have hobbyist websites that often either have not enough good information, or are just flat out incorrect. You don’t want to blow $50 bucks on parts for something only to find out you destroyed the entire thing because the website left out some critical concept.

    I think that’s a big part of being a Maker, wading through the needless information, the non-value added time, and retrieving the good information, the value added time.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the comment, Brandon! I couldn’t agree with you more. On one hand, you’re getting too much information and on the other, not enough. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about: what aspects of the process teach you the most in the shortest amount of time. For beginners like me, I think it’s really important to get the tacit knowledge, which Wikipedia defines:

      “tacit aspects of knowledge are those that cannot be codified, but can only be transmitted via training or gained through personal experience.” 

      I also know that the University setting can be a slow (and expensive!) way to get that knowledge. Hopefully Zero to Maker will be an effective middle-ground. Thanks for reading!

  7. Jeff Clayton says:

    That’s a great mission! I’ll be following.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Jealous! you got a gig writing up your learning experience…. I will be happily reading along.
    I am a university educated sw developer practicing for 30+ years. I always enjoyed kit building of various sorts. When I heard about FabLabs, TechShop and makerspaces I knew I’d found the new bleeding edge. In the last few years I’ve learned a bit of welding, running machine shop tools (lathe, mill, cnc), metal working (Check out Tin Man Tech sometime – go for one of his long weekend classes.), and embedded computers.  
    I wish I had the community resources like TechShop, TheCrucible and other Bay Area spaces…. but i’m way out mid-pacific and had to start our own space to attract makers.  I look forward to your columns!!

    1. David Lang says:

      Thanks for the comment Jerry! I’m truly lucky for the opportunity and the resources that are here in the Bay Area. Keep me posted about the community and space you’re developing, I’m eager to hear how it goes. 

      Also, thanks for the tip on Tin Man Tech. Do you know Kent? Have you taken the classes?

      1. Anonymous says:

        I took Kent’s 4 day intensive in May 2010. My somewhat annotated flickr set is at 
           http://www.flickr.com/photos/mauimakers/sets/72157626964434352/I really enjoyed the class, although I have not had a chance to use the knowledge since…. so many projects so few hours.  I had done machine shop & cnc at Simi Valley Adult school before the workshop. It was really fun and educational to learn metal forming from Kent after metal cutting at SVAS.  Kent’s stories of awesome car & aircraft fixes were great. He welcomes students bringing problem parts to the workshop and helps them with em. The flickr set shows him reworking the trunk lid of an old car (Nash?)  He fixed up the badly dented case of my MacBook pro.

        As for MauiMakers – Stay tooned, and come for a make-cation.

      2. Anonymous says:

        I took Kent’s 4 day intensive in May 2010. My somewhat annotated flickr set is at 
           http://www.flickr.com/photos/mauimakers/sets/72157626964434352/I really enjoyed the class, although I have not had a chance to use the knowledge since…. so many projects so few hours.  I had done machine shop & cnc at Simi Valley Adult school before the workshop. It was really fun and educational to learn metal forming from Kent after metal cutting at SVAS.  Kent’s stories of awesome car & aircraft fixes were great. He welcomes students bringing problem parts to the workshop and helps them with em. The flickr set shows him reworking the trunk lid of an old car (Nash?)  He fixed up the badly dented case of my MacBook pro.

        As for MauiMakers – Stay tooned, and come for a make-cation.

  9. MadGravity says:

    I’m good at fixing things- if it’s broke I can fix it or make it so it can’t be fixed- but for some reason I’m not good at the make end of things  :(

  10. We are so much in the same boat! I just bought an Arduino and am hooked. My friends and family always look a bit frightened when I offer to fix something, especially electrical stuff. But with the Arduino, I was as happy as a child when I got a blinking LED :-) Right now I am on the same page, I feel there are some great things happening in the DIY “scene” and I feel I want to be a part of it. I am trying to find nice projects to make myself, on this site and Instructables. And find the time. 
    As the founder of Lifehacking.nl (sort of the Dutch version of Lifehacker.com but less software news and more personal productivity) I do feel the need to tinker, to play, to ask “What if…?” and “How do I…?”. Now with hardware as well. Great times ahead and I look forward to your journey! 

In the Maker Shed