“Enough to Be Dangerous” — Introducing Zero to Maker

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, 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.]


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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