All Makers Have to Start Somewhere, Including Ahmed Mohamed

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All Makers Have to Start Somewhere, Including Ahmed Mohamed


Not surprisingly, there is blowback to the national story of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed’s vindication. As you of course know by now, he was led from his school in handcuffs for bringing a clock project to school that some people thought could have been mistaken for a bomb. Then he became a hero. Then people started attacking his story.

There have been political and racist attacks on Ahmed, which I will not address on this site. But there are two arguments criticizing Ahmed’s project and how it’s been portrayed that I want to discuss.

First, the statement that it was a “hoax,” or “obviously” made to look like a bomb. As the editor of Make:, let me just say that if you want to see a bomb in a homemade electronics project, it’s pretty easy to do. Just look for exposed circuits, maybe a few loose wires. Bomb! Who among our readers has not, at some point, made a device that could be misconstrued for a device that could be used to trigger an explosive? Personally, I’ve brought more than one hack to school. And at no point was I taken away in handcuffs.

In fact, my fourth-grade son has a “tinkering” after-school session once a week. You should see the things they make.


The second argument is that Ahmed didn’t really “make a clock.” Rather, he just repackaged an off-the-shelf clock radio into a small aluminum case to make it look scary.

This is the most insidious of the arguments. It says that somehow Ahmed’s project is not worthy because it’s not advanced enough.

All Makers have to start somewhere. Many of us begin by disassembling consumer products. Sometimes we re-build them into new projects or enclosures, as Ahmed did. Sometimes, as was the case when I started Making as a kid, the disassembled products don’t survive their vivisection, and they never work again. The educational value of taking things apart is huge, though, whether the components remain functional or not.

And it’s from this point that a Maker can really take off. When you see how a piece of consumer hardware is put together, you start to think to yourself, Why is it that way? How could it be better? What features could I maybe add, improve, or amplify? And then you really start to learn.

We at Make: support kids of all ages, at all stages of Making. We don’t know Ahmed well enough yet to know how advanced his other projects are, the depth of his thinking or knowledge in electronics or engineering, or how long he’s been hacking at old clock radios. What we know is that he’s on the way to becoming a Maker, and we completely support and encourage the sacrifice of a few old clock radios for the education and advancement of any young Maker.

And yes, we at Make: have a vested interest in this story. We have invited Ahmed and his family to Maker Faire New York this weekend, and offered to pay for his travel. We think he deserves to be around other like-minded people, and we also think he can serve as an inspiration to other young builders who may be at different parts of their own growth as Makers.

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Rafe Needleman

Rafe Needleman is the editor-in-chief of Maker Media. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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