Name: Peter Rifken
Location: Boston, MA
Day Job: Software Solutions Engineer at Quick Base
Makerspace: While not currently affiliated, I have been a member of, taken, and taught a few courses at the Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, MA.
Editor note: this Maker Spotlight is part of a Quick Base and Make: partnership
How did you get started making?
I caught the bug in my last year of college, when I spent the better part of the summer helping a mentor of mine with some major building renovations. The front entryway and kitchen of the property had been degrading for years, and we needed to scrape back the bad paint, re-plaster old walls, and re-paint. Other projects included re-glazing the period windows and a lot of time with a heat gun. I discovered the joy of taking time and care to plan and execute on a project, the frustration of things not going quite as planned, and of course the satisfaction of reflecting on a job well done and lessons learned. I also learned that the ghosts (imperfections) of every project haunt you for eternity.
How would you classify yourself as a maker?
Making for me has always been about the journey of creating solutions to meaningful problems just outside of my comfort zone. I love the process of diving deep into an unknown world in pursuit of understanding, moving fast to find a quick win, and laying the bricks on the foundation until I’ve gotten to mastery. As I’ve gotten older, the focus of this process has evolved. As a kid, it was endless drawings of how I thought robots worked in a sketch book. As a teenager, the focus was mathematics. In college, it was engineering and home improvement projects. Over the last five years, I’ve had the chance to mentor high school students in building actual robots! Making has always been for me about walking away from each project with a slightly better appreciation for how the world works as well as slightly more prepared to solve the next, more challenging, and more rewarding problem.
Tell us about one of your favorite projects?
A few years ago, I asked our robotics students to build a T-Shirt Cannon robot for the purposes of raising awareness of STEM/Robotics at the school but more importantly because it was a friggin’ cool way to get students hooked on robots. We had to learn how to safely contain and release very high-pressure air, and there was a lot of trial, error, and iteration before we finally fired our first successful long-range shots at a school event. I loved this project because of the collective learning it enabled, the pride the students felt seeing their hard work pay off, and the inspiring effect the show had on the audiences.
What would you like to do in the future?
My hope is that I still love and am rewarded by the work I do as much as I am today, and that I have a bigger shop with bigger machines that enable me to solve more interesting problems. Ideally this shop is in Maine along the water.
Any advice for other makers?
One of the challenges of the Maker Movement is that some people think that a Maker is someone to become, and that you’ve only arrived when you’ve created a robotic wiz-bang featuring LEDs and a custom CNC enclosure. There are some incredible projects featured at Make events and in the magazine that probably inspire some to jump into the fray and surely scare others away. “That’s not for me”, some may think. The truth is, being a Maker is just exercising our intrinsic human creativity. It always makes me sad to hear someone say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body” and my comment is “Yes, you do, and I’m sorry someone along the way led you to believe otherwise.” Success as a maker isn’t in making something impressive, rather that you’ve done something that put you “in the zone” (you know, that place you go to do something creative that makes your forget time for a few hours).
My advice is to:
a) Try not to compare your maker journey to those around you.
b) Stand on the shoulders of giants. YouTube is an incredible resource for any problem you are trying to solve. Leverage the online communities as there is someone in the world that has lived your pain and can help you through wherever you are in the project.
c) Work as hard as you can to break projects into small parts. Take one part and make it as simple as possible, then work and troubleshoot like mad until you have your “Hello World” moment. The excitement of winning and the satisfaction of making progress will give you the motivation to keep going. Every problem can be broken into manageable, bite-sized parts!
d) Always exercise your creativity muscles (Yes, you have them!). Keep a sketch pad or journal by your side, and even when you face a stretch where work, family, and life keep you away from serious making, take ten minutes to doodle a scene and color it in.
Peter took his passion for making and integrated it into his full time career where he’s making all day with Quick Base, a custom application building platform that doesn’t require pro coding skills. If you can work in an Excel spreadsheet, you can create applications with Quick Base!
Inspired by Peter’s story? Learn how to build like him with a free Quick Base builder license. Anyone can create a free Quick Base Builder Program account, from workplace problem solvers and tech professionals to students. Participants in the Builder Program gain access to Quick Base’s intuitive platform as well as educational resources to help them learn how to build their own apps. Unlike traditional developer programs, which are intended for professional software developers, the Quick Base Builder Program is designed for workplace problem solvers interested in developing the skills and knowledge necessary to create powerful custom business applications.
You can meet Peter and our other Quick Base maker magicians at Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA from May 17-19, 2019. Register for a session with a Quick Base expert at the event – you’ll leave with an application built and customized just for you in only 30 minutes! Claim a session time here.