RobotsConf: An Attendee’s Journey From Coder to Maker

RobotsConf: An Attendee’s Journey From Coder to Maker

RobotsConf is a new conference on Dec 6th and 7th designed to transform 150 coders into makers in just 48 hours. RobotsConf is organized to provide an educational experience for high-level development language coders that have minimal hardware experience.  Conference curators Chris and Laura Williams shared that many of the attendees have some limited experience with hardware such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and 3D Printers and their interests cover a wide-range of topics including those items, robotics, drones, home automation, and hackerspaces.

Jamie Szafran - RobotsConf attendeeI found this attendee profile to be true when I interviewed conference attendee Jamie Szafran. Jamie is a software developer for NASA, and a member of FamiLAB, Orlando’s hackerspace. Jamie has already begun her transformation from coder to maker, and she’s excited to attend RobotsConf. As part of our coverage of RobotsConf, I’ll sharing Jamie’s experiences and reflections on RobotsConf and her journey from coder to maker.

What excites you about RobotsConf?

While I like learning on my own and have been learning electronics and hardware on my own, I do like instruction from others because then I can more easily find what gaps in fundamentals I’ve got. It’s also pitched to people like me – software professionals who dabble in The Other Side- so it’ll bootstrap me even more into the hardware side of life. Besides, who doesn’t love a conference with hands-on stuff to play with?

Which of the “surveys” at RobotsConf are the most interesting to you?

Electronics fundamentals, for sure. Interaction interfaces, because most of the HCI (Human Computer Interfaces) work that I’ve done in the past was software-based and assumed that the hardware would be there and “take care of itself”.

We first met at FamiLAB, Orlando’s Hackerspace – what originally led you to a hackerspace?

I found FamiLAB by accident, actually- I had been vaguely aware of the hackerspace/makerspace movement but hadn’t been aware that there was one near me or what they were really “about”.  I’d had plans for one weekend canceled on me and saw online that there was a retro game night out in Longwood (hosted by FamiLAB). I kind of shrugged, figured the drive was worth not being bored, and came out. I eventually got into playing a lot of old video games, got talking to people, and had a ball.  I stuck around after to help clean up, and got talking to some of the guys (about everything from cute cat videos to near-space balloon launches). I saw that there was a group meeting called “Sunday Morning Code” and stuck around for that, too, leading to my first night at FamiLAB ending at 4am. I joined because I’d found a like-minded group of geeky people with a huge diversity of skills and interests; it was partially for the people (lots of new friends who are just like me), but partially for access to tools and people to teach me things that I didn’t already know.

Tell us about your transformation from coder to maker.

While I’ve been poking around with software happily all my life (I was typing and using a computer before I could write), I distinctly recall the “I can take it apart and make things!” moment when I really started trying to be more of an all-around Maker, which was embarassingly late in life— another FamiLAB member had posted a link to some large laser harp project and my first reaction/reply was “I want one!”. After a really short pause, my next line was “No, I want to *make* one!  …………..But smaller and better.”

Tell us about your role at NASA.

I am a Computer Engineer (trained as a computer scientist, a programming language theorist) and Aerospace Technologist at Kennedy Space Center, working for NASA as part of the Spaceport Command and Control Services (SCCS) project, under the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program. SCCS is the end-to-end command and control system for the next generation of manned spaceflight.

I am the Common Services CSCI (Computer Software Configuration Item, or subteam) Lead for SCCS; my team and I work on data management, communications between users and end-items, operating systems, and lower-level functions on the user/console side of the system. I am responsible for doing analyses, drafting new requirements, assessing new work, designing new features as requested, implementing software, testing software, doing documentation and test plans- the whole software lifecycle. I am also the administrator of our code review tool / process.

In addition to my time with SCCS, I am partial-time matrixed (on-loan) to KSC’s Swamp Works lab, a rapid-prototyping R&D lab, to lend my expertise in developing software to their projects with experimental hardware.

I’m looking forward to sharing the experiences of Jamie and other attendees, and of course, playing with lots of robots at RobotsConf! If you are attending RobotsConf and want to share your story, post in the comments, connect with me in the RobotsConf Google+ community, or chat with me in person this weekend!

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Ian is a co-founder of The Maker Effect Foundation, a non-profit group organized to amplify the effects of makers within their communities. The Maker Effect Foundation's programs include Maker Faire Orlando, and MakerFX makerspace in Orlando. Ian is also a board member of Nation of Makers, and a member of FamiLAB, Orlando's Hackerspace.

View more articles by Ian Cole


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