Zero to Maker: Knowing What You Don’t Know

Zero to Maker: Knowing What You Don’t Know

David Lang, something of a reluctant maker, is on a journey, intensively immersing himself in maker culture and learning as many DIY skills as he can, through a generous arrangement with our pals at TechShop. He’s regularly chronicling his efforts in this column — what he’s learning, who he’s meeting, and what hurdles he’s clearing (um… or not). –Gareth

I just got back from New York City where Eric Stackpole and I spent the weekend exhibiting and talking about OpenROV at the Open Hardware Summit and World Maker Faire. Although it wasn’t quite as big as Maker Faire Bay Area, it was an unbelievable gathering of makers and creators of all shapes and sizes. On a scale of 1 to Awesome, it was a perfect score.

David at the OpenROV booth at World Maker Faire

There were a number of events and interactions that I could take away (and will) from the experience for the Zero to Maker column, but one conversations stands out above all others.

Just as the Faire was winding down for the evening on Saturday, Gareth Branwyn, Editor-in-Chief of the MAKE website, stopped by the OpenROV booth to check in. Gareth was the one who I initially pitched this column idea to, and the entire column has really been an outgrowth of that conversation. Over the past few months, Gareth and I have traded numerous emails and talked several times over the phone, but this was the first time we were meeting in person. With a number of underwater robots on the table, the conversation naturally started there, but after an extensive overview of OpenROV, he ask me, “So, looking back, have far do you think you’ve gone from Zero to Maker?”

Although I should’ve been more prepared for it, the question took me by surprise. It was the first time I had really taken stock of everything I’ve learned so far. I certainly didn’t feel like I had made any real progress. In fact, I hadn’t built much more than a few projects for the different classes I’d taken. Thinking back to an illustration I had seen during Nathan Seidle of Sparkfun’s presentation at the Open Hardware Summit, I answered with a “You know what? I think I’m getting there.”

I then went on to explain this graphic from the presentation:

Note: I’ve recreated the graph and it’s WAY out of scale – my yellow box is much, much bigger than depicted.

Nathan told us that his goal was to continually expand the green slice – that’s how he measures his growth. For me, the same is true about my journey. Of course, my blue slice has increased, but not nearly as fast as the green one, and that’s good. My original goal was learning “enough to be dangerous” which, to me, means knowing how to ask good questions, and then, knowing where to begin looking for answers (I added the “Enough to be Dangerous” line to the graph for emphasis). If that’s my measurement, then I’m getting to that point, but like everything worthwhile, the more you know, the more you realize what you have to learn. Also, fortunately, making is a positive (additive) feedback loop where the more you make, the more you want to make.

One thing is certain: I’m starting to think like a maker. In my mind, I’m mentally deconstructing everything I come across – wondering how it works, trying to take it apart, figuring out if I can build it myself. I’m jumping at the opportunity to fix things; no longer seeing that as a tedious task, rather an exciting learning opportunity. I’m viewing the world differently.

Looking back, the only real danger was in not getting started. To quote the Arduino team from their presentation at the Open Hardware Summit: “Don’t let not knowing what you’re doing stop you from getting started.”

Editor’s Note: It was great meeting David. He’s good people, very personable, smart, and passionate about what he’s doing. I think he’s also overly humble and cautious about his abilities. He knew the answer to every question I asked about the OpenROV (which is very cool in person, BTW). We talked about the fabrication of the chassis and parts, the controls, the to-be-designed software interface, the motors, cabling, waterproofing issues, and more. At one point, after the above exchange he describes, I said: “Sounds to me like you know a lot about this hardware and how it all works.” He said, humbly: “I’ve just been sitting here listening to these guys explain it over and over.” I don’t believe him. I think he knows more than he admits. Which, I guess, is not knowing what you DO know (?) I awarded the OpenROV project one of my Make: Editor’s Choice blue ribbons. I can’t wait to see this thing in action. -Gareth

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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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