TECH BUZZ || ONE-ON-ONE
ME: You founded Adafruit to create electronics kits
for DIYers shortly before getting your master’s in
electrical engineering from MIT’s Media Lab. What
was the inspiration behind establishing your own
L.F: Back when I was still in school, around 2005,
I was having a lot of fun building electronics. I had
been learning about microcontrollers as part of my
undergraduate internship and it was tons of fun. Once
I built some projects, I would publish them on my
website. People loved the projects like my Mint-tin
MP3 player and emailed asking if I would sell them a
kit of parts. Eventually I got so annoyed by all these
emails, I started kitting up some simpler projects for
sale. They were so popular, it became my life.
ME: What’s your advice for engineers wanting to be entrepreneurs?
L.F: It has never been easier for makers and engineers to start companies. And America is one of the easiest countries in the world to do it. You
can start tomorrow as a sole proprietor, or get an LLC together in a week.
Start by making a few units of your new invention, create lots of mockups
and prototype designs. Try selling a few to people in your community. If
you’re inventing something, it probably solves a problem you know about
and if you are having that problem, so are thousands of others.
ME: Do you think there is a need for more engineers in the country?
L.F: Engineers build life-saving medical equipment, upgrades to
renewable energy, even space stations. What other profession can
take you around the world and universe, helping people everywhere
to be safer, healthier, and happier? Having familiarity with making
and engineering also helps inventors solve problems in their local
communities, where larger corporations may not have inroads.
ME: How do Adafruit’s products help get young kids involved in STEM?
L.F: We’re focused on designing cool projects and creative kits so they’re
less expensive to get into kids’ hands. For example, even a few years
ago, if you wanted to teach electronics it would be expensive—more than
$100 per learning kit—which meant all the kids had to share. We realized we needed something better, so that you don’t have 15 kids sharing
one kit. We came up with a kit that’s a $20 all-in-one board, with free
software and tutorials. It’s low-cost enough that every kid can have one.
ME: What do you enjoy the most about the work you do?
L.F: I love seeing what the people in our community make. From electronic paper crafting to cosplay, their creativity is inspiring. We have a
weekly Show and Tell hangout on You Tube, where anyone with a project
and a webcam can talk about their project, what they are building, what
they’ve learned, and get feedback from the community. It’s super fun. ME
SHE IS KNOWN TO HER FANS AS
“Ladyada.” She is the first female
engineer to grace the cover of WIRED.
She is a not-so-traditional-looking MIT
engineer, who grew up in a hacker scene
in Boston and founded an open-source
electronics company. She is Limor Fried,
the CEO of Adafruit, a maker of DIY open
source engineering and electronics kits,
accessible for consumers of any age or
skillset. Fried believes that everyone
has an engineer or a maker inside them
and that introducing electronics early on
will lead to more young people choosing
STEM careers down the road.