Becoming Maker

microchipAs a kid I was driven to understand how things worked. I deconstructed toys, unsoldered components from old car radios, disassembled and reassembled hifi stereo systems and learnt how to program High Street store VCRs.

My interest in electronics led to me doing a correspondence course where I built an oscilloscope from scratch. Then the microcomputer revolution came along and I was hooked, learning basic and Z80 assembly on a ZX80, and selling software in the computer magazine classifieds.

Back then computers were simple enough that you could know them inside out – you could buy a complete ROM disassembly in a book.

As my interest in computers led to a computer science degree and a software engineering career things got more complicated and things moved further and further away from those early tinkerer days. Operating Systems became huge, ecosystems became complicated and new development frameworks were being released every day. Now half of the software you use isn’t even running on the machine under your fingers, it is running in the cloud somewhere.

Then a second revolution came along, the maker revolution. Laser cutters, CNCs and 3D printers made it possible for individuals to convert digital designs into physical objects. Microcontrollers moved from being devices only accessible to embedded systems engineers to something school kids could program. And a community, supported by thousands of online how-to posts evolved.

Those microcontrollers filled me with nostalgia for the microcomputers of my youth, small simple devices that you could understand inside out. With their I/O headers and communication interfaces they begged to be connected to things, embedded in things, they begged to be used in new and creative ways. And they were small, so very, very small and ridiculously cheap – I could buy a microcontroller for less than a cup of coffee and hold one on the tip of my finger.

This was another revolution I had to join – I had to become a maker.