Barely coming off the heels of the OpenRov open-source underwater robot project he developed at TechShop, David Lang has since marketed himself as an ‘(unexpected maker) Maker’ to help ease those with weak knees into the Maker Movement. After losing his desk job, he decided that he would do something other than stare at the computer all day. What unfolded shortly after is what is becoming more and more common in cities around the world: David joined a Makerspace with zero ‘Maker’ knowledge and taught himself the basics of shop tools and digital fabrication. The fruits of his decision soon paid off when he developed the OpenRov robot and gained fame as a ‘Zero to Hero’-esque storyline. Between making the rounds at speaking engagements (notably Autodesk University), David found time to sit down and start on his next venture: teaching others how to go from Zero to Maker.
Zero to Maker
“Learn what you need to make just about anything – a product, an invention you’ve been dreaming about, or even a Maker business.”
-Zero to Maker Guide
The all-too-common story of ‘my education and work experience prepared me for a future that isn’t coming’ is an increasing one these days as finance and law degrees leave graduates with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt and weak chances of finding a job worthy of paying the Man in any reasonable amount of time. While hobbyists and amateur designers have been around for decades, the access to tools and communities like there are today have arguably been nonexistent. Sure there may have been community workshops and hobby spaces (read: basements and garages), but between the level of technology available today and the power of social media, the ability to access CNC routers, laser cutters, 3D printers, and other powerful production tools has never been this easy. But as easy as it’s becoming, it can still be murky territory for those starting at ground zero.
Excerpt from David’s Kickstarter Campaign:
After losing my office job in the summer of 2011, I was forced to rethink my career trajectory. All of a sudden, it seemed that my education and work experience had prepared me for a future that wasn’t coming. The “knowledge” that I thought was my ticket in life was now the source of my insecurity, the reason I felt distanced from work that is meaningful, tangible, and measurable. Instead of scrambling back into the rat race and praying for a new job that wouldn’t vanish, I decided to focus on building the fundamental skills I had somehow managed to skip over; the skills that would enable me to create, develop or repair something useful or essential. I was looking to create a bridge between foundational knowledge of how things work and what their potential can be with the help of the latest technology. The first step was to recreate the shop classes my high school never offered. I immersed myself in this new maker movement by spending two months taking every class I could at TechShop in San Francisco: wood working, laser cutting, CNC machining, CAD, welding, and everything in between.
I had a lot to learn, and the welcoming community in which I found myself was happy to guide me. In fact, it wasn’t long before I learned enough to be able to help others who were also in the process of re-skilling.
In a span of several months I flipped the switch from being an interested onlooker to an active participant. In less than a year, I went from a maker novice to card-carrying evangelist; from a tool-illiterate enthusiast to a partner in a fledgling underwater robot business. What I thought was an insurmountable disadvantage of never having used a soldering iron, turned out to be a phantom obstacle. Now, my biggest concern is how we’re going to fill all the orders for the robot kit I helped develop. It’s a much better problem to have.
And believe me, I’m the last person who ever thought I’d be singing this tune. Having labeled myself as mechanically incompetent and manually illiterate, I presumed that my relationship with devices would always be strictly utilitarian. Alexis Madrigal sums up my sentiments exactly:
“You know how some kids take apart clocks and toasters just to see how they work? Well, I used them as god intended, to tell time and make toast.”
Looking back, I see that the presumption was based on an irrational fear of the unknown, which I wish I could’ve faced sooner. All the new tools and terminology that seemed so intimidating were more accessible and usable than I ever imagined.
But the biggest surprise was the discovery that my experience is entirely replicable. Thanks to new rapid prototyping technologies, the tools of making are easier than ever to access and learn. All across the country and beyond, the maker community is self-organizing to create fab labs and makerspaces, which serve as cheap and accessible DIY classrooms. It doesn’t require a major life change (like losing a job or facing a similar crisis) to get involved. These are skills you can develop on part time basis – a few nights a week or a weekend here and there. In fact, no matter what your day job may be, you’ll find these new skills can be complimentary and helpful in your everyday life.
My break came when MAKE Magazine gave me the opportunity to chronicle my Zero To Maker story on the MAKE blog. This gave me a chance to meet incredible makers and hear their stories about how they got started. Their insights and advice were too good to not be broadcast.
Even with all the attention that the maker movement has garnered, some people still feel it is too intimidating and prohibitive to take the plunge. An autonomous robot may be awe-inspiring in theory, but if you are hanging on to your cubicle job, it’s hard to imagine it as a possible career move. It’s easy to see the potential of a desktop 3D printer when you’ve got a masters degree in industrial design, but nearly impossible to understand how it fits (and why it should be included) into your busy schedule and everyday life. A mental bridge must be crossed to see making as an opportunity worth pursuing, whether as a new career or a serious hobby. I know because I had to cross that bridge.
But I wouldn’t want to do it by myself. As I quickly discovered, making is very little about DIY – it’s all about DIT (Do-It-Together). In the maker movement, the art of collaboration is the key to innovation and productivity. The Zero To Maker book will be no different. It’s going to be a team effort.
For those interested in learning more (or want to share with the non-makers in their life), be sure to get in on the Kickstarter campaign