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Engineer & Entrepreneur Limor Fried
Limor Fried has always loved making things. And once she realized what some electronics and programming skills would let her create, she adopted the moniker of Ladayada in honor of the pioneering Ada Lovelace and never looked back. But it wasn’t Limor’s MIT degrees that landed her as the first female engineer on the cover of Wired magazine – it was the side projects that she kept working on when she should have been writing her dissertation. Personal tinkerings and a passion for education have led to the creation of Adafruit Industries, 1.8 million sales, recognition as Entrepreneur magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year,” and being named a 2016 “White House Champion of Change.” Limor did not start out planning to build an electronics company – she was just having fun in her dorm room.
As she figured out how to make her own wearable technology or build an MP3 player, she did what came naturally to a member of the maker community: She shared. Through videos and tutorials, she shared her designs online, and soon messages started rolling in asking for kits. People wanted to build their own versions of her creations, but they had no idea how to go about finding all the parts. Eventually, she gave in and sent out what would become the first kits from Adafruit Industries.
As people started to use the kits, many followed Limor’s lead and shared their results (and adaptations) online. This led to new kits, better instructions, and the start of a vibrant community of makers. Even today, Limor says that much of the inspiration for design changes and new kits come from community feedback. And because the goal of the company is to share a love of electronics with the world, all of learning tools are free to access and all of the code is open-source. Limor believes that part of the appeal of the Adafruit kits comes from the project approach.
Rather than going in with a plan to learn how to create a particular circuit or use a different transistor, users are learning how to create something like a light-up skirt they can actually wear or a light-responsive skateboard they can actually ride. Yes, they are learning those particular electronics skills along the way, but they do it in the context of making something they were already interested in creating. Many of the kits feed off of the built-in passion people have for their own hobbies – something Limor sees as an asset. “If someone is into cosplay and wants to add something to their Storm or their Shuri, wearable tech is a great way to do that.”
And that focus on hobbies has also shaped the design of the kits themselves. Limor is proud that Adafruit has customers from grade school to grandparents, but their kits are not actually targeted by age. “Because anyone can be a beginner, and anyone can already have an impressive set of skills,” Limor said. “We have young people with some pretty serious building chops, and we have older adults who are just starting out.” By keeping the kits from being for a specific age group, it’s the hobby that brings them in, and it lets them come in at whatever level is appropriate for them.
Limor has also remained loyal to the company’s video-based roots, with over a thousand tutorials, numerous online hangouts, and weekly live shows. Limor even received the feedback that one young and loyal viewer of “Ask an Engineer” wondered if there were any boy engineers after seeing so many women on the show. The live streaming of “From the Desk of Ladyada” provides a less formal perspective. Limor takes viewers along for the ride of working on her latest designs and shares the mistakes that happen along the way. Unlike the tutorials, these videos lack what Limor refers to as “cooking-show polish.” She makes mistakes. Things don’t work. And she takes the viewers through the process of troubleshooting.
“Like anything in science, working with electronics has a lot of moments when things don’t work. But building the skills to cope with those moments, to work with those feelings, will serve anyone with any career at any stage in their life.” She wants to give people the chance to build resilience as early as possible, and she believes that making something with your own hands is a particularly rewarding way to do so.
Limor looks forward to seeing Adafruit reach even more people. They have already created kits that don’t require soldering for those who might not have access to the tools. Next, she has set her sights on devices that people already have in their lives – like fitness trackers, scales, and other parts of the Internet of Things. Limor wants people to know that they aren’t limited to what they can build from scratch; they can learn to crack open and look behind the curtain at things that already exist in the world around them.
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Read More about Limor’s journey here.
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