SparkFun: Start Something

It has been a short 90+ days since I’ve joined the SparkFun family, and every week is a reminder why this was the right move for me. The goal of these first few months was simple - to listen, learn and connect with the internal workings of SparkFun.

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This (with the notable exception of Slender Man) is why I come to work every day.

The heart of any organization is the culture, and the minute I walked the halls of SparkFun, I knew this was different than anything I had experienced before – from the rock climbing wall in the gym, to the dog tribunal, the company beehive monitored by SparkFun IoT devices, the various eclectic workspaces, Yoga Wednesdays, our community bike program and food truck services for breakfast and lunch, just to name a few. The culture and acceptance of diversity are real, and the freedom to be creative with technology is in your face and boundless. Who wouldn’t want this gig?

In fact, boundless, in-your-face creativity is what sums up SparkFun for me. Before the social marketers gave this community the “maker movement” label, before large corporate sponsorships of everything “make” related, and before anyone really paid attention to this subculture community, there was Nate and SparkFun back in 2003, starting something.

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What he started made technology available to anyone who wanted to tinker, and on top of that, he insisted on making it open source. This approach helped feed and grow a community far more interested in the creative possibilities of technology than the pure consumption of it.

This is how I explain SparkFun to friends and family, and while they get the general idea, you can still tell there’s not much of a connection to what this really means for those who don’t yet identify with what SparkFun represents. “What does it really mean to tinker? How can you be creative with technology if you’re not an engineer? Why does an open source approach and strong ‘maker’ community matter?” For anyone that doesn’t live in our daily world, these are fair questions. These are the same questions I considered during my interview process.

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To help connect this world and community, I ask friends and family whether they’re familiar with the Homebrew Computer Club story – the early computer hobbyist group in Silicon Valley responsible for starting something in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Once the connection is made, I ask them to think of that group of electronic hobbyist, tinkerers and enthusiast and put them in today’s world – a world with countless sharing platforms for both software and hardware, and access to hardware purposely engineered to mess with. Then, eliminate the personal computer wall and think about e-textiles & wearables, IoT devices, mobility devices, computer vision, smart sensors, development kits, robotics, 3D printing, data sharing sites, etc. Next, take the number of folks that were part of the Homebrew Computer Club and multiply that into millions around the world. That is the core community SparkFun supports.

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It’s usually around this point that they get wide-eyed, and the discussion turns to the future and what’s possible with this next generation of electronics enthusiasts. The future is what excites us at SparkFun, but the here and now of what our customers are doing, today, is what gets the chatter going in the hallways of our office. The highlight of my weekly catch up with staff is hearing about customers and their questions about the products we sell. I often have to stop someone and ask, “Wait, what? What are they doing with it? Space? Really?” I’m told that I’ll get used to the incredible (and sometimes incredibly crazy) projects our customers come up with, but it hasn’t happened yet.

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Tinker is shorthand for the most overused word in tech – innovation. Our customers tinker, the majority of SparkFun tinkers and now, with me in this seat, Nate the engineer is back at it as well. It is who we are and who we will continue to be. I often get asked, “What’s our strategy moving forward? What’s our vision?” It’s simple: the core of who we have been for 13 years and counting. Make technology products that people want to be creative with, provide customers with the best information, and provide a support staff that gets our community - whether you’ve been with us for a decade or a day - excited to start something.

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One thought on “SparkFun: Start Something

  1. NoMoreSF

    I recently ported MultiWii and i could not overlook the maaaaaaaaaaany comments about barely functioning workarounds because of Sparkfun Pro Micro shortcomings. The pro micro is extremely bad designed and the bootloader is just unnerving. My last two (non-clones) landed in the trashcan.

    I also had a quadstep that i had to replace because of strange malfunctions caused by it (also an uninspired design, very badly placed connectors, badly placed pots, useless bus function, etc)

    Sparkfun? Unintelligently designed products, high prices. But i love love love the Sparkfun UAV challenge.

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