New Year’s is a time to dream. You might be wondering what skills, projects, or experiences 2022 may bring.
You probably learned more than you thought you could this year. What will the next year bring?
That’s why we were glad to speak with Martin Mortensen and Curtis Soldano, two of our Hacker Lab teachers who help students learn things they always imagined:
Soldering and programming, Arduino computers to make smart-home devices, and under-the-hood electronics work with tech we use every day.
People leave these classes feeling energized and empowered to explore their newly-learned tech skills. Thanks, Martin and Curtis!
Hacker Lab: How did you start exploring making and electronics? What drove you to this world?
Martin: “I was lucky enough to go to a high school with an electronics program. I took all the shop classes I could fit in my schedule and decided Electronics was best suited to hold my interest for a lifetime. I took a technician class course in Jr. college; they didn't have a great program and I decided I really wanted to be an engineer not a technician so that led to a long road through college.”
Curtis: “I was fortunate to have a couple of different influences. My Mom worked in an assembly line for an electronics company and she had an above average awareness of electronics from that perspective. I also was born and raised in Silicon Valley during a time when there was still a significant number of electronics manufacturers in the immediate area and luckily a high school in my district had a dedicated electronics lab funded by Lenkurt electronics, not surprisingly referred to as Lenkurt Lab.
“I think Lenkurt was eventually sold to Raytheon or Fairchild or something...long story short, I eventually got into that electronics program and was forever hooked. My local junior college was similarly equipped with an impressive electronics lab and I eventually got my AS in Electronics.”
HL: What is the value of learning programming or electronics?
Martin:“Part of the reason I chose electronics was that i figured anything else I was interested in would eventually include electronics and computers. So I could use it with whatever else I might become interested in. It's a handy thing to know.”
Curtis: “I have never been an expert level coder, but early on in my journey when PC's were first emerging I was self-taught and really loved programming. When I got out of high school, I found college-level programming coursework was harder than self-motivated pleasure projects.
“I decided to not pursue coding as a job skill, especially after a couple of attempts at learning new languages. BUT, I did enjoy and did well in electronics as an academic endeavor. The two complement each other and although I have not mastered programming, per se, my experience in electronics gives me deeper insight into how programming and the hardware interact, or that is to say how it 'works.'"
HL: What about if you are not experienced in tech already?
Martin: “Good time to start then.
Curtis: The internet is your friend. Youtube, Udemy, Learnsmart, Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning), Udacity, CG Cookie, Khan Academy, CodaKid, Zenva and tons of other resources to kick start your new direction...join a meetup, go to events and network with others.
HL: What do people go on to do after your classes?
Martin: “I really don't know. I don't have a way to follow them. Hopefully we will put together some more classes where we could take people farther along the path of their interest. That's one of those things forever on my to-do list that hasn't gotten done.
Curtis: “Cure cancer, Become President of the United states, fly the first mission to Mars...the sky is the limit! Seriously though...it is. :)”
HL: People seem to become members after taking your classes. Any idea why?
Curtis: “I didn't realize this was the case but I am positively thrilled if it is. I am more than happy to be spreading the Maker spirit, it's the kind of spirit that built this country.”
HL: Any advice for the person interested in programming or electronics but not sure where to start?
Martin: “My intro to electronics class is designed to be a foundation for someone that knows nothing about electronics but is interested. The beginning Arduino class is a quick intro to programming micro controllers. I'm not as familiar with the programming classes we offer. There are a lot of online classed and tutorials these days, for almost anything you want it seems, so self education is more accessible than it's ever been. The downside of online courses (at least the free ones) is there's no-one to ask when you have a question. I think having a contact like a technical friend or hacker lab instructor may be able to fill that gap as well. Most people are happy to show off what they know by answering questions or helping explain something.”
Curtis: “I am a huge fan of Adafruit Electronics. Hour of Code is a force in the technical learning and empowerment space. Join Hacker Lab, join a Meetup or just start building and experimenting. If you need a little support or need to bounce an idea off of someone, join the Hackerlab Discord or Slack servers where other like minded folks can help answer questions and give advice. Facebook groups, Reddit forums and other crowd sourced discussion groups can be a amazing resource as well. More directly, take a Hacker Lab class and start to develop your skill. Have fun and good luck on your adventures!”
This Q&A has been slightly edited for clarity and breadth.