Interview with SparkFun’s
Lindsay Levkoff, Director of Education
Tell us about SparkFun. How did it get started? What is it about?
SparkFun started in 2003, based on Nathan Seidle’s idea he discovered while studying to be an Electrical Engineer at the University of Colorado Boulder. And in his bedroom one day, he burnt through a chip he was working on for his project. Nathan realized in that moment, when the sparks were flying, that was when he was having the most fun. That is where the name SparkFun sort of came from. He also realized during this time that is was very difficult for him to replace that part for his project in a quick manner and in full confidence that would be what he needed. It dawned on him that he needed to start a business where people, such as engineers and hobbyists, could go online with the confidence of purchasing something like these chips that would be exactly what they needed and not in bulk. So he got started in that bedroom and within the first hours of getting the website up, his first order came from France. It was then he really realized he was onto something. And if you fast-forward, lots of growth and amazing things have happened here.
How did you start working with SparkFun?
I was previously doing research for the University of Colorado Boulder and decided I wanted to take a break from it all. I actually found SparkFun on Craigslist, they were searching for an Assistant Production Manager position, and I found myself highly under and over qualified for it at the time. It looked like the company has amazing people doing amazing things, so I thought, what the heck! I’ll go for it. In 2009 I started to work for SparkFun down in Production. The department I am working in now (Education) formed in 2011, I previously was working in the production department. We saw an amazing opportunity to bring some of the technology that was coming through the production line and bring it back into the classroom and informal learning spaces such as museums and hacker spaces.
What kind of projects are you working on currently?
Specifically, in the Education Department, my team is very busy trying to bring hands-on experiences back into the classroom. We are reaching out to K-12 grades as well as higher education across the nation. School, museums, hacker spaces, you name it. We are trying to give kids the opportunity to move away from the idea that failure is a bad thing, just a step in the process. So getting their hands dirty and also acquiring these skill sets that are really important for the types of jobs that are around now.
And you hold classes in the SparkFun warehouse, what are those about?
Part of the Education Department’s mission is to hold classes and workshops in town for locals but, quite honestly, we get a lot of people traveling to Boulder for the workshops we have here at SparkFun. We also have taken SparkFun on the road! Right now we have an RV traveling across the United States that is, again, working with the school, libraries, hacker spaces. SparkFun is trying to bring these workshops to the people and, hopefully by November, we will have crossed most of the states in this country.
Can you describe SparkFun’s creative/making process? Who is behind it and who gets it moving?
The interesting thing about SparkFun is that we don’t have that strong vertical hierarchy as a company. So ideas come from everywhere, every corner of the building. And there is not a whole lot of struggle to be heard here. If you walked around the building, you would see ideas being implemented from every department, every position in the company, which is really fantastic. As far as the creativity goes, that falls into the hands of our really great Marketing and Communications Department. These people are working together to come up with a fun way to get people excited about this type of technology and not be afraid. Because it is for everyone to enjoy!
Any fun upcoming events in store for SparkFun?
We do a lot of local outreach and will be visiting a few of the other Maker Faires around the nation. We have the NoCo Mini Maker Faire as well as the Champlain Maker Faire in Vermont. We really like to be in events and places where people are just starting to get going. The Mini Maker Faires are great because you really get to watch the community start to pull together and you can see that wonderful energy. It is really exciting.
How did you originally hear about the Maker Faire’s? How did you decide you wanted to participate in them?
We have been apart of the bigger Maker Faires, such as the one in Austin and in the Bay Area, really since the beginning. In the last few years it was great to see what these Faire have become now, they are HUGE! We decided we missed the days when it was new and people were experiencing these things for the first time. So we have dialed back our presence at the bigger Maker Faires and been trying to get out to the smaller, local Maker Faires. Again, it is an opportunity to be with the community, watch people as they come together, realize what they can do together and see the potential of the community.
Anything at the upcoming Faires that you are excited about?
Ultimately, we are all really aware and excited to see the hidden gems that are located within a few miles of us, our own backyard. I think the NoCo Mini Maker Faire is a good way to get our community together to meet new people, try new things, find potential collaborations and so on.
Plan on seeing some really exciting things from us. We have some really talented engineers and creative technologists! Some pretty cool stuff to be seen.
Thank you SparkFun helping sponsor the NoCo Mini Maker Faire!