‘Makers at Work’ Offers Inspiring Journey Through the Creative Process

Makers at WorkBy Steven Osborn Apress Media LLCSept. 23, 2013, 324 pp.Available eBook Formats: EPUB, MOBI, PDFPrint Book Price: US$29.99eBook Price: $20.99The maker mentality has no starting point in modern history. People have always honed their creative skills to make things, and societies have always had visionaries who turned their garage hobbies and kitchen table inventiveness into industrial breakthroughs. Today, the maker mentality is essentially an extension of the do-it-yourself craze.

Makers at Work by Steven Osborn offers an insightful look at 21 unheralded makers who helped to change the way we think and interact with the world through the products they created.

Steven Osborn is a serial entrepreneur, software hacker and hardware enthusiast. His startups include Urban Airship, a mobile messaging company that powers mobile applications on iPhone and Android devices for companies like Starbucks, Redbox and ESPN, as well as Smart Mocha, a company combining cloud services and digital sensor network technology.

Makers at Work

Osborn’s experience gives him a solid working view of the maker process and its impact on technology today. He uses this view to zero in on some of the most significant players in the maker movement.

Forward Looking

In the forward to Makers at Work, Brad Feld, managing director of the Foundry Group, notes that for the last 20 years, people have become immersed in creating new things based on bits. That process is fueled by the growth of the Internet, which he says has woven itself into the fabric of everything we do.

Osborn admits to being in awe of the CEOs of massive, successful Internet companies who overcame numerous obstacles and failures.

“Great projects, great companies and great products don’t just happen,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “These things start with one or more people who have the enthusiasm and desire to challenge what everyone else has done before them. These folks also have stories not just about triumph and achievement but also about failure, overcoming adversity and persistence.”

Making It Work

Success stories usually leave out too many details about the frailties of humans at work, with the result that industrial superstars such as Henry Ford and Steve Jobs are often idolized instead.

That is not what this book is about. Rather, Osborn is intrigued by how entrepreneurial makers overcome both failures and challenges. In Makers at Work, he introduces readers to the people at the heart of this maker movement.

The author highlights the new technologies these makers are inventing and shines the spotlight on their building and sharing processes. The reader can’t help but gain an appreciation for the way these makers are changing the way we think and interact with the physical world.

A Conversational Approach

Osborn takes an unusual but very effective approach to exposing the lives and activities of his selected makers in this book. Specifically, he does not write in a traditional third-person fashion to retell their stories as gleaned from interviews and research. Instead, he brings the reader into an intimate conversational setting through the use of a question-and-answer format, creating for the reader a feeling of actually being present at the interview.

This approach is not an easy one to pull off well — questions can fall flat, and responses can be long and filled with self-puffery — but Osborn does not let that happen. Rather, he guides the conversation into a smoothly told revelation of what each maker has experienced.

Tales of Inspiration

Makers at Work tells the stories of 21 success-driven makers whose struggles produced advancements in the development and use of technology. The makers are not the well-known industry giants of big-name technology companies, and in part for that very reason, it is an amazingly interesting read. The individuals portrayed may not be the luminaries so often extolled in the media and beyond, but their names and stories are no less inspiring.

A separate chapter is dedicated to each maker, illustrating in full color the highs and lows of what it is like to live life as a maker. For instance, Osborn begins his real-life storytelling with Erik Kettenburg. As a boy Kettenburg taught himself electronics and programming. We soon discover how his curiosity for hardware electronics pushed him to build some impressive projects, such as the open source Digispark project featured on Kickstarter.

Anyone who admires the skills of hackers and programming hobbyists will especially enjoy the description of how Kettenburg fell into exploring small-scale manufacturing methods.

The chapter on Becky Stern, who is now director of wearable electronics for Adafruit Industries, is equally compelling. You could say Stern wove her way into a new line of fashionware by applying her childhood skills in sewing and VHS editing. Stern now melds fashion, fabric and geeky devices into wearable electronics. She shares many of her designs with the open hardware community, and she brings a new thread of interest to hardware hackers and stitching students alike with her video and Web content.

What You Get

Makers at Work is not only a enjoyable read. It is an inspiring and satisfying journey through the creative process as experienced by 21 entrepreneurial makers.

The stories told through each interview offer insight into the tools and technologies that are driving today’s industrial revolution. The interviews also provide the reader with useful tips on how to turn a weekend project into a profitable business. They reveal how others have used crowdfunding to make their visions a reality.

Perhaps more than anything, Makers at Work leaves readers with one particularly worthwhile takeaway: Namely, by breaking down the barriers to entry, open source hardware and software are opening new doors and enabling whole new categories of products.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.

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