Interview: Hackster.io – The Art of Tech

Smart Solutions

Interview: Hackster.io – The Art of Tech

Smart Industry talked with Adam Benzion, a cofounder of Hackster.io, which bills itself as the world’s largest and fastest-growing open-source hardware community. It was aquired by Avnet in 2016.

by Tim Cole

Can you explain to our readers what Hackster.io is all about and how managers, businesses, and start-ups stand to benefit?
Hackster is a large community for developers and engineers. It has about 1.5 million developers from about 150 countries around the world that come together to our site to share instructions, projects, source code, and in-build materials of all sorts of IoT projects. They can range from home automation to autonomous vehicles to IoT, industrial IoT, and so forth. In fact, they have shared over the years over 24,000 complete, open-source, ready-to-replicate projects that anyone can go and decide to learn from, copy, replicate, and in-build forward.

Hackster.io has been described as an “ecosystem for developers.” What does that mean?
We have about 200 partners and they create the ecosystem, together with the independent developers and big companies that come together to share their software and hardware knowledge through workshops, webinars, and by creating tools to help developers all over the world build the things they need to build, as simple or as complex as they may be. This is an ecosystem of collaboration, an environment where people can inter-act and share information.

With 1.5 million members in more than 150 countries, that sort of makes you the UN for developers, doesn’t it?
In fact, you recently conducted a contest with the United Nations, the Covid-19 Detect and Protect Challenge, to create open-source technology that developing countries can leverage in the fight against this global pandemic.

Start-ups are important but people also need to take profitability seriously.
Adam Benzion, Cofounder of Hackster.io
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How’s it going so far?
Extremely well, actually. We’re very proud to have the United Nations, including UNICEF, working with us. They tell us that they see this pandemic hitting the developing world even harder than anyone thought. This is mainly because of the lack of resources. Through our developer ecosystem, we have been able to come up with simple, easy-to-use, and easy-to-replicate technologies that can help these communities detect Covid-19 spread and protect people. So far, over 2,470 developers have registered, and so far 358 project ideas have been submitted. We have complete projects now up and running, including materials, electronics, 3D printed parts, CAD files, and instructions on how to assemble and build these components and these solutions. But the problems go far beyond the pandemic. We’re not just proud to be working with the United Nations and UNICEF, but with companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Avnet, Arm, Nvidia, NXP, and others, that came together to support this contest.

Are there other projects you, personally, are just as excited about?
We run a lot of contests on a monthly basis and some of them have been really, really interesting. One that I love the most involved the Amazon Alexa device. Some of the very first skills that were developed for the Alexa ecosystem came from the Hackster.io community.
Another super-interesting design challenge was conducted with a division of GE that does smart home lighting systems that enable you to switch lights on and off through voice control. They wanted to see what else you could do with lights so they set up a design challenge to ask developers to build an end product they can actually sell and make something special of it. The winning design, out of hundreds submitted, came from our community and the developer got a lot of money for it. You can buy it to-day in stores. It is called the GE Soul Light and, ironically, Alexa was integrated into it. It’s a beautiful design and we are really proud that a company like GE would come to Hackster to crowdsource ideas.

Okay, so you bring developers together and help them create exciting new project ideas. But surely mistakes are also made. How do you help developers avoid them?
Mistakes are part of the learning process, so our developers are free to make mistakes on Hackster.io. We have message boards where we help them answer questions. We have webinars on a weekly basis where they get to ask questions and engage in Q&A with developers from headquarters of large companies that build products. And guess what, big companies make mistakes, too, and we often see companies releasing products first to the Hackster community to find errors in their firmware, in the instructions, or in the documentation. The big companies get feed-back and are able to fix either the product itself or just some part of the technology. The faster you help people learn and shorten the feed-back, the better the products get.

Your mantra is “share, learn, and earn.” In fact, many start-ups aren’t that good at the earning part. They’re techies. They’re in it for the fun of creating new stuff – but first, they need to make money, don’t they?
I’ve learned that the sooner you figure out your business model, the better. Of course, not all of us are going to become the next Google or Facebook but, even so, you need to figure out how to create revenue fast because you can’t just keep going through round after round of fundraising. Yes, start-ups are important to job creation but people need to take profitability seriously. The business model has to be baked in early, not some-time later on.

You once said that tech is a form of art. Could you explain?
Sure. In tech creation there’s a lot of fluidity, while in engineering, on the other hand, you need to be extremely precise. Ideation, the stage where you think hard and find out what it is you want to build, is truly more of an artistic process. You have to imagine and understand what something will look like, how it will feel to the human touch. There are lots of things [in tech creation] that are very abstract and much closer to the art world than to the engineering world. Later, during the execution, it’s all about precision and excellence. Steve Jobs was famous for saying that tech is the intersection between the humanities and science and that you have to blend both to really get great products. He was right. You have to have the artistry baked into a product before you can design and build it as an engineer.

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