Limor Fried is an engineer best known for her work at Adafruit Industries, the company she founded in 2005. Adafruit's goals are simple: create the best place online for learning electronics and make the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels.
The company sells all kinds of DIY kits, from phone chargers and learning toys to power-monitoring systems and art robots. Limor has emerged as a leader of the open-source hardware movement and is a goddess (LadyAda, as they call her) among makers. She was the first to encourage hacking Microsoft's Kinect (even offering a $US3000 prize), and she's fiercely passionate about getting kids to explore science and engineering. Limor talked to us about Adafruit's workshop in New York City, her current projects and her best productivity tricks.
Name: Limor Fried Occupation: Engineer Location: New York, NY Current computer: Shuttle computer with Windows XP and Ubuntu Current mobile devices: None One word that best describes how I work: Engineered
What apps/software/tools can't you live without?
I spend most of my time in CadSoft EAGLE. It's my tool of choice for designing the electronics I create at Adafruit Industries. EAGLE is a PCB (printed circuit board) design software that a lot of engineers use to make the circuit boards you see inside many electronic products. I do open-source hardware and release my designs under a Creative Common ShareAlike, Attribution licence so others can improve upon them and learn from the designs. You can check them out on GitHub.
Above: Time lapse video of Limor routing a PCB in EAGLE.
What's your workspace setup like?
My desk is covered (some would say littered) with in-progress designs. It takes a while to get a design right, so I have board revisions, testing jigs, and equipment all over the place. It looks messy, but I could probably find most things blindfolded. I've had this desk for over 10 years, same with the chair that is slightly falling apart, but it's "home". I'm currently working on a few open-source designs for the Rasperry Pi Linux computer.
Pictured above: Limor working at her desk.
What email app do you use?
Mozilla Thunderbird, open-source. I don't like all my mail in the Googles.
What's your favourite time-saving trick?
The biggest time-savers I know are: one, take care of food ahead of time. If you can have food set up for a week, you'll save hours and hours. It's also less expensive, but the time savings is where it's at. Two, live close to work. Commuting can take days and weeks away from productive time or rest time. I happen to live and work in the same place, but if that ever changes, I'll always be walking distance away.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
I use my inbox as my to-do list!
Pictured above: Adafruit's Metcal MX-500
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
I don't have a mobile phone! I designed a mobile phone/GPS/WiFi jammer as part of my thesis at MIT, so I've never wanted or needed a mobile phone. I would say the gadget I can't live without is my Metcal MX-500 soldering station. If you're doing SMT (surface mount technology), you're doing rework. So having the right rework tools will save you tons of time, frustration and money. For my designs I manufacture, I try to aim for about 90 per cent yield off the pick-and-place (or better) and repair the rest for a total aim of 95 per cent or better. I really liked the Weller irons and used them in school but when it came time to stock the Adafruit lab, I decided to go with Metcal MX-500 on the recommendation of a friend. It was a good recommendation! Metcals are really heavy, durable and heat up ultra-fast.
Pictured above: Pick-and-place machine at Adafruit.
What do you listen to while you work?
I usually have Pandora running all day. I have noise-cancelling headphones since I'm in the factory area and the pick-and-place machines and the laser have ambient noise that gets a little annoying to listen to all day. On Pandora I usually listen to gothy music from the '80s and '90s.
What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?
I would say I'm not good at everyday things — that's why I suppose I wanted to be an engineer! It's hard to remember to eat on time, get laundry done, and all the things I know I should, but the temptation of creating something new always wins out.
Pictured above: LEGO Adafruit!
What else should Lifehacker readers know about you?
I'd love to get the help of all the Lifehacker readers in making this hacker LEGO set "real". There was a lot of talk about some recent efforts to make "LEGO for girls", so at Adafruit we made a version of my workshop in LEGO. If we get 10,000 votes, LEGO will likely make this "hackerspace/workshop". It's a mini version of my factory here in NYC complete with many of the tools and equipment I use. It would be really cool for young kids to be able to imagine being an engineer or maker with a LEGO set. Vote here!
We've asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we'll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.