Is Becky Stern an artist or engineer or designer? At Adafruit Industries, it’s all of the above. As Director of Wearable Electronics, Becky combines her DIY skills with crafting talents to build cool gizmos that utilise all sorts of electronic components.
You might recognise Becky from her work at MAKE, her YouTube videos, or her Adafruit tutorials, where she shows how to make everything from RFID rings to pixel hearts. How does Becky pull it all off? We caught up with her to learn about Becky’s favourite gear and work habits.
Location: Work in west SoHo, NYC, live in Brooklyn
Current Gig: Director of Wearable Electronics, Adafruit
One word that best describes how you work: Speedboat
Current mobile device: Nexus 4 running CyanogenMod
Current computer: 27-inch iMac
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
- Arduino IDE — I use this software every day to prototype new wearable electronics projects run by the Adafruit FLORA or GEMMA. It’s a code editor that communicates with the microcontroller boards, and we’ve made our own mods to it for working with our more eccentric hardware.
- Final Cut Pro X — I’m a recent convert from Final Cut Pro 7. I use Final Cut to edit my weekly wearables tutorial videos!
- Manfrotto Magic Arm — I use this to cantilever my camera over my desk for straight-down shots in build videos.
- Hakko soldering iron — I use it every day to put together electronics like my LED birthday tiara, and one of my teammates put googly eyes on it.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I am the wearables department — I sit at an L-shaped desk with lots of bins and drawers for small parts. One part of the L is reserved for filming (with my big daylight-balanced softbox overhead), and I also have another table for large projects. I use a lot of hand tools and so have a caddy for those, and a few dress forms for developing new projects. Here’s a video walk through:
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Sometimes I let my scattered brain just do its thing, bouncing from small task to small task. Learning to recognise and embrace these spurts of intense ADHD-like behaviour has helped me harness their speed and flow. On the flipside, I can get lost in creative projects and so I set timers to remind me to take breaks and switch tasks to stay on-schedule.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
My small Moleskine notebook — I write a new todo list each day, and really enjoy the sensation of crossing things off! I do have a “todo” Gmail label, from which I’ll work when making blog posts or other computer tasks. But the paper helps me visually organise my day and be sure something major doesn’t slip through the cracks.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
My camera! Without it, I couldn’t share my wearable electronics projects with the wide wide internet. It’s a Nikon D5100.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
Doing my nails — I don’t fuss with traditional polish, but go straight for the indestructible and long-lasting UV gel. My hands get a lot of screen time and so it’s always fun to play around with colour gradients and other nail art. Sometimes I call it “structural nail polish” since it lets me open infinite pop-top cans and scrape at circuits all day long.
What do you listen to while you work?
What are you currently reading?
Accelerando by Charles Stross.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m a loud introvert. I like collaborating and socializing but need significant alone time to recharge.
What’s your sleep routine like?
I’d say I’m somewhere in between a night owl and early riser. I definitely work better in the AM/early afternoon, but can go down a web hole and not come out until 2am. I use my phone’s alarm on a gentle ringer as an alarm clock — I hate the idea of being jarred awake by a buzzer or “nagtech” evasive alarm clock. Who wants to start their day angry?
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Use the right tool for the job (requires planning ahead!).
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.