Ada Lovelace Day: Revisiting Limor Fried

Last year, for Ada Lovelace Day, I wrote a post about why I admire Limor Fried, the founder and CEO of Adafruit Industries. This year, I thought I’d talk about Limor again, both because she is such a great example of the engineer/entrepreneur, and because she’s working in an emerging area that still isn’t being taken as seriously as it ought to be by technology industry pundits.
(Why were none of the tech journalists who swarmed Techcrunch Disrupt not at the Open Source Hardware Summit, which, to be honest, represents the forefront of something far more disruptive!)

I visited Limor and her partner in crime, Make: editor Phil Torrone, at their New York offices earlier this week. Here are some great tidbits from our conversation:

  • “I try everything, so when we use it, it’s really the best.” Limor talked about her design choices: how she tried 40 different resistors (which most people would consider a completely fungible, throwaway component), how she chose a particular model of LED for a kit because the color coded cables were really pleasing, how she is, as PT described her, “an EE (Electrical Engineer) with attitude.” PT added, “People start to think ‘If it isn’t the one ladyada uses, it must be crap.'”
  • Limor “narrates her work”, to use Dave Winer’s great description of the function of business blogging. She blogs, she writes documentation, she does video tutorials, so people understand her design choices, and become engaged with her in a kind of shared headspace, a lightweight virtual enterprise. She has a strong curation message that comes out even in the product descriptions in the Adafruit catalog – why she picked various parts – not just cost, sometimes esthetics, overall value.
  • Open source hardware is key to what she does; other people building on her work, even if sometimes this enables competitors. This value runs through everything Adafruit does, and drives strategy and decision making.

In this moment of homage to the memory of Steve Jobs, and to his singular product vision, which sprang from deep conviction and a sense of beauty, it’s worth noting how conviction and values can drive success in any business.
As Jobs said in a 2000 Fortune Magazine interview (as quoted by the New York Times today):

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”

It’s the small things that Limor does, the things that spring from who she is and what she cares about and her willingness to shape the products and her business around those things, that make her such a good role model.

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  • You are setting a great example for other men (and women) to publicly admire and give credit to a woman in tech (eng, math, science).

    We should do it more than one day a year.

  • Your aside on TechCrunch Disrupt is spot-on. They were planning to hold an open hardware panel at TCDisrupt, but planned it for the day that many of the SF area open hardware community were traveling to the Open Hardware Summit. I have no idea if that panel even happened, and I didn’t meet any journalists at the Summit.

  • Limor Fried is great, I have never seen such system and I really enjoy it! And I agree that we should give credit to special people more than one day in a year!

  • ladyada is incredibly awesome and a fantastic inspiration!!! :)

  • Tim

    Thats a low blow comparing her to Jobs. Ladyada deserves better than that.

  • Great writeup! Limor Fried is truly an inspiration, and her contributions toward the open source hardware and software movement have definitely influenced my views. Imagine the innovations possible if every piece of hardware could be tinkered with and improved!

  • Special and great people are recognized by many of us. I’ve checked her site and it is great, lots of infos, lots of cool stuff and good prices. Limor is indeed an inspiration for many people.