Mike Szczys, Hackaday Managing Editor

Hackaday - a showcase for inventive engineering hacks

Hacking is an art form, the team behind Hackaday.com believes. Launched back in 2004, the founders decided the term hacking had been soured in the minds of the public and wanted to reclaim it.

In their view, hacking is using something in a way that was not intended and since then the website has showcased countless inventive repurposes created by engineers and engineering enthusiasts. “It started as a way to feature ‘hacks’; things people were building in their basements and garages. We started out with one article per day, which is where the name Hack-A-Day came from, but quickly grew from there,” explains Mike Szczys, Hackaday managing editor.

Hackaday aims to promote a free and open exchange of ideas and information and educates people who are learning the art of the hack and encourages them to show off their own projects. A community quickly grew up with the site and in 2014 it launched Hackaday.io, a dedicated community platform. Since then it has grown to over 120,000 users with more than 10,000 projects being shown off on the site.

“It’s a place to post your own builds, find others to collaborate with, and connect with others through live chat,” explains Szczys, an orchestra musician by night who always loved electronics and set about learning as much as he could about designing circuits and programming microcontrollers. He says he started off with BEAM robot builds and quickly moved into embedded systems.

The biographies of the rest of the team make equally interesting reading. Community editor Adam Fabio graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Stony Brook University in New York, where he was founder member of the Stony Brook robot design team and designed six-legged robots which took part in a walking machine decathlon. His day job is designing embedded software for radar and air traffic control systems but also has a personal site called The Renaissance Engineer.

Meanwhile, contributing editor Elliot Williams is described on the site as the kind of guy who uses a 1990s five-inch hard drive platter as a scroll wheel. After teaching econometrics, he turned writer and is author of 'Make: AVR Programming, Learning to Write Software for Hardware'. These are just some of characters who make up the Hackaday team.

For those visiting Hackaday for the first time, Szczys advises looking around at what people are building and pick something to learn and give it a try.

“Hands-on is the best way to truly understand difficult concepts,” he says. “Since the beginning, the conversations that are sparked by each article on Hackaday.com are an excellent place to get inspiration for your next build, and to discuss current technology.”

Szczys has no shortage of answers when asked about some of the best builds he has seen. “I like the simple elegance of a hack like soldering an inductor onto a microcontroller to create an RFID tag. At first glance it may not be that impressive, but when you realise that the protection diodes on the I/O pins make it possible to power the chip while receiving data, it gets a lot more impressive. That’s without even discussing the underlying software that makes this work,” he says.

Meanwhile on the opposite end of the scale, he cites the home-built Farnsworth Fusor, which is nuclear fusion built in someone’s home.

“What an incredible feat of self-learning! To accomplish something like this you need to understand the principles and have the skills to fabricate the machine.”

He stresses the importance of documenting your work having seen many “amazing builds” that have never made it to the front page because the creator didn’t take any pictures nor wrote his story or indeed captured it on video.

This shouldn’t be seen as “showing off” he says and can also serve as a reminder for future projects you may find yourself working on.

“I also think that documenting your personal projects is a great way to show your skills to future employers. Being able to write at a high level about what you do is a skill often needed in the engineering fields.”

There is no typical profile of a Hackaday contributor with the audience large and diverse.

“Some got into electronics decades ago as ham radio operators, others just blinked their first LED this year,” says Szczys. “There is a big 3D printing audience, retrocomputing is big, machining and CNC builds are also quite popular. And just about everything these days involves some level of coding. If it’s about engineering, we’re excited to see the next clever hack.”

And as a final word of advice to those interested in becoming part of the community, he offers these guiding principles: “Don’t buy it, build it. Don't trash it, repair it. You can get yourself into a lot of adventures adhering to these rules.”

Visit Hackaday at hackaday.com.

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