We are going to talk about hacking and making today. It’s hacking in a general sense. It’s a definition. Broadly used hacking is the way we’re talking about it today; involved in everything from real hackers in makerspaces to even also incubator-level hacking with software and life hacking. Anil Pattni who I got to meet at the FREECon, the Freelance Conference in Austin, Texas which we went to. It was so interesting to meet him. It was ironic because he started doing some of the first OC Maker Faire stuff here in Orange County, California and yet we met him in Austin, Texas which is where he is now. It was like, “How did we not meet you before?” that kind of thing.
He’s been running a lot of Meetups. He did 200 Meetups. They were one of the first hacker Maker Faire things that happened on MeetUp.com. Those really all happened in Southern California. They happened all in Orange County here. I thought it was so interesting this idea because we have a friend, Mickey Ackerman, who was one of Tom’s professors and Department Head at that time at Rhode Island School Design. He does something similar but not on this grassroots low level. They do it at a very top level where they do and they get people from diverse walks of life and areas to try to hack a solution to a big societal problem. You want to brainstorm at a large level and that’s the kind of word we’re using hacking for here. That’s the term that we’re using it for. It’s the same thing but at a much smaller level like being able to do it local and freelancers get grouping together. I love the idea of it. I just think it really makes a lot of sense. It seems to go in lots of different directions the way that they’re doing it. It really is not tightly defined. They’re trying to be flexible and allow and help foster people really being innovative especially in startups but also to assist other companies that are not startups in outside the box thinking to achieve some bigger goals, innovation and collaboration together.
Listen to the podcast here:
3D Print Hacking Mastermind with Anil Pattni of TinyHackerHouse
Anil, thanks so much for joining us. We’re so glad we’re getting a chance to have a more in-depth discussion.
Thanks for having me on your show. It’s a real pleasure to be here. I’m really excited for our conversation today.
You’ve been in and around our backyard the whole time. Our paths have crossed at times but we haven’t really had a chance to have a full discussion and really go into what’s going on. Tell us a bit about how you got started.
It’s crazy how we met over here in Austin, Texas but a lot of my efforts in the past have been in Orange County, California, which is where you are. It’s crazy how we met out here but we have so much connection back there. It’s been an exciting journey. Let’s start off in 2010. In 2010, I had this idea that I wanted to start an entrepreneurial community focused on innovation. I started the business incubator. It’s one of the first organizations or the first hackers group on Meetup in Orange County. I started hosting events inviting community members to come in and learn about where is technology going, what are these opportunities in the future, and how do we prepare ourselves for learning these skills to understand, how do we find work in the future.
That was called OC Hackerz. We can’t believe we didn’t find that on Meetup before.
When I first started that group, there are a lot of connotations around hackers. I started getting request about, “I’m trying to spy on my wife. I’m trying to find out this information.” I was like, “That’s not what we do here.” There’s a whole gamut of different types of hackers. There are a lot of mis-connotations around hacking culture. Even in the government you hear that it’s about breaking into systems and other hackers, which are infiltrating systems. They’re trying to get information one type or another. Then there’s this other mentality that, “Hackers at hackathons are about developers and technology people working on a project.” I think that’s a mainstream concept but I feel the more modern hackers group that I was trying to advocate for around is universal. It’s a space where hacking is really more of a mentality and this mentality is, “How do we reverse engineer problems to find better solutions?” That’s a mentality that you can apply to everything and that is the core fundamentals of the hacking culture that I grew up in. I was applying that into a societal way around technology, around community, around marketing, around outreach, around the grassroots effort to really understand how do we create momentum from the resources that we have available to us. That became this hypothesis of starting this community-driven experiment and that was 200 Meetups of effort.
That’s really interesting because you’re running an intersection between engineers, designers, makers, coders. It’s running in that intersection between them all and how we can use all of those talents together to hack innovation and move society forward.
It is. This specific community is about everybody collaborating together. There’s this mentality that being relevant in the future is about, when you go to educational institutions, they tell you that they will prepare you for being an expert in a specific field. The higher and higher up you climb that ladder, the more specialized you become until you become an industry expert in that space. I feel that’s not really how the world works. That’s not how opportunities work. I feel in the future we’re going to value this generalist mentality. If you know a little bit about a lot of different areas then you can be more valuable as an asset to the team that you’re working with. That’s what I love about hackathons because building this community, every idea that you have, that you look at has three different prongs. One is a business aspect, one is marketing and one is technology. You need those three ingredients on every team to be able to move forward with an idea and actually produce something.
That’s the big challenge that we all face is how do we integrate all these aspects into our problem or a potential solution to actually convey that and get traction in supply of this entrepreneurial journey of bringing it to surface, getting it off the ground, and getting airborne. That’s what I love about this whole hackathon thing which is it allows us to experiment and relearn so much more about all these roles that we’re not familiar with than you would in any other environment. When you look at corporations like Google, Apple, a lot of the best, most successful companies in the world, they have this type of a culture. Their employees actively participate in these type of activities to stay ahead of their game so that they can understand which new platforms are out there, which new database systems are out there. All of the other resources that they need to be able to stay and develop rapidly and add value and predict what the future is going to be like. All of these resources are something that they strive to continuously learn about and this is a place where they can do it.
We met at a freelancer’s conference again and that’s how we hooked up. As you’re talking about that, what really occurs to us is at what a disadvantage it is that freelancers are because we’re isolated or individuals or small businesses are isolated in your ability to collaborate like that. You are also probably for most of them isolated from the ability to have the chance to do some advanced research or have access to that advanced research where you’re exploring some new technology because either you don’t have the time or you don’t have the money. You created an environment in which you don’t have to have all of that because there are lots of people together. Each one can have a small piece of that and you still get the information.
I’ve been a big fan of freelancing. When I was running the workshops and events at OC Hackerz over there, I actually got a side gig working for Elance and teaching these workshops specifically for their freelancing platform. Elance was one of the largest freelancing platforms in the world. They ended up merging with oDesk and then they went through this acquisition and now it’s called Upwork. In that acquisition, my career has shifted but it was a great experience and I learned so much about freelancing that I wasn’t aware of before. That just became this great resource that now I have access to whenever I have a problem and I’m searching for resources or expertise or any individual that has elements of a problem that I’m trying to solve whether it’s doing 3D modelling, whether it’s writing copy, whether it’s doing social media. These are all resources that are all out there that we can leverage. I feel traditionally, we have this mentality that opportunities are local and when the economy and everything else is struggling, we got to stay locked into this space but that’s not really the case. We have to adjust with the times and we have to always be thinking globally. We have to be learning and understanding about how different cultures and countries are surviving and navigating through these new opportunities too. Freelancing is one way that you can stay ahead of the curve and understand how these shifts are occurring and prepare yourself for these opportunities so that you can’t just survive but thrive. It’s super exciting. There’s infinite possibility.
The other reason I wanted to integrate it into the OC Hackerz incubator was every startup has this challenge. It’s trying to get an idea off the ground with a limited amount of resources and sometimes the hardest resource to find is a technical co-founder because every single potential CTO gets matched up by a corporation that’s willing to pay seven figures, some ridiculous salary that startups can’t really compete in. How do you get your technology component addressed? How do you compete with that? Freelancing became this avenue and a resource that I brought in into to the community to help people keep moving forward with their ideas and get to a point where they can raise funding and then actually hire somebody full-time to go continuing building their innovative startups. That was a really exciting time that everybody in the community got to work with freelancers in my workshops. It was really great to see what kind of momentum they got from leveraging that resource.
That really bring something to mind. It certainly makes sense that the kinds of people that you’re trying to help and work with are really a perfect fit for startups because startups are very flexible. They don’t have a lot of systems, policies and procedures established and that’s where companies are very innovative. They need to be in order to carve their niche in the world. One of the ways startups do that is by thinking outside of the box and doing things differently when a bigger company is set in their ways. You talked about the best companies embrace innovation and all the stuff. You mentioned Apple and Google and certainly those are I would say different companies to work for. They happen to be some of the biggest now in the US but at some point, in order to get really big, they have to become more bureaucratic. They have to have systems in place and policies that inherently I think hurt innovation. Do you experience any of that? Are you finding that the people that you work with and that you are trying to help move forward and cultivate end up not being a good fit at times for bigger corporations that might be offering that big salary? What do you have to say about that?
It is a big challenge that organizations fit at different level space. How do we manage this bureaucracy? What it comes down to is this cultural shift. Traditionally, when you think of corporations, every department is segregated and each individual works in their own cubicle. There is independent teams that just work specifically in one area. When you look at the architectural structure of buildings, that’s the way they are. They are just for a mass churn and they’ve always been that way. It’s this repetitive process in a way where you just operate within your wheelhouse of responsibilities and you keep turning that. That’s what we define as work traditionally. However now, companies are really shifting this model. They’re realizing that. This is a design-centric change that’s forced this type of culture to shift because design hasn’t been a fundamental component of the conversation of development.
When you think of traditional software development and how it got built, it was mainly developers making decisions on how information needs to flow and what it’s going to look like. Since the introduction of smartphones, now we have apps and now user interface has become much more relevant, important aspect of it. If it doesn’t look good and it doesn’t feel good and the interactions aren’t right, nobody’s going to use it. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter how well the back end is developed if the frontend isn’t compelling enough for somebody to want to engage with it, then people aren’t going to interact. That’s not going to get as much traction. The introduction of this technology forced every different corporation at different levels to shift their model to being a design-centric process for development and then design became this whole new department that help make decisions and help corporations understand data transparency. They understand the decision making process.
Design is really supposed to be the voice of the customer. That’s really always been our role is to be the advocate. That’s where we operate obviously more on the core product good side and not on the UX side. We’re supposed to be the voice of the consumer advocate. How do people interact with that? How do they want it? Where do they want to buy it? What does it need to be? How does it need to fit their hand if it’s a mobile phone or whatever that is? When you’re talking about business marketing and tech, you have to add a layer of consumer somewhere in there. People too often skip that and too often skip the fact that, “The consumer is just going to tell me what they want, where they want this stuff.” That doesn’t work like that. There has to be a designer interpretation of that because otherwise we get into overcomplicated design, we listen to the wrong people. We have issues as the scope goes with things. We see that happen so often.
You were talking about startups don’t have a CTO level. They don’t have a CDO level either and they need that. They need a design level and they don’t. It’s a very often overlooked place because they think, “I have to go this high, high level of the IDEO, Frog Design.” It’s super expensive. In arguably old school design process because I think that they do have very old school mentalities. Apple has extremely old school. We’re probably one of those weird people who have never owned an iPhone and never will because I fundamentally disagree with the design principles. That’s a weird thing to say but it’s true. It’s a controversial thing to say. The idea is if we integrate design principles from beginning, you’re right if we have these design-centric view we also have a customer-centric view. If we do those two things together, all combining then business, marketing, tech all of those things, we end up with a really powerful startups started out on the right foot. At the end of the day, if your product isn’t bought and used again and again whatever that product is, your app, then it’s not worth it.
I would say that when we think about design, when we think about what that skillset is and what we think about as designers, we think about artist, we think about people that do renderings and they do sketches and they do all kinds of visually esthetic work that we look at and we’re just amazed by. The real role of design, to design at its core is really about understanding psychology. It’s really strange. Psychology is such a broad field that has its own independent expertise or experts in that field that don’t fairly translate to design so people don’t really see that correlation but there is. The fundamental skill that every great and amazing designer has is this psychological ability to understand and asses what is this user behavior like, what is this user’s story or behavior, what is their day-to-day, how do they interact. They think about all these considerations before they even put pen to paper and even sketch out a prototype or anything like that.
That is so true. Reality is that is the role of what is industrial design. We came in a different system of design and we are the design generalist. That was industrial design was designed to be, considerations of ergonomic; physical considerations, psychological considerations, demographic considerations, market considerations. All of those things started to fall under our world as we grew in our businesses over the last 25 years. That’s where we got lucky to begin that generalist realm but there actually is no place for us in the corporate world. There are very few places we should say for us in a startup world. The corporate world you get very few people who operate within that at a satisfied level because you end up becoming a specialist but you end up at a company that all they make are phones at the end of the day. It doesn’t appeal to your sensibility as an industrial designer. You get bored. We did that. We did chairs for three years and we were like, “We never want to design another chair again.” We were great at it. We were doing really well and we get that but you just don’t want to do that after awhile when you’ve been so used to being able to be a generalist about things because you feel like you’re not learning enough. You’re not growing. Let’s shift a little bit because we want to get to 3D printing. Let’s talk about how 3D printing got integrated into that process for you because you’ve really done a lot with makers.
After organizing all of these 200 Meetup events, my favorite events were hackathons and Maker Faires. I hosted five Maker Faires on the West Coast in Orange County. That wasn’t even something I saw on my radar. I was like, “This is interesting.” It just popped up and I was like the more I learned about 3D printing, CNC machines, advanced manufacturing, all the equipment, this whole industrial shift that now all these million dollar machines that traditionally really, really high-end manufacturing companies would have access to now was available to the consumer. 3D printing was the first product that came to market as a consumer product that you can now have in your own. Alongside that, there are so many other machines that are now accessible in the consumer level like laser cutting is becoming a lot more popular too.
Doing the Maker Faire, learning about makerspaces, understanding how that industry is shifting and all of the new types of manufacturing equipment that was consumer level and special and great for prototyping that became a really big interest. In the group learning about CAD software, SOLIDWORKS is one of them. Fusion 360 is one of my favorites right now. It’s brilliant. It’s so practical. There’s so much potential in that. Now, you can even test. If you put X amount of pressure on this part of your product, is it going to crack? Is it going to withstand those forces? It can do that in a simulation, which is pretty amazing for not even having to produce a physical prototype at that point but just being to make all of that estimation before even investing a cent in there.
We want to ask you about the Tiny Hacker House. You’ve got a one acre live-work community space in Austin, Texas that you’re working on and the image of it is really cool. Are you going to put in machines there? Are people going to bring them in? What is the idea with that? Are you going to have what is essentially access to a makerspace equipment at the same time?
Yeah, absolutely. My website is called TinyHackerHouse.com. The goal is the 3D model that you see there can be sent to a 3D printer but is actually designed for a CNC machine. What that does is it just cuts all of the pieces out and it turns into a kit, like an IKEA kit, that you can assemble yourself using tongue and groove joints. It basically builds out a frame. Then there are three other frames that set behind that initial frame and then they are just wads that are connected basically. It’s essentially a 3D jigsaw puzzle that you can just build yourself. In terms of the machines and the equipment, the goal is to build a completely sustainable community, which means any idea, any project that we have that requires X amount of machinery or equipment or whatever it might need, we will integrate that into the community as a resource to support social impact ideas. Some examples of that is agricultural automation. The fundamental thing that all humans need is food and a good health and shelter.
Shelter as we find out in the hurricane. Shelter is important.
We want to automate all of these things. The fundamental effort for this project is we want to bring automation to social impact for problems and challenges and build a community at the intersection to support. Get whatever resources they need and drive those changes so we can all experiment and have access to the fundamental things so that we can all continue to contribute more to the society on a personal level by discovering our passions.
We’re sustaining society and we’re sustaining innovation at the same time.
It’s a hand in hand thing. One doesn’t operate without the other and you better to do both. This will be a really unique place where you can do all of that. You’ll be able to have an affordable home. You’ll be able to have access to other hackers and makers. We’re going to do hackathons and Maker Faires here. The Hackaday Prize which is a $300,000 cash prize challenge in 70 countries around the world, we’re going to host that there. We’ve got a lot of open source hardware innovation projects. We’ve got software projects. We’ve got maker projects, 3D printing, prototyping. A lot of the farming equipment that uses hydroponics and aquaponics is using 3D printed solid objects. We built a twelve foot 3D printer recently. If we 3D printed the cylinder and we can just plant seeds in there, water could go through the center and now you can grow a hundred plants on one cylinder basically. You can plug and play and extract them and move them and shift them. It’s so versatile compared to any other systems that are out there. We have access to all of these types of technologies and products that we are hoping to experiment and test in the community space.
There’s so much going on here. Anil, we thank you so much for joining us today and sharing all of this excitement about it and really for kicking off some hack and maker connections here in our Orange County area. Thank you for that.
Thank you. I want to invite you guys next year if you haven’t been to South by Southwest. It’s one of Austin’s biggest conferences out here. I’m going to be actually hosting a hackathon and a Maker Faire at South by Southwest Create which will be in the downtown Austin area. I’d love to invite you there to come and see all the community that exist out here and around the world because it’s an international event too.
We would love that. Thank you for that invitation.
3D Print Hacking Mastermind – Final Thoughts
As we were listening to Anil here, it got us thinking. We watched this TV special on HBO about Spielberg. It was fascinating. Don’t get us wrong. We love Spielberg movies and we like all of the stuff but to watch a documentary on a director, we weren’t totally engaged in it at first. We didn’t think we were going to be. Five, ten minutes into it I’m like, “This is fascinating.” You should check it out. What it reminds us of is that the big a-ha we had as we were watching it was that this was a group of directors, very young at the time a lot of them and just starting out. We’re talking about George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, and I think even Scorsese and other people too. They all became some of the biggest directors that exist today. All these guys. All of them. It wasn’t just one of them or two of them became. All of them grew up together and really have been special.
We started to think about the success that was happening out of Memphis, Tennessee. At Memphis they had an incubator where Feetz came out of. That great company, Collider came out of. Many, many companies were coming out of that same incubator and all having great success, that this could be the same thing for these guys here because what you’re talking about doing is making a mastermind. That was the real a-ha moment of the Spielberg documentary is that they didn’t call it a mastermind. Over the course of this documentary, which is a two and a half hour at least documentary, it doesn’t just jump out and present itself to you this way. If you watch this whole documentary, you realize these directors were all helping each, reviewing each other’s work, offering critical advice, and collaborating not on set actually filming the movies but off set. They were collaborating, helping each other. What they had created was a mastermind that they all benefited from.
One tidbit we just want to share with our audience that we found fascinating is take George Lucas’s original Star Wars film Episode IV A New Hope. They all reviewed it together. One of the things Brian De Palma commented on is how that movie, you jump right into the story, and he’s like, “There’s no backstory. There’s no setup. I don’t understand really where this is.” He said, “I think at the beginning, you need to have just some text, some words on the screen telling people a little bit of backstory, setting it up so they know when they’re jumping into this some are, “What’s happening?”Otherwise, they’re lost. It’s like a good old fashion set up.” That’s one of the most critical parts that make it such a unique movie at the time. It’s one of the iconic things that happens at the beginning of every true Star Wars film. To realize that that’s something that Lucas didn’t come up with that came out of their incubator, you really do get a little glimpse into how they really did help each other.
We do think that is probably one of the greatest values of people participating in this organization. Anil has really championed this idea and it wouldn’t be that case. We are in this world of entrepreneurship. We like to speak at all entrepreneur conferences and we have all of that. We have this Napoleon Hill-isc background that lots of entrepreneurs have where they all go to the church of Napoleon Hill. The reality is that designers, coders and hackers may not have that exposure. He’s brought some of those great principles of collaboration and connection and masterminding together here to really help bring up the whole community, bring up the innovation level, bring up the solution level, bring up hopefully and in this case is the referral and work level as well and that’s that freelancer model that it gets you more referrals.
That is something that in the art and design world that we always were more accustomed to having collaborative review and critic of each other’s work and things like that. In the arts, that happens more. In the more of the traditional tech space of coding, software, design and other kinds of startups, they’re more introverted. That is something that incubators have tried to do is to help cultivate what are some brilliant concepts, come together and break apart, and help move them along by collaborating. It still doesn’t happen enough. There’s a big need for what they’re doing here in Austin. We think it’s cool with these little hacker houses. It’s really cool looking. You should check it out at 3DStartPoint.com. You can look at images that we’ll post out on social media @3DStartPoint.
We’d love to hear your comments about great mastermind groups you’ve been in or hackathons you’ve attended and please let us know about ones that are going out in your area. We’d love to it. We don’t know if you remember this, but we have a directory of events on 3D Start Point and it’s absolutely free to post up your event there. You just have to provide some information. There’s a form to fill out or something like that as you just put it in there. Our team will review it and make sure that all the connections are right and they’ll just put it on the calendar. It’s a good way to get exposure for your event as well. If you’ve got a mastermind group and you think you have a different take on it, let us know and maybe we’d interview you for a future episode. Just reach on out.
This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
- Anil Pattni
- OC Maker Faire
- Maker Faire
- Mickey Ackerman
- OC Hackerz
- Frog Design
- Fusion 360
- Hackaday Prize
- South by Southwest
- South by Southwest Create
- TV special on HBO about Spielberg
About Anil Pattni
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