A somewhat tired Kelsey backpacking in Iceland
How did you get involved with the Tessel Project?
I wasn’t involved much in microcontrollers, or even programming, before Tessel. I’d worked with both a bit in college, but it wasn’t a guiding passion for me.
The summer after I graduated, I was living with several friends, including the team of three that was founding Technical Machine to build Tessel.
I had a work-from-home contracting job at the time. Our apartment had no air conditioning, and Boston was really, really hot that summer. So I started showing up at Technical Machine’s office space, and grew interested in the proposition: how do you get people who have no idea what they are doing to try hardware – and not fail? How do you take the world of the Internet – obviously useful, but traditionally accessed via screens (pretty limiting and draining, in my opinion) – and better hook it up to the real world and to physical space?
Within about a month of the company’s founding, I was showing up to work every day, writing about the project, getting more into programming, and getting involved.
As the project developed, I adopted an “I fight for the user” mindset and guided product development as Director of Community.
Kelsey Breseman speaking at OSCON 2016: “How to build a product when nobody’s getting paid”
When we transitioned to open governance as the Tessel Project, I put together a lot of our new structure and rules and became one of the four founding Steering Committee members. Together, we (now five of us) run the project.
What do you like best about being involved with Tessel?
It has been exciting to watch this project and community grow.
I travel around the world giving workshops on Tessel, and I love that moment, every time, when a person’s face lights up.
“Oh my gosh!” they say. “It did something! I made it do something!”
Most of the people I teach Tessel to are people who have never had a success with hardware before. Sometimes, I’m also teaching them to code– that’s a lot of fun.
Kelsey Breseman live coding on Tessel 2 at NodeConf Oslo 2016
The other piece that I love is building connections between people– inspiring them to work on things together.
Community is powerful. If I were to take on the whole of the Tessel project by myself, it would die pretty quickly. But if I can inspire a few people to work with me on it, we can get a lot done.
One of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to keep a distributed team inspired and engaged. Our team members mostly haven’t met each other!
It’s an ongoing social experiment for me to create tools and practices that make people want to keep coming back.
Kelsey Breseman and Flaki (István Szmozsánszky) discussing Tessel at RuhrJS
I absolutely love when I go off in the woods for a few days, come back to the internet, and discover that someone I’ve never met or heard of has started working on one of our repos. Or, when community members ask support questions, and other community members respond without anyone from the official Team being involved. That feels like community success.
Outside of Tessel, what are you working on right now?
I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change recently: reading books and articles on the subject, trying to wrap my head around all the issues at play and the opportunities they create. I’m blogging about my thoughts and taking copious notes, both as a way to help me think.
The plan is to start a company in this space, though I’m not sure yet of the exact proposition. Climate change is going to require a lot of people to work hard on interesting new problems. I would like to be involved in connecting smart people to interesting, meaningful problems.
Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved with the Tessel Project?
Jump in with both feet. We’ll catch you.
People are sometimes nervous to start contributing to the Tessel Project. By its very nature, it gets people from one field interested in another field they don’t know much about (web, hardware, and vice versa).
My advice: contribute even if you feel completely unqualified. We have a number of open starter issues.
This is how you learn. It’s hard. You feel stupid. You put yourself out there on the internet. But we’re here, and we want to help you.
Sometimes, what you need is a good project to learn on. Tessel was that project for me, and I hope it can be for you, too.