• Evan's Summer Internship Farewell

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    8/18/2014– Evan Simpson

    It feels like just last week that Jon turned to me in the car and asked, “now that you’re halfway through your internship, what do you think so far?” I then pointed out to him that I had only been at Technical Machine for three weeks, and had planned on staying for two more months, so I was nowhere near halfway done. I can’t really blame Jon for thinking I’d been there longer, since I joined during the busiest time of the company’s short history, when Tessel was getting ready to ship for the first time. That being said, I’m finding it hard to believe how quickly the remaining time has gone by.

    The work that I did for Technical Machine was so diverse that there was never a dull moment. I started with small module examples and README fixes, and went on to actually adding functionality to the module libraries, as well as fixing bugs. At one point I was making changes to the runtime, at another, firmware. From hardware debugging and module design to web server development, I’ve certainly had my fill of fun things to work on. Through all of this fun work, though, I did learn quite a bit in just these short months, and I’d like to share some of those things with you now.

    Internships Can be Meaningful Without Gimmicks

    I’ve seen and heard about too many different intern programs that will include things like field trips and fun events to make sure the interns have a good summer. While I do appreciate the intent of these activities, I feel that sometimes it is done as a way of saying “sorry the work isn’t very interesting, let’s take a break and have some fun”. Working at Technical Machine I realized that when the work itself is fun, those other perks and gimmicks don’t really seem all that special. What I wanted out of an internship was to work on something I enjoyed with other people, and to feel like my accomplishments mattered to the company. That’s exactly what I got here at Technical Machine, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

    Hardware Doesn’t Have to be Hard

    I’d say I had a very basic understanding of electronics and hardware development before joining Technical Machine, having only worked with Arduino on a handful of different projects. That quickly changed as I started to make changes to different module libraries. I became much more familiar with how microcontrollers load and run programs, and the different protocols devices use to talk to each other over, with or without wires. The thing that struck me the most was how simple it all was. Most of the devices we use today are all digital electronics, which coming from a background in software development, isn’t nearly as complex as I thought it all was. Putting a “digital-only” constraint on a system means that it can translate very well from the hardware domain into the software domain, where it can be abstracted and automated with ease.

    If you’re a software developer looking to learn more about hardware, I’d definitely recommend reading through some of the source code for some of the Tessel module libraries. They’re all written in JavaScript, so they’re easy to understand, but they also show you how the Tessel is communicating with the different modules. This also leads me straight into my next point…

    Open Source is Great

    Tessel is the first open source project I’ve ever contributed to, and I love it. I think there is a lot of good that can come from open source projects, whether they be based in software, hardware, data, or otherwise. Right now there isn’t nearly as much open source hardware as there is software, but there are still some good resources out there that are invaluable when it comes to starting a new hardware project. There were a few times when I was working on one of our modules and the best resources for debugging certain problems were other open source projects using similar parts.

    Now that I’m all done, it’s time for me to return to school for one more year. I had a great time out here and I plan to continue contributing to the project in my spare time, so expect to see me around on Github.

    See you around,
    - Evan

    P.S. If you’re interested in working or interning for Technical Machine, and want to know more about what it’s like day-to-day, let me know! I’d love to share more of my experiences.

    #evan simpson #internship #summer #summer intern #technical machine #tessel #open source #hardware

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