Reaching Out: A Key Habit For Ecosystem Evangelists

Hello, my name is Rex St. John and I spent the last 4 years traveling the world developing global ecosystem at Intel Mashery and Intel’s Makers and Innovators Group. As a result of my work on developer ecosystems, I have created a framework (tactics, habits, philosophies, strategies etc) for effective ecosystem development for hardware, API and cloud services.

I wanted to take a moment here share a habit that I believe every ecosystem development manager and technical evangelist should have in order to achieve maximum success in their job. Once you learn to do this and ingrain the habit on yourself, you are going to see your ecosystem development and evangelism results skyrocket!

The Habit Of Reaching Out

Ecosystem development managers and evangelists are very similar to CEOs: Their #1 job is recruiting the top talent in the industry, from all around the globe to their particular platform. As a result, great ecosystem managers should always looking to find and establish communications with the best they can get. The reason? Because you need the very best individuals and teams from around the world to use your platform so you can grow, improve and win! 

There is, however, one catch before you can achieve ecosystem nirvana: The thing that stops you from locating and developing these partners is…drum roll not having a systematic habit for automatically finding and reaching out to high-value partners on an ongoing basis! And that is what this article is here to help you learn how to do!

A few years ago, I ran across a very interesting platform extension for the Intel Edison from a new company who had posted their draft designs on Twitter. Not knowing what to do with this particular developer, I showed the project to my manager at the time (Delyn Simons of Intel Mashery). Her response? “Reach out and talk to them!”  Four years later, this particular developer was among the most productive and valuable members of the Intel Edison ecosystem and ultimately went on to produce products which made them the #1 seller of the platform in their particular geographic region.

In my experience, 85% of the time that I have located a developer, partner or small team who I considered to be in the top 5% of the industry, I found that I was the only person from any company that partner was talking with directly. Let me repeat this jaw-dropping statistic: Most of the very top talent out there in the wild has little, if any, direct internal support, relationship or contact with the hardware, software or cloud platform companies on which they rely. 

Once you realize the extreme leverage and value a single top partner can deliver to your organization, this statistic becomes even more fascinating. I have seen situations where a single partner, even a very small team, was absolutely critical to the success of a platform or plugged a gap which was impossible for anyone else to fill. I have seen a small team, with one project, deliver millions of dollars in value to other customers in the space of a few months for only a few thousand dollars in direct spend.

All that power and more can be yours for free…but only if you reach out. 
[Read more…]

Meet The Inventors, The Engine Of The Maker Movement

IMG_0681

The Maturing Maker Movement

Starting in the mid-2000’s, the Maker Movement swept across the globe powered by an onrush of new, cheaper, more useable hardware and software tools. Within the span of a  few years, students, musicians, artists and designers flocked to a growing number of Maker Faires scattered across the world.

The hype around Makers was (and still is) extreme. Just as the Homebrew Computing Club helped launch the age of personal computing, it was reasoned that the Maker Movement would launch the “Next Big Thing” in the form of a raft of next-generation tech companies. Specifically, it was expected that Internet of Things companies (who produce value by linking and orchestrating devices) would rain from the sky as a result of the Maker Movement…but no one was quite sure how that would happen.

The good news is that the formation of a new class of startup is exactly what is happening. However the way it is happening differs from what many industry observers have anticipated. The initial emphasis on “The Internet of Things” has caused confusion as to the true heart of the economic engine which drives the Maker Movement – A segment of users I am going to describe as “The Inventors.” While the Internet of Things is of major importance, it is significantly less interesting to Inventors though they frequently are the ones who are actually implementing it.

Internet of Things-focused companies such as Electric Imp and Particle have certainly spawned from the Maker Movement, but only as a small sub-section. To understand what is really going on (and where extended economic opportunities lie for many tech companies), we need to look more closely at Inventors and try to understand their motivations.

IMG_0997

Meet The Inventors

Makers tend to be artists, designers, students and musicians who have been enabled to build technical projects by advancements in user (or developer) experience. Inventors tend to be industry-quality professionals possessing pro-level skills in areas such as hardware, industrial design or software. Inventors use these pro-level skills to build products specifically for Makers.  These inventions can encompass new musical instruments, 3D printers, home laser-cutters, drone prototyping platforms, paper craft, small programmable robots and more.

Their goal? Making technology accessible and useable to a broader range of creative people. Don’t look too closely for “adding internet to things” as a core motivator, it isn’t there.

As a result of their skills and motiviations, Inventors are the ones “laying down tracks” in front of the Maker Movement, helping to enable creative projects in new domains to a wider audience than ever before. If there is a complex technology which can remotely be used to make art or music, Inventors strive to make it more useable, widely available and cheaper. If Makers are musicians, Inventors are the ones building new drum machines and synthesizers to help Makers practice their art.

Adding internet to things is often a byproduct, but not the focus, of these Inventors and it is a mistake to talk to them as though it were.

IMG_1006

Inventors Don’t Really Care About The Internet Of Things

Inventor’s motivation is not to connect things to the cloud or make more things smart – This can be an area of confusion for industry observers. The motivations of Inventors are much more fundamental and human than making money or lowering cost – Inventors seek to educate and empower Maker creativity.

Many of the Inventors I have met could walk into Google and get hired on the spot as Sr. Engineers (or better) but they never will – they are too engrossed in their mission of making the world of technology more useable to stop what they are doing.

Chances are, if you start talking with an Inventor about “The Internet of Things,” they will become bored and wander off mid-sentence. However, this is exactly the language which is too often used to attempt to entice Inventors to use a variety of embedded systems and other professional tools and hardware gadgets.

Marketing To Inventors

If you are going to market technology to Inventors, it is important talk about the opportunity to make technology more accessible to more people. Tell stories about what can be done with your technology by Makers, not how it can save cost. If internet connectivity helps Inventors to serve the Maker Movement, they will add it – otherwise connectivity for it’s own sake is not their area of interest.

Examples Of Inventors

I can’t name them all, there are too many, but here are a few examples of the types of people I am talking about (pro-skilled developers targeting Makers as a group):

  • Dronesmith.io
    • How they enable Makers: Dronesmith Luci lets developers build their own drone solutions.
  • Rick Waldron, Bocoup & Johnny-Five
    • How they enable Makers: Builds the Johnny-Five JS library to allow web developers to create robots
  • DF Robot, Seeed Studio, Adafruit, SparkFun, Tektye, Pololu, RobotShop
    • How they enable Makers: Create a huge variety of robotics platforms, hobby boards, sensors to make it easy to build hardware projects
  • The Hybrid Group
    • How they enable Makers: Product Cylon, Artoo, Gobot to let developers program hardware with the language of their choice
  •  OSH Park, Upverter, CircuitHub
    • How they enable Makers: Allow rapid prototyping and turn around of custom hardware components
  • DJ Hardrich, DJ Qbert, DJ Yoga Frog and the Thud Rumble crew
    • How they enable Makers: Produce custom music equipment for DJs and other electronics musicians
  • Particle
    • How they enable Makers: Provide various products and hobby boards which can be used either to prototype or to go to market. This is one company that does span into the Internet of Things quite directly.
  • Glowforge
    • How they enable Makers: Provide a much cheaper at-home laser cutter machine which can be used by any maker for $2,000

Final Thoughts

I hope this has helped clarified how and where Makers and the Internet of Things intersect and the fundamental motivations of the players involved. Inventors are an extremely important class of Maker and require a different approach than what is often being used. In short: There is more to the future than the Internet of Things!

Build Your Own Hacklebox

IMG_0911In the last two years I supported something like 50-60 hackathons and developer workshops. Many of these were hardware focused.

It became abundantly clear that students can’t do much with just a device – they need soldering irons, pin wire, breadboards, tape, scissors and all manner of other supplies in order to actually build something. These items are not always present at many events.

Thus the idea of a rolling hacklebox was born.

IMG_0888

We (Intel Mashery DEVO, at the time) gathered some feedback, observed the common types of projects that get built and distilled it into this Google spreadsheet. Feel free to use this to build your own rolling hackathon solution for hardware events.

I broke out all the costs, suggested counts of devices and embedded order links from Amazon to make it easy to stock up. The Keter Master Pro (pictured) happens to be quite nice as a rolling chest for these events. It doesn’t survive airplanes very well.

I tried to pick supplies that are on the cheap side.

IMG_0909

Sensors and Sensor Kits

A good approach is to pick a sensor format such as Seeed Studio Grove (a simple format for pluggable sensors) and lend people Grove shields. You can then provide a wide library of sensors for checkout during the event if people want them. These sensors are generally too expensive to give away, so I suggest appointing a sensor librarian to track and recover everything.

Sensors tend to be useful between hackathons, other components like pin wire and LEDs are going to get chewed up and you aren’t going to want them back. Some venues will complain about smoke from soldering and not allow it.

Hardware Platforms

This is too broad a topic to cover in great detail, there are new boards coming out daily.

The Arduino 101 ($30) is pretty sweet, not just saying the because I work on it at Intel MIG. I like that it has BLE and Gyro / Accelerometer by default. This particular combination of basic functionality combined with Arduino Uno compatibility will be compelling for many students.

Anything that requires WiFi is going to have problems at most public events. There are often barriers to overcome (navigating HTML redirects, authentication, isolation mode etc).

Raspberry Pi and other HDMI-capable devices – People are going to want keyboards, mice, monitors – that is hard to support at an event with many people unless you just run in headless mode.

The LightBlue Bean+ is likely a great platform for hackathons and workshops. Most devices from Particle.io should be pretty good. RedBearLab and mBientLab have devices which are promising as well.

The more common requests (with some examples) from students:

  • Flex sensors  (1) (2) -> Good for building glove projects, darn expensive to give to people
  • Light sensors  (1) (2) -> Can be used as a primitive motion sensor also
  • Proximity sensors (1) -> Detect presence of objects
  • PIR / Motion Sensors (1) -> Lots of requests for these to use in home security projects
  • Potentiometers (i.e. knobs) (1) -> General control of some analog actuator
  • Buttons  (1) (2) -> A must, lots and lots of uses
  • Lots of LEDs, multi-color as well as single color (1)
  • Battery power packs, LiPos, 9v batteries (or USB battery sticks) -> A must for wearables, USB battery sticks are wonderful for hackathons
  • 9v Barrel Jack Connectors for 9v batteries (1)
  • Alcohol sensors (1) -> College students go nuts with these things with projects
  • Accelerometer / gyros (1) -> Endless requests for these, very popular
  • Hall sensors (magnetic) (1) -> Detect a gate opening and closing, or maybe if a key or object is picked up
  • Crash Sensor (1) -> Car or skateboard, snowboard crashes, good for wearables
  • LED strips are very popular, especially the NeoPixel
  • There are other fun sensors out there such as UV,  moisture / humidity, flame, dust, gravity and gas
  • Servo motors (1) -> People build really simple things like a box that opens and closes to hide a key to prevent a drunk driver kind of thing
  • Brushless DC motors aka stepper motors (1) -> Robots, things which require stopping the motor at a specific angle
  • Motor driver shields (1) -> Rovers and other similar robots, need wheels though

Where to get kits

Here is the spreadsheet with all the buy links and costs: Check out the open source hacklebox manifest.

Thanks to Martin Kronberg, Steven Xing, Wai Lun Poon, Cheston Contaoi, Dan Holmlund, Monica Houston for providing feedback and suggestions to this list.

IBM Bluemix Commercial IoT Workshop #2

Last week I executed on the second (and final, as an evangelist) Industrial Internet of Things Workshop focusing on Wind River Linux, Helix Device Cloud, Intel Edison (IoTDevKit) and our Moon Island Gateways. 40 IIOT developers selected from a list of locals were in attendance. Our projection surface was a bed sheet but hey, sometimes you just have to roll with things.

Seeking Inflection Points: My new role at Intel

makers

Starting tomorrow I will be taking on the position of “Inventor Platform Manager, Strategic Partners” at Intel’s New Technology Group (focusing on Makers and Innovators). In this role, I will be working with a broad ecosystem of cloud partners (Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google etc), developers, makers and hardware accelerators to increase the usability and adoption of Intel’s maker products such as Intel Edison, Intel Curie, the Arduino 101 (and future devices).

Looking forward to meeting the next generation of makers, couldn’t be more excited to be in this role within Intel at this time.

Amazon re:Invent 2015: IoT and Mobile Bootcamp

I have been working with the folks at Amazon on a series of workshops and bootcamps over the last six months, was invited to Amazon re:Invent 2015 to represent Intel at the day 1 and 2 bootcamps focusing on IoT and Intel Edison. 75 developers, bluetooth, WiFi, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Kinesis, Amazon SQS and Cognito.

Goodbye IDF 2015

IDF this year was a massive amount of work but well worth the effort.

LA Roadshow

Wonderful hackathon and workshops in Santa Monica, LA.

What the Hack! Hardware hackathon discussion with Jeremy Foster

Thanks so much to Jeremy Foster from Microsoft for spending an hour with Intel to discuss the topic of hardware hackathons. We had a great exchange of ideas about the future of Internet of Things and the importance of DX for hardware and software developers!

Intel Edison and Node.js Workshop @ Vulcan Inc

I was invited by our Intel innovation manager Shashi Jain to assist in conducting a workshop on the topic of Node.js (specifically, Johnny-Five) and Intel Edison at Vulcan Inc.

I debuted a new workshop format, the video deck. I also showed off a new variant overview deck on the topic of the Internet of Things.

Here are a few highlights from Twitter.