My name is Alison Hughes and I’m a lifelong maker. I love music, art, craft, bikes, and the outdoors, especially when I can bring a nerdy angle to it. Engineering has always been a creative pursuit for me. I used to write audio hardware drivers at Apple but now I’m pretty excited about smaller scale embedded systems, sensors, and automation projects.
What do you make?
Lots of things! I am currently focused on enhancing the backyard farming experience with embedded technology but I also enjoy designing and sewing my own clothes, knitting, and making mixes with my cherished vinyl collection. I’ve built my own electronic instruments and assembled LED adorned housewares like my motion activated LED coffee table. Craft and electronics go together so naturally!
How did you get started making and why?
Since I was itty bitty, making has endlessly entertained and delighted me, especially growing up as an only child without a lot of playmates. My favorite playthings in elementary school were paper, scissors, pencils, yarn, and tape. I made everything I could dream up from these simple materials: animal ears and tail (my best friend was a dog so I wanted to fit in with the canine crowd), fashion eye glasses, lots of drawings, costumes, and games. I learned to program BASIC on an Apple IIe in 3rd grade. As I grew older, I picked up oil painting, sewing, jewelry making, DJing, and all sorts of crafts.
My father is an engineer/DIYer and had a huge influence on me growing up. He encouraged me to enter the science fair in junior high which led to my first hardware make: “Cooling Computers: Heat Pipes vs. Fans”. My dad specialized in thermodynamics so I obviously did not come up with that crazy idea on my own, ha!
What’s the most amazing, unusual (craziest) thing anyone has ever done with or told you about what you make?
“Why don’t you just buy it?”
What is your advice to women and girls looking to do what you do or make what you make?
The most important thing is to figure out what you care about in the world – it could be music, food, the environment, running, ping pong, dog clothes, particle physics – whatever gets you very excited – and then think of something you’d like to create or improve that relates to that interest. It has got to be something that you care about or else it won’t be any fun. Things that bring you joy will inspire the best ideas and projects that you will be motivated to complete despite tough challenges along the way.
And don’t be afraid to combine your interests even if nobody else thinks it makes sense. Putting novel things together is where the gold is, trust me. And finally, always bring empathy and your unique perspective to your designs. As women, you have so much to offer in this regard.
What is your favorite part about the maker movement?
I love the way it empowers everyday people to make their world the way they want it to be. It encourages people to be creative, teach themselves new things in a non-traditional manner, and to put their ideas out there even when it feels scary. Most importantly, the maker movement brings people together to exchange ideas and relate to one another in an empathetic way.
Where do you see your making going in the next 3 to 5 years?
I would like to turn making into my own business. I’ve made things for fun, I’ve made things for others as my job as a software engineer – now I’m ready to take on making as an entrepreneur. I care a lot about education and connectedness to the natural world so I see myself working to use technology to enhance those domains.
I suck at analog electronics. I can hack it a bit, make some small mods but honestly it is a blurry, hand-wavy mess to me most of the time. Someday I would love to be able to design my own circuits from scratch!