“I did my first lightning talk, on the spur of the moment – I didn’t prepare for it!”
Rachel Wong on speaking up
Rachel Wong LXF: Rachel Wong (RW):
Hey there, my name’s Rachel Wong and I’m a PhD student working in stem cell research, specifically the study of congenital blindness. LXF:
That’s quite an impressive area of work. How do you manage to find the time to also be a maker? RW:
It’s actually very challenging because a PhD takes up quite a lot of time. There are times where I feel torn, because as I’d like to do more with my PhD but at the same time I have a lot going on with my making and electronics. I do try to set myself some very strict boundaries, and I try to schedule my life so that I can balance the two. LXF: RW: LXF: RW: So how long have you been a “maker”?
I really got into electronics around March/ April 2017 and that was due to the Raspberry Pi Zero W. At the Raspberry Pi Birthday Party I saw many great projects using it and I had the chance to talk to the makers about how they achieved it. It also helped that stalls were selling all of the components that you would need to make anything you want! Being a maker isn’t just about technology. You are also a crafter? Yes, I have an Etsy shop and before learning about the Raspberry Pi, electronics and Linux my shop was mainly craft related. But now there are projects involving LEDs, Neopixels and so on that merge craft, and wearable and technology together. In 2016 I took a gap year off to explore what I wanted to do and make and I got into quite a lot of things. LXF: Being a newcomer to electronics and the Raspberry Pi, how was the learning curve and did you get any support? RW: Learning the Raspberry Pi was actually pretty easy. I had some help from the great Raspberry Pi community, but I learnt about the Pi Zero W via the news, and as soon as I learnt they were selling out, I quickly bought one. I had to get one as everyone else was doing the same! Ever since then I’ve been learning new Rachel Wong enjoyed her first Oggcamp. skills thanks to community members supporting me. LXF: Do you have a background or interest in computer science? RW:
When I was in high school I taught myself some HTML and CSS, and this was mostly behind my mother’s back. While she was away working, I would sit down and teach myself, although to be honest I didn’t think that it would be much use, until recently! LXF: So what’s your primary programming language, would you say? RW: Currently Python, because it’s the one that I understand the most. It’s also the most-used language for the many projects that have been created by the community, which gives me a rich resource to reference. I can read and understand the code written by others and I know that I can have an idea, search for it and then find an existing “skeleton” project that I can adapt and use to form the basis of my next project. LXF: So your introduction to Python was via reading the code of others, tweaking it and reusing it? RW: Yes, there are lots of great tutorials for Python, just as there were for HTML and CSS when I first started to learn those languages. LXF:
So now that you have your new “super powers” of electronics and coding with the Raspberry Pi, you’ve developed your own wearable projects. Can you tell us more? RW:
I’ve submitted a proposal to run an exhibition and the plan is that I’ll show five complete outfits, with hats, jewellery, umbrella and bag − all of which will have elements of control based upon the Raspberry Pi. LXF: Was wearable tech a natural avenue for you to explore? RW:
Because I’ve been selling jewellery and craft products on Etsy, my journey to creating wearables started by making crowns and from there I slowly started to introduce electronics. I then wanted to take the concept of wearables further and so I went online to search for new ideas and to see what other people have come up with. I then realised that it’s still a niche group and that I could do more to create new wearable projects. LXF: So this is your first Oggcamp? How have you found it? RW: Initially, I felt very intimidated because the first talk was on security, and I didn’t know what the speaker was talking about. But after that first talk I was more selective and found other talks that I could relate to and take part in. I also did my first talk, a lightning talk (five-minute presentation, and time for one question) which I didn’t prepare for and just did on the spur of the moment!