Limor Fried is an Engineer and Founder of Adafruit Industries. Adafruit makes and releases DIY electronics kits to help create the next generation of scientists and engineers. Adafruit is a New York City-based company (it's 2 blocks from Wall Street) and has been around since 2005. Limor won an EFF pioneer award for her work in open-source and sharing knowledge, she was named one of the most "Influential Women In Technology" by Fast Company and was on the cover of WIRED magazine in 2011.
What do you think has been the most important technology of the last hundred years?
One hundred years, 1911 to 2011. Ok — the internet. While it's not a specific "technology" — there's nothing more important for humankind that will allow us to work together, share and create amazing commerce. If I had to say an invention or technology that really helped get us to the internet, I would say the transistor was a big deal in the last 100 years.
What about the next hundred (or, more fair — even 10)?
We'll need to work on power. Unlike process speeds we're not seeing huge increases in battery technology, we're not really rapidly adopting alternative forms of power. In the next 100 years we'll need to figure out better and more efficient ways to power the planet. Solar will be extremely important of course. In the next 10 years the "internet of things" is what I think will be a big leap for technology. Any object will have sensors, storage and a net connection in some way. With everything "talking" we'll have smarter everything and huge databases of sensor information to make better decisions about everything.
What is the last book you read?
Like many people I just finished the Steve Jobs biography, and right now I am finally getting around to reading Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma. I am also a Murakami fan and just wrapped up 1Q84 — a nice change from tech heavy books.
You were featured on the cover of Wired. Did that change your life in any way?
It was an interesting experience for sure, it's been overwhelmingly positive for me personally and my company. I'm not sure if it changed my life dramatically, but a 10 year old girl at an event asked me to sign her copy her parents had, she said "I want to be you when I grow up." So if anything has really changed for me, it's the continual emphasis on being a good engineer — kids are watching.
People who work with technology seem to be what most people consider "workaholics." Are you?
Dean Kamen has said "It's only work if you'd rather be doing something else." That's the way I roll with "work" — there isn't anything I'd rather be doing — open-source hardware is my art, my cause, my life.
Do you believe that aliens have visited earth?
Everything we are is from exploded stars, it doesn't get more alien than that.
What kind of phone do you have?
I do not own a cell phone, however I have designed a cell-phone jammer.
What are you working on / making right now?
I'm designing a series of wearable open-source electronic products, an open-source video wall and working on a system to teach and sharing electronics by awarding "skill badges" for achievements (here's a preview).
The topic "women in technology" seems to come up a lot these days. Do you feel like you have any words of wisdom to contribute to that discussion?
We ALL have a lot of work to do. Many parents email me and say their daughters do not have many women to look up to who are doing engineering. So to get more women in tech, we need more women in tech. Catch-22 right? Maybe, we all know someone - a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend that is very bright. All she needs is a spark to get going on the path of science and engineering. So spend some time with her, pick her up a fun electronic's learning kit like an Arduino or take her to a Maker Faire. A tiny thing now, can turn in to a lifelong pursuit. As the holidays approach and everyone is in the gift giving mood, try extra hard to get kids involved with electronics — MAKE Magazine devoted an entire site to this — I wish I had this when I was a kid!
What is your favorite gadget / hardware of all time?
The Radioshack tone-dialer I modified in the 1990's when I was young, it allowed me to make free phone calls — it unlocked an entire world of electronics, hacking, information and fun.