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From the Editor: Greetings and Salutations Answered


Many of you already know me, so please bear with me as I introduce myself to all of those who don't.

My name is Randy Sarafan and I am the Technology Editor here at Instructables. What led me to this point is not necessarily a straight trajectory, and I hope the tale I am about to tell may prove useful to someone. Contrary to popular belief, I did not wake up one morning as a child and say, "I want to be the Technology Editor at a user-submitted how-to website." In fact, as a child, I would normally tell anyone who was curious enough to inquire that I wanted to be a duck. I persisted telling people that I wanted to grow up into a duck until an alarmingly mature age.

Anyhow… understanding that not everyone can grow up to be a duck, I developed a backup plan to become a 3D computer animator, and make special effects for movies. I fell in love with special effects after seeing Jurassic Park as a child. While my peers were playing sports, chasing girls, and doing recreational drugs, I spent my teenage years developing an animation portfolio. This largely translated into learning gestural figure drawing by sketching nude models with artistically inclined retirees at the local community art center.

So, I got good at drawing naked people. As a teenage boy I thought this was a very useful skill to have. Unfortunately, when I finally went off to college to do 3D computer animation, I learned that 3D modeling is nothing like drawing naked people. At the dawn of this millennium, it turned out that creating a 3D animation was very unpleasant - a bit like getting a root canal. I spent many long hours in a dark, sweltering computer animation lab, literally sleeping on the keyboard. The rule was that if you left your computer for more than five minutes, anyone could stop your rendering job and lay claim to the workstation. This experience - like any professionally executed root canal - gave me a lot of time to sit still and think.

I concluded that I was wasting my time creating and animating virtual worlds when there was already a perfectly good world to animate all around me - I wanted to animate real things. This sentiment may not sound very silly right now, but expressing these feelings in 2001 was pretty much crazy-talk. By that point, all of the things we now take for granted, like, smart devices, open-source technology, hackerspaces, the maker movement, online sharing, and personal fabrication were not even blips on the collective radar.

In fact, I did not even begin to know where to take my desire to "animate the real world." It was only by accident that I chanced upon the Parsons Design and Technology program at a college portfolio day while attempting to transfer colleges. The admissions representative asked me what I wanted to study. I told him animation. He told me they didn't exactly have that as a major. I - in turn - asked what they did have. He responded with Design and Technology. I asked him what that was. He mumbled something about building websites and robots.


"Yes. Robots."

I was sold.

When I enrolled, the Parsons Design and Technology program was in its infancy as an undergraduate major, but existed for about six years prior as a graduate major. What made my educational experience unique was that albeit I was an undergrad, I was largely taking graduate classes with some really phenomenal professors and graduate students. I cannot emphasize enough how influential and formative it was for me to work side-by-side with brilliant, and highly motivated graduate students for three years.

I went into the experience with the vague goal of "animating the real world" and left with the conceptual education, technical foundation, and confidence to do it. This rightfully panicked my mother. It was now 2005, and there still was not a clear career path for someone with a degree and talent for "animating the real world." She thought I was doomed.

To be honest, I too was a little fuzzy on the big "what next?" question. Albeit, I was a little less concerned. I could not articulate what I intended to do with my education, but I began to sense there were opportunities available. By this time Make Magazine had come into existence, Instructables blipped onto the radar screen, and the Eyebeam OpenLab was churning away as an idea incubator. I sensed we were on the cusp of some fundamental change, but it was still looming a little too far off on the horizon to see it clearly.

Having no real path yet laid out before me, I followed my girlfriend to the west coast. I figured that perhaps a change of scenery would be nice. I ended up living in her parent's basement in the middle of the coldest and foggiest part of San Francisco. While doing a series of odd jobs, I began posting projects on Instructables primarily to keep myself sane. There is something powerful about going from a lone weirdo making things in your girlfriend's parent's basement, to be amongst a community of weirdos all making things in their basements and garages. Suddenly, what I had been doing on my own did not seem quite as strange. I may have just been some guy in a basement, but I felt like I was part of something larger. Instructables became a website that I visited religiously.

One day while lurking on the site, I noticed that they were not only local, but hiring interns. I immediately applied, and almost as quickly was invited in for an interview. When I went for the interview, I was foremost surprised by the unconventional nature of the work environment (to say the least), that everyone I met knew me as "USB Apple Guy," and everyone seemed genuinely interested to meet the "USB Apple Guy." It turned out this was less of an interview than an informal screening process. Before I knew it, I was part of the Instructables team, with a vague job, and loose instructions. Over the six years that followed, I held a number of positions within the company before landing squarely upon Technology Editor.

Of all of the different jobs that I have done for Instructables, I would be lying if I were to say that Technology Editor is not my favorite. I now make a living "animating the real world," sharing this knowledge with the Instructables community, and inspiring others to do the same. Even though I would have never guessed life would bring me here, I am very glad that is has. I look forward to helping this community grow and prosper.


A great read and very hope giving...

The path you took cheered me up a bit about the current lack of direction in my life, swinging between several jobs everyone thinks are awesome and adding a new one to the list every few months while struggling to keep sane and not completely broke...

On the upside I've got my crappy bedsit... Shame about the big house...

That made no sense at the end, I had one, now I don't, but then again, my girlfriend's mum is an awesome cook with the belief that I must be fed repeatedly until fat... hmm...

Thanks for sharing such an indepth and personal story! It gives hope to the rest of us 'weirdos' that there is a way to make a living doing the outlandish!
I felt like I was following you along, even remembering the week you posted the USB Apple! I had lurked the Instructables site without joining for a loong time, and can completely relate to the joy of finding a gathering place of like-minded weirdos!
Congrats on the Square Landing, look forward to future installments!

Randy, I've learned from reading this we have a few things in common:

1. I too wanted to grow up to be something that was impossible: a tree. This lasted until I was about 5-6, but my family never let me live it down.

2. I also wanted to study computer animation, until I took a summer course with ITP in Nice, France and realized I was sitting in a dark computer room for 10 hours a day instead of hanging out at the beach.

It's crazy how everybody from Instructables has an amazing backstory that led up to their position at Instructables today.

I've heard things don't get any easier once you assume the position.

I know you, and I learned a lot.

(A duck?)

maybe you should incorporate more ducks in your project.

and naked people?

The citroen 2CV is called a duck in The Netherlands. I can imagine you want to grow up to be a duck.

Show this to your mom - you are also a great writer.

I am his mom! Randy always loved writing. His love of pencil drawing started at a very young age, on a large wall. Yes. Randy, as you know, I constantly asked what you were going to wind up doing with your degree. Remember when I finally picked up the phone to call your professor, to ask him the question, and you answered and disguised your voice. He never called. Remember when I said, "an intern"? Well, you were right, you knew you were in the right place, as you told me. There was no stopping Randy, to persue his dreams. I am very proud of my son! :-)

Wait, what, Randy's Mam* is a member? And has been for nearly as long as me? Did I know this?

(*Northern English for "Mom")

If you didn't, you should have ;-) ....I am normally the one to be the last to find things like this out.

I can understand why :-)

Your creation's now all make sense! :) :-)

I used to tell people that I wanted to be a dinosaur, but for some reason I ended up as a muffin.

Three cheers for Randy!

Interesting progression of how life leads us from our dreams of ducks into a pond of robots! Well written and instructive!!

"duck robot" returns no results.

Thank you for all your hard work! Instructables is a favorite of mine and I am glad it is populated by smart folks like you! I hope you've since managed to get a basement of your own. Cheers! Jolene

I have a garage now. No more basements.

It was my observation that, for many San Franciscan properties, the garage and the basement were actually the same space...

In urban settings, many garages are converted to studio apartments, some being illegal conversions.

So what is the moral of this story? No matter where you go in life, you get ducked?
Life is a bunch of mystery books at the goodwill store. Live long and prosper.

So.....two questions.

First, how could you not make a lucrative career out of drawing naked people? Did they not want to be drawn, or drawn upon? Or is that a different skill set?

Second, is living in the basement of your girlfriend's parents' house not infinitely better than living in the basement of your own parents' house?

And third, when I was growing up, the "coldest and foggiest part of San Francisco" was, in fact, Daly City. Just sayin'...

1) There is more supply than demand in the field of gestural nude figure drawing.

2) 6 of one, half a dozen of another.

3) Most people pretty much consider this place Daly City...

A well written 'step-by-step' up the ladder of life. May you climb to dizzy heights !

Very interesting chronicle, and well written.

What an awesome story and very inspirational, Randy! You have one of my dreamed jobs, fruit of your effort and dedication. I don't know, maybe one day, I could to work on Instructables, the best place ever! :-)


5 years ago

Great Life Trek