SparkFun is 20 years old this year! We’re lucky enough to have a bunch of employees that have been around for over 10 of those years, and we wanted to share their reflections on their time here with you. Today you’ll be hearing from Bobby Chan!
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. I moved up to Boulder in 2005 for the University of Colorado’s engineering program. I graduated in the winter of 2010 with an electrical and computer engineering degree.
I first started as an assembly technician in production department at SparkFun in June 2011 (wow, 12 years at the time of this writing!). That’s me in the front doing a little freeze.
In November 2012, I moved over to technical support department helping customers with parts for their projects or troubleshooting issues.
On June 2017, I moved over to quality assurance and documentation team to work with our tutorials under the product services department!
Working in the building with staggered schedules in 2020.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on at SparkFun?
Awww, there’s so many cool projects! It’s hard to just talk about one favorite project or one that I have worked on. Below are a few projects that I have built! There are other projects that I’d like to work on but I have not had a chance yet.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen a customer make with our products?
Ahhh, there’s more than one cool project that I have seen customers build with our products! Hmm, the ones that I can talk about… I’d say GPS tracking animals or arctic ice with the are pretty cool! There’s also the Roast Vision using the Qwiic Photodetector (MAX30101) Breakout to measure the level of coffee roast. Escape Rooms using relays, RFID, sensors, and buttons are pretty neat as well. Or even the Mars helicopter using the LIDAR-Lite v3!
What brought you here?
I was a student working on my bachelor’s degree just before joining SparkFun. I didn’t know much about SparkFun until my first soldering class with the Simon Says SMD Kit. If I remember correctly, there was Nate and a few other SparkFunions. I was a bit slow grabbing the SMD components using tweezers and soldering them on the board. I was the last one there soldering and everyone was patient with me. The solder joints were pretty bad but the board worked. I still have this board today!
When I started ordering components for my senior design project, I thought it would be awesome to work at a company with the type of products available in the catalog and help make electronics more accessible for people.
How has SparkFun evolved during the time you’ve been here?
SparkFun has matured a lot in terms of designing boards and products. I feel like boards were a bit scrappier and it was harder to get revisions through. I feel like we’ve gotten faster and better at designing boards. Our production department can also handle more complex builds and rework!
Tutorials were great back then but hard to work with (this was slightly before my time working in our documentation, however I find myself going back to the old tutorial site every once in a while). It is a lot easier to write tutorials with the tools made available from our IT department and they look more professional. Tutorials also follow a more standardized template (although there is still some flexibility depending on the nature of the subject and the author). Code is also easier to share and update with GitHub repositories.
Technology has also come a long way and SparkFun’s catalog has changed as well to adapt to EOL components and more powerful IC’s. Want a small animal tracker? It was more difficult to prototype way back when I worked in our technical support department. I remember talking with a few customers about making prototype GPS trackers and suggesting some parts to transmit location data. The parts were limited in range with the cellular modules and XBees available. The parts combined were also big and clunky. Now, it’s a lot easier these days to track an animal anywhere around the world using the Iridium or Argos Satellite Networks!
The focus has also shifted to include other sectors of the market. SparkFun was more for business to consumers (i.e. hobbyists, students, educators, makers, etc.) in the beginning but has grown to business-to-business (i.e. partnerships with other organizations and companies).
Describe your first day!
Hmm, I remember parts of my first day. I came in through the front where the giant, green GPS LED clock was hanging and headed into the breakroom in the old building at about 9:00am ready to work. There were free burritos (not an everyday thing so I was pretty lucky). I then headed to my desk and began my training in the production department with Adam!
Favorite spot in the building?
Hmm, the engineering department is pretty cool. It has most of the tools and space that I need to build projects. I also get to hear about projects or check out boards that are coming down the pipeline.
Other spots that enjoy making my rounds include the production department (they have additional tools for reworking and cleaning boards, but it’s also sweet checking out the pick & place machine or seeing everyone in production), LED testbed installation by the engineering tables, and break room.
How would you describe SparkFun’s culture?
I would describe SparkFun’s culture as a mix between a laid back atmosphere with hard workers that put a lot of care in their work so that customers receive a quality product. Everyone is open to new ideas, willing to listen, and approachable. No matter what your background is, SparkFun is supportive of one’s growth (whether it’s personal or career goals), and who you are as an individual. Of course, you’ll see dogs, skateboards, scooters, and sweet projects.
What is the best part of the work you do?
Being able to work with my co-workers on new technology and making electronics more accessible to people around the world!
We’ve been celebrating our long term employees all year – check out the other interviews we’ve done: