Meet the Makers – Episode 1 : Jennifer Fox

Jennifer Fox also known as JenFox is an Engineer, Maker, an Educator and Founder of Foxbot Industries. She has a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, UCLA. She is specialized in Embedded Systems, Mathematics, Wearables and Educating Kids and Women in STEM.

Q1: What you enjoy most? Being a Maker or Educator ?

Both! Being a maker helps me be a more effective educator because it puts me in the position of a student. And being an educator helps me be a better maker because students teach me things, inspire me, ask great questions that make me curious to know more, and help me figure out what projects folks are interested in. It is a beautiful and perfect blend 🙂

Q2: Tips while building Wearable Projects ? 

Yes, Wearables!! First, wires and connection points can cause a ton of problems because you are moving them so much. I’d highly recommend striveday silicone wires because they are super flexible. Also helps for getting things on/ off

Second, just as you (should) mock things up with pins before stitching, so you should mock things up before making any permanent connections. This is especially important to ensure you can get the wearable on/off, that the wires and connections wont snap when you move, that its comfy and doesn’t pinch or burn (lol yes rarely) or otherwise have issues

Third, think about power as early as possible. You don’t exactly want to be plugged into a wall, nor do you want to lug around a golf cart battery. It’s fine to create a prototype with a cable to save battery power, but definitely check early in the process that a reasonably small battery will power your project.

And fourth, think about how your life will be while wearing the project. Can you turn it off if it is annoying or inappropriate in some setting? How will you go to the bathroom (LOL please do not forget this one) ? How will you swap batteries? How will you fix it if it breaks? What happens if it rains or you start sweating? What about sand or dust? Think about all the scenarios you deal with every day and how those scenarios affect the clothing you wear.

Ok one more: start simple. You don’t have to code a robot doing cartwheels on your head. A coin cell and LED glued to your jacket is technically a wearable! Starting simple will help you get a feel for what works and what you can improve, as well as how long a certain battery will last. Then work up to bigger projects. That way, you’ll have some experience to help avoid the standard prototyping pitfalls.

Q3: Life of Tech Entrepreneur ?

The life of a tech entrepreneur is busy and challenging and exhausting but extremely rewarding if it is what you want to do. I’ve had to learn so many things I never thought I would, like sales and marketing and business admin. Some of that is fun and interesting, some of it detracts from my true passions and can be overwhelming at times. But at the end of the day it also gives me the freedom to direct the course of my business and to do the things I believe will have the biggest impact. There is no one who has my vision, so I am creating it. The only way for me to do that is to be a tech entrepreneur.

Q4: Why JenFoxbot ? 

Hah good question! My actual last name is “fox” but it is a hilariously common name. Which meant all of the standard handles I was trying to get were taken! So randomly one day when I was in college I said “oh I dont know jenfoxbot” and it was available! So I gobbled up all the emails and usernames I could get my hands on and it stuck! Fun fact: the first name of my company was “foxtronics”, but I switched it to “foxbot industries” because allows me to have a broader scope and mission. And it just sounds better!

Q5: Do you have any patents ?

No. Personally, I am not a huge fan of patents for many reasons. First, it is extremely expensive to file for a patent ($20K standard, $200k+ for international). When I was first starting out that was prohibitively expensive. The second reason is that patents are hard to enforce unless you, again, have access to a lot of resources and money. And the third reason is that it prevents innovation by controlling who has access to information and technology. My goal is to teach people how to use tech, so it makes more sense for me to go with open source licenses. That means my projects and inventions are publicly available for anyone build but not sell commercially.

But, I am published in a few physics papers under the DRIFT dark matter experiment 🙂

Q6: How successful are women in Technology now compared to last ten years ?

Thank you for that question! First, we must recognize that the tech/engineering world is not homogeneous and women’s experiences will vary vastly depending their field, physical located, personality type, etc. IMO, generally speaking things are slowly getting better. However, there are many factors that contribute to my positive view (Example I live in Seattle which is very supportive of women, I come from an upper middle class family so I do not have college debt which gives me much more freedom of job choice, I benefit from being white, straight, cisgender, and physically capable, etc).

We are currently in the midst of a massive attitude shift, which means some places it is getting better while in others it is getting worse because of backlash and resistance to change. I find folks are more welcome to the idea of a woman being in tech now and generally acknowledge gender-specific harassment and suffering, yet our biases are still being rooted out. That means that while a might be more likely to get a job and women can more openly talk about and report harassment, there are still sexist behaviors and attitudes. I get support from so many men and women in and outside tech, but I still have to deal with all of the negatives of being a woman in tech on a regular basis. It is exhausting and means I have less energy to devote to the things I love and am doing.

I am hopeful because there are now more laws to protect against gender discrimination, which helps us all, because more diverse teams bring in 30+% more profits. Folks are finally talking about the challenges and burdens of being a woman with a family and some US companies are offering better maternal care and more parental care options. But we must continue to fight for equality and stand up for what is right in order for more women to be welcome and succeed in tech.

Q7: Interesting Raspberry Pi project ever built ?

The pi is so awesome!! I love that it is an affordable computer, which makes it a powerful way to build custom electronics projects. Personally, I am fascinated with the ability to convert a pi into a local access point! For my Halloween costume last year i was a “server” — I used a Pi to host a local webpage where people could order candy, and then I delivered it to them 🙃 I want to dive into that project again at some point and make a personal and local chat app for places that dont have cell service! Here is a link to that project:

Q8: Modern Education system is so flawed in my view, Your opinion ? 

Hah. That is certainly a big topic! Yes, there are many problems in the US educational system. The current method of standards implementation has resulted in teachers being forced to “teach to the test”, which means students are largely memorizing rather than understanding. Personally, I believe this has contributed to a view that science is a collection of facts (which one could then choose to ignore), rather than an understanding that science is a process of asking questions and seeking answers. I am working hard to help provide standards aligned curriculum that teaches understanding. It is very hard for educators to do all of the things, especially with huge class sizes and little resources. So I am trying to make their lives easier and better by creating more effective curriculum and educational approaches to learning. My hope is that once enough teachers adopt a project based method, the school districts, state and federal policies will update

Q9: Advice to budding Electronics Engineers or Enthusiast ?

Practice and get experience in the areas you are interested in and want to learn. Build up/point to a portfolio of projects you have done solo and with groups. Go to job fairs and figure out what you like and don’t like. What do you like doing and where do those jobs exist? Think creatively and talk to people. Be candid about what you want to do and where you are at. Seek mentors in the fields you want to work in and ask for their advice and suggestions for people and companies. And perhaps most important: be well rounded! Learn about humanities, cultures, and history. Talk to and be friends with people who are different than you. Talk to people who will be using the things you create so you can better meet their needs. By understanding the diverse world we live in, we can create better and more effective products!

Q10: Very much new to building Electronics projects, Where should I start ?

First of all: heck yes! We are all beginners at some point, so that’s awesome you are taking the leap into something new. The best way to learn is to do: Find a project or topic you are passionate about and start building! Seek out and join supportive communities (online or in person) that will help answer questions and troubleshoot. Start simple. It’s ok if it is a hot mess of cardboard and glue. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t and then improve. Take notes during and after the process. Be kind to yourself when you make mistakes and be open to walking away from something when you get overly frustrated.

If you have a budget, get a kit with a lot of different parts and pieces so you can crank things out when you are feeling it and don’t have to wait for dozens of tiny shipments. If you do not have a budget, start by gathering electronics and taking things apart. Fix things or pull out and use parts in new ways (eg you can build a desktop.power supply from a computer power supply!). And for everyone: Upcycle! There are tons of materials that can be reused: cardboard, packing foam, straws, plastic containers, rubber bands, twist ties, ribbon, power cables, etc. Start thinking about the items you throw away and consider if there is an alternative second use. Save reasonable amounts of things for your building arsenal.

Hope that helps! For project inspiration, here are some places: ,,,

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