Know your community: Ian Lee

Can you tell us a bit about you?
My name is Ian Lee, Sr. and I’m a Maker. Yes, that was an addiction affirmation. I live in Spring Hill, TN USA (just south of Nashville) and have three kids (1 girl, 2 boys) and a wife which occupy most of my free time when Im not making.

In 2012, I started NashMicro, the Nashville Microcontrollers User Group, as a way to pull together other people in my community interested in any form of microcontroller development. It’s been tougher to grow than I had ever imagined but I still have hope that we’ll eventually have a large thriving microcontroller community in Nashville.

What are your hobbies?
My main hobbies involve making things with electronics (usually Gadgeteer based these days) and woodworking. Whenever possible, I like to combine my two hobbies in elegant ways. I usually have 5-10 projects in process and as a way of keeping me somewhat focused I started a blog a few years ago called Software & Sawdust ( There I document and share my projects with anyone brave enough to read what I write. Several of my projects have been reported by Hack-a-Day, Channel 9, Dangerous Prototypes, GHI, and others in the past year. That has provided some confirmation to me that I must be doing something right and has inspired me to create even more in 2013.

What is your profession?
I’ve held various titles in my years of software development at all levels. Last year, I decided to take a leap and get back to just doing what I love - designing & coding as a software engineer for Mercury Intermedia ( I like to think of us as the ghost writers for some of the biggest mobile apps on the web. I stepped down from management in one of the largest medical companies to have the opportunity to work with the experts at Mercury and to learn about the mobile world. So far, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

How did you get started with hardware?
I started college with the intent of becoming an electrical engineer but after getting three years into the program, I realized that I really enjoyed programming computers more than building them. Also, there was this thing that happened called the “Internet” which provided me with many fantastic opportunities. So, I changed my major to computer science and the rest is history.

I still had a great interest in electronics but that was mostly shelved away until 2009 when Microsoft had their “Dare to Dream Different” contest. It was a .NET Micro Framework contest. I learned of the contest by talking to the NETMF team at Microsoft PDC and after learning how easy it sounded to combine my Microsoft development skills with electronics I knew I had to get involved. The prize for submitting one of the top project ideas was a Tahoe-II development board which was certainly more expensive than I was willing to purchase on my own at the time. I really wanted one of the boards, so I spent much time coming up with a winning idea. I didn’t win the overall contest but I got the prize I was seeking.

What was your first GHI product?
After winning the Tahoe-II board and building my contest project and tinkering a little more, I eventually shelved NETMF for a couple years out of frustration with the lack of information and the amount of frustration involved with doing the simplest of tasks.

Then one day I was reading about quadcopters that people were building with Arduinos. At the time, I had never used an Arduino and it sounded way too EE to me. So, I decided that I wanted to build a quadcopter and I was going to use the tool that I was familiar with - NETMF. In my search to find the most powerful NETMF device available at the time, I found & GHI. As soon as I discovered the wealth of information available and the fantastic community that had been built around the products, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I bought a Panda-II and have been here almost every day since. Unfortunately, I also quickly became so involved in building with FEZs that I’ve never finished the quadcopter project.

Have you designed hardware yourself?
I have built several little things over the past few years but I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to electronics. I’m reminded every day of how much I still do not know but I make it my goal to learn a few new things every day and as time goes by my projects are getting more complex. I love the Gadgeteer concept and the rapidly growing list of modules that make it so easy to build things. However, on almost every project I find myself designing parts that are either not available with a module or I’m just too cheap to purchase. My favorite Gadgeteer module is the Extender/MakeBreak/Breakout module.

Some of your projects were featured on the web. Tell us more about them please.
My first project to really make it big was my Gadgetab (Gadgeteer Tablet) project. I built it as a mobile Gadgeteer development platform that was nice mix of fine woodworking & Gadgeteer. I especially enjoyed this project because it allowed me to work closely with a few of the other TinyCLR community members due to their contributions to the project.

I build a power supply that also got a fair amount of attention again due to it’s mix of woodworking & electronics. Unfortunately, there weren’t any GHI components in that build but I’m still bouncing around some ideas on how to work in a micro.

My favorite project that was featured last year was my “Birthday Badge” PCB that I designed for my son’s birthday party. This project meant a lot to me not only because it got my kids involved but also because it was the first circuit that I had designed and turned into a professionally manufactured PCB. It was a huge learning experience and the process definitely adds confidence and moves one up a step in their electronics development.

My last project featured by GHI was my Hydracade project. It is a FEZ Hydra powered full-size stand-up arcade console that featured the FEZ Hydra Console Kit. I still consider that a work in progress since I still have so many ideas for it. So, stay tuned!

Oddly, the project that most people know about is my Zombie Cannon. It’s a Panda-II, pneumatic powered Gatlin gun that shoots Nerf darts. I gave speeches about microcontrollers, NETMF, & Gadgeteer last year at several conferences using the Zombie Cannon as my main prop. Perhaps one of these days I’ll get around to finishing a blog post about it will be featured.

You can read about all of these projects on my blog.

Any words, advice or comments for the community?
Keep challenging yourself and asking questions. Occasionally, answer some of those questions. Help others in the community with the problems they are having and all too often you’ll learn the answer to a question you hadn’t yet asked yourself.

Also, keep keeping on. This is perhaps the most frustrating hobby I have. If I’m not having a problem with firmware, networking, or my own stupid mistakes then I probably haven’t started tinkering yet. So many times I’ve considered shelving it all again but the community & GHI always pull me through. Do a little every day and at some point it does get easier.

Where can we find you on the web?
You can contact me directly through the “Contact Me” page on my blog at Also, I’m active on Twitter as @ ianlee74.


You’re the proof that Epoxy can marry Wood with elegance and efficiency ! Nice job :dance:

A multi talent guy. I can’t say that about myself :slight_smile:

Thanks, guys.

Fun to read this article about the guy thats been helping me out on so many NetMF issues already. Im a software and sawdust follower myself as well, currently working on the princess wand, I missed that great project in this interview :slight_smile:

Thanks again you for all your help Ian! Great to have you on this forum.

Thanks, mammaplank. I think the princess wand was actually done after this interview. Thanks for following. I promise more posts this year than last.