The Maker’s Pledge

Why being a maker is worth fighting for

It’s dawn and I can’t sleep. Later this morning, my first kids’ tech class — ages 6 to 9 — will stream through my door. They’re going to be brilliant. They’re going to be curious. They’re going to be a little bit out of control.


But one thing they won’t come with is a sense of identity around technology. They have already been around enough complex machines to develop the sense that the devices around us, from iPads to lamps, were built by someone. But who? How? And do people like them fit into that story somewhere?

How do I fit into that story, for that matter?

1. I am a maker. I use my mind and my body to create new things.

This is the starting point for me: recognizing, and affirming, that I belong here, in the stream of human history, tinkering and building along with our greatest inventors and artists, if not quite at their level.

I emphasize new things because the maker creativity has a drive for adventure and discovery that brings particular challenges and rewards:

2. New things are hard, and I like that. New things break. New things misbehave. When new things go wrong, I have the chance to learn something and begin again.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in life is that everything I truly want requires persistence. But it’s also the lesson I’ve struggled the longest to fully accept. Persistence, as I see it, means adapting and growing, not just being stubborn.

I only wish I could have somehow learned this in school.

3. Tools let me make things I couldn’t make alone. I know their power. I respect their danger. I use them with care and I always remember their purpose.

There’s a safety issue with many tools, but even more there is a philosophical one. You serve your tools as much as they serve you. If you take care of them, keep track of them, and use them wisely, they will reward you forever.

Tools are also shared with others, lent and borrowed, and that means a common responsibility:

4. Collaborators help me make things I couldn’t make alone. I ask them directly for what I need, and listen when they need my attention.

Steve Yegge, an influential programmer and blogger, has a surprising recommendation for techies:

“If there was one thing I could teach every engineer, it would be how to market.”

… by which he means, how to communicate her ideas and the value of her work, so as to recruit help and cultivate support.

And Steve Jobs famously convinced Apple chief designer Jony Ive that in telling people what you need, “ambiguity was a form of selfishness”.

Asking directly for what you need requires clarity of thought, not just confidence. Doing the work to become clear enough with our intentions and our meaning is part of our duty to each other.

5. Everything we see that wasn’t made by nature was made by people like us. We built it. We can understand it. And we can make it better.

There are no fairies who created the many things we use, who dictate what we can tinker with, who invent the future instantly. It’s just us.


All together, now:

The Maker Pledge

I am a maker. I use my mind and my body to create new things.

New things are hard, and I like that. New things break. New things misbehave. When new things go wrong, I have the chance to learn something and begin again.

Tools let me make things I couldn’t make alone. I know their power. I respect their danger. I use them with care and I always remember their purpose.

Collaborators help me make things I couldn’t make alone. I ask them directly for what I need, and listen when they need my attention.

Everything we see that wasn’t made by nature was made by people like us. We built it. We can understand it. And we can make it better.

What do you think?


Ada & Leo is a creative tech program for kids in the tradition of Ada Lovelace (the first computer programmer) and Leonardo da Vinci (who was a visionary inventor in addition to everything else). It starts today in Brooklyn.

Ben Wheeler is a veteran programmer and teacher.

Images cc Spencer Wright and Fido.