Inspiration. Imitation. Innovation.
A suggested approach to getting started with Arduinos

This is a short essay that offers a possible path to getting started with Arduinos for those of you who wish to explore the possibilities microcontrollers offer artists, tinkerers and the incurably curious. It is modeled on my own journey and how I approach new projects of increasing complexity. I hope you find it useful.


Whenever I am planning a new project, or have an itch to start something new, I start by exploring what others may have done. This almost always begins the same way.

  • I go to Google.
  • I type “arduino” and “[my new interest here]”.
  • Hit ENTER.
  • Spend the next few hours wandering from one amazing creation to another.

I suggest this is where you begin your journey as well. No matter what your interest may be, I can almost guarantee that, someone, somewhere will be doing something with it and microcontrollers. Learn from their examples. Delight in their creations. Bookmark freely and often.  At some point in the process you will find something that grabs you, either some fully fledged project or a discrete part of a larger endeavour. If you find yourself yelling out loud “That is AWESOME! I gotta do this.” Continue onto the next step….



OK. Now is the time for action. You have seen what CAN be done. The real question is , “Can I do this?”.

Wait…am I saying you should steal this idea? Copy it step by step. Code line for code line?

Yes. Yes I am. Here is why….

Starting to work with arduinos is not easy. You must code it right. You must build it right. One missed semi-colon or a loose wire will result in failure, which is awesome[…more on that later] but in large doses can be discouraging. By building something you know will work, that you want to work,you can remain engaged in the process knowing that success is possible. You learned to walk by imitation. You learned to speak, write, run, play and many other vital skills the same way. You are built to learn this way. Use it. Now…what kind of example should you use.

Here is what you should look for in a GREAT EXAMPLE PROJECT

  • Do you think it is awesome? Or at least, extremely useful or interesting.
  • Has the creator provided the code?
  • Has the creator provided the wiring diagram? [Fritzing, breadboard pics]
  • Has the creator provided a parts lists? Possible substitutions?
  • Do you have the parts? Can you easily get the parts you don’t have?
  • Do you think it is awesome? [worth repeating as it is the most important factor]

The person who built this originally, or perhaps who is also just recreating something THEY copied and sharing it online, chose to include all the details and instructions so someone [like you] would try it for themselves. Keep at it. Fail often. Learn why something didn’t work and how to fix it. Become an expert on the build and the parts involved. Do this all by DOING IT :)….and do it because you WANT to. It really is the only way.

One more note here that seems to fly in the face of common sense….read the comments.

Others, people like yourself, will have tried to imitate this build. They will have failed. Sometimes because they didn’t follow the directions. Often because they did, and found something wrong with them. They will share this experience, and possibly the fix. If they don’t, the creator often will. There may also be links to better parts and tutorials on how to use them. Links to the other builds and possible improvements the users made. So, in this one case, “read the comments”.  Avoid all others. You will live a happier life.

At some glorious point it will suddenly work. Congratulations! Save your code, take a pic of the breadboard. A video of it in action….

Then, poke at it till it breaks. Fix it.  Add stuff, mess with the values to make it faster, brighter, louder. Swap out one geegaw for a different doodad to see if you can make it work using all the skills you have just learned. You will fail [huzzah], then succeed [huzzah]. Learn from both. You are well on your way to the next step.



All this time you have spent browsing the creations of others, messing with code and wires and investigating sensors, motors and who knows what, is well spent. Somewhere in your mind connections are being made to those problems and issues that silently swim around in your sub-conscious,  or occasionally rise above the surface, or boldly demand your attention, everyday. Make an effort to look at them through the lens of what you have learned is possible through your efforts with arduinos.

You don’t have to know exactly how a micro-controller will solve the problem, you just have to see that a micro-controller [combined with some clever code, cool sensors, and who knows what] COULD be used to solve the problem. Slowly the parts and skills necessary to create this new contraption will come into focus. How to connect it to the internet. How to run large appliances. How to monitor/detect something specific. You can learn all these “portions” of your contraption using the method above, mastering them one at a time and building your skill base. The innovation comes by applying all of these in a new way to solve the specific problem you have identified.



THE place to find wonderfully documented builds. Complete with code, step-by-step and lots of pics.

These forums are where you will find answers to many of your questions. You are not the first person to have this problem….

An amazing source of components and such, but US based. What it can provide [free of duty] are GREAT tutorials on how to use the many sensors, break-out boards, LEDs and other things that will make your next project a joy to behold. A 100% woman-owned company.

MAKE: Magazine
The journal of Maker Culture. A fantastic source of inspiration and instruction. A must. The AVRL has it.

Virtual Arduino Lab
Build circuits, write code and run the simulation online. Great way to get started with many examples to learn from. FREE.