Member Profile: Rayan Armani, embedded engineer
We’re lucky to work with some incredible talent here at informal. We’re highlighting our members here on the blog to give you an inside look into who makes up the informal community.
Rayan Armani is an embedded engineer based in Europe, who joined informal in the summer of 2021. Her skills run the gamut from 3D printing to signal processing. Recently, Rayan spoke with us about her inspiration, advice when starting a new project, and why she has decided to stay in hardware, even when it’s not easy.
What project, experience, or piece of hardware inspired you to be curious about hardware?
I’ve always liked building things. I grew up in Lebanon, where you don’t have that many resources in terms of applying curiosity and engineering as a young girl. I went on to earn my bachelor’s in Hong Kong, and that’s where I joined the robotics team there in school. That was my very first formative experience.
I stumbled across Hax in Shenzhen when I joined a startup that went through their program, making wearables for babies. And for me, that was when I truly caught the hardware virus because I was surrounded by people who were hardware founders — they really wanted to build a product that actually functioned, made money, and solved a problem. And everyone was so dedicated to it. So that’s when I thought, “Okay, I feel at home here. These are the types of people I want to surround myself with.” And I ended up going to work at Hax afterwards. But, it was not a straight line. There was some deviation on the road.
Can you tell us a bit more about that deviation?
I discovered that if you want to deliver a good hardware product, you need to know more about than just your narrow field of expertise and engineering. I started off as a mechanical engineer, but from one project to another, I picked up electronics and firmware, which is what I mainly do at the moment. One of the most formative moments, for example, was learning to work with an industrial designer who was explaining so many things to me that I just didn’t know in my narrow niche. And that’s something that you don’t get exposed to in school necessarily.
For any clients who might be new to hardware, what are some things you think that they should be doing before starting their project?
Hardware is complicated in itself because it has a lot of dependencies — mechanical, electrical, and software. There are a lot of components in it. What I like to do is understand the interfaces the overall hardware system needs to have with the user or use-case — the general tasks it needs to do and how a person would interact with it. Having a handle on these interfaces is my preferred entry into a problem.
Having done a proper user study and understanding which situation and who you’re dealing with is nice to have before starting. As soon as you start working on the technical side, it’s very easy to forget who you’re building for and why you’re building it. Having that as a starting point makes a big difference compared to having basic engineering requirements when it comes to, for example, the finish that you have.
What is one of the hardest things about working in hardware?
One thing that I admire about the software communities is that everything is out there and talked about. It’s very easy to learn and to improve because people talk about the limitations that they face. For hardware, it’s not exactly the same yet, especially when you go beyond the maker level. It’s hard to find a community to really discuss the issues you face and to get professional opinions on things that can be quite sensitive. Hax, for example, was a great place for this because you had a bunch of other hardware founders and a community of people that you trusted.
“Who can I trust to assemble my boards?” Or, “I’m having this firmware update problem. How can I go about it?” These are not things that you can just easily find answers to on the internet. It’s very hard to work independently in hardware, and even if you have a good team, your team has finite resources and knowledge.
I’m based in Europe, and to my knowledge, we don’t have the same hardware community I’ve seen in the US. I think it’s more segregated or segmented. There’s definitely a small group of friends here and there, but it’s really hard to get this information.
Given all of that, what makes you want to stay in hardware?
I think hardware gets a really bad rep because many people don’t understand it–it’s complicated and a bit daunting to get into beyond the maker level.
It’s very hard for me to explain why I don’t want to take the easier route. It’s not just about the satisfaction of seeing a tangible outcome. It’s also this huge world and I want to know everything about it or different regions of it.
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