HackSpace: You’re the new company CEO, but
what’s your personal relationship with Arduino?
Fabio Violante: It’s a long story! It goes back to the origin of Arduino. I know Massimo because we were working together and we were friends in normal life. When I finished my PhD in Computer Science at Politecnico di Milano – the main technical university in Milan – I was doing a PhD in human-computer interaction, but doing boring stuff. Human-computer interaction for safety-critical systems, so, theory and doing a lot of it.
I went to visit the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea – a school that was started just six months before I went to visit them – and they asked me if I knew someone who could teach electronics to designers and to ask this question to my colleagues at the Politecnico.
I went back and they said “No! Teaching electronics to designers? For us?” Those were guys working on highly sophisticated FGPAs, so they didn’t care about designers. I thought about Massimo – he had a real passion for electronics and he worked as a CTO for an internet provider at that point in time. I said, “Massimo, you could be the right person for this type of engagement – they’re designers, you love design, and you know electronics.” I introduced Massimo to the school and they hired him. That’s how the story started. When he was teaching at the Design Institute of Ivrea, they started the Arduino project as a way to standardise the electronics projects the students were doing. I introduced Massimo to the school and they invented Arduino, so I’m sort of the great-grandfather to some extent.
I was in touch with Massimo occasionally – once or twice a year as a sort of mentor – but I had my own company. In 2010 I sold my company to BMC Software (the eighth largest software enterprise in the world). I then became CTO of BMC Software for five years until 2015, but I was commuting from Italy every other week, so I decided to resign. At that point Massimo reached out to me and said, “Now that you have more time, could you help me with Arduino?”
This was more or less the starting time of the legal mess between the other party and us, so I started just advising and then step-by-step I got more engaged because there was a lot of work to do – to transform Arduino into a company and solve the legal situation and, from there, more and more engagement. It became like a 200% occupation of my time, and in 2017 we resolved the situation with the help of ARM and I became the CEO, and we made Massimo focus more on the technology side as CTO of the company. It’s a very long story – I tried to compress it!
HackSpace: It feels like there’s a lot more coming out of Arduino at the moment.
FV: When you don’t have to cope all the time with lawyers and you have this community ... for me the innovation was the simplest thing. The more complex thing was transforming this group of ultra-smart people into something that can deliver. There was a change between the past and now. In the past there was this announcement and like one year later or two years later [the product came out]. Now I put a rule in Arduino that, when we talk about something, we should have this thing almost ready to ship.
Find out more about the new produces lined up by Arduino in issue8 of HackSpace magazine. Download for free at https://hsmag.cc/issue8