The engineer started making technical DIY projects on her dorm room floor for fun. Limor Fried's creations became so popular that she launched a company, helping lead a new tech movement in the process.

“Making is something humans are innately interested in,” commented Limor “Ladyada” Fried, a pioneering “maker” herself. In the early 2000s, Fried was enthusiastically sharing instructions online about how she built things that she found interesting. One post describing how Fried made an MP3 player that fit into a mint tin quickly became popular, but people found it difficult to track down all the parts needed to make it. That’s when they started asking for kits.

Fried then began making and selling custom-designed kits online, employing friends to fill demand. At the time, Fried was pursuing a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) competitive Media Lab; the projects drawing so much attention online were merely a method of procrastinating on her thesis about social defense mechanisms. She founded AdaFruit Industries in 2005, and the company has grown to more than 100 employees, thousands of projects, and tens of thousands of followers across social media.

While physically based in Manhattan, AdaFruit Industries provides an online space for people of all ages and skill levels to learn about electronic design. The company prides itself on being “100 percent woman-owned,” and without the influence of investors, venture capital funding, or loans, all decisions are made based by Fried on what is best for the company and its community. Fried is involved in choosing and testing all products before they’re sold, maintaining the homegrown approach that grew from in her dorm.

Limor Fried/Photo courtesy of AdaFruit Industries.

The company name comes from Fried’s moniker of Ladyada, a nod to computer pioneer Ada Lovelace. “The original Lady Ada was a really cool lady!” Fried enthused. “She loved to gamble on horses and learn about mathematics, sometimes trying to combine these hobbies together (not to great success, unfortunately).”

Lovelace’s study of the early computer machinery designed by Charles Babbage created the foundation for programmable computers, but Fried’s focus on the more eccentric aspects of Lovelace’s life alludes to her own quirky sensibility. The electrical engineer’s signature bright pink hair—which she calls “AdaFruit pink”—and dark ring down the center of her bottom lip only hint at her massive creativity; Fried loves changing young girls’ minds about what a professional engineer looks like. In an interview with The Female Lead, Fried said she tells young girls that donning a unique look is “one of the best parts of being an engineer and being a business owner.”

In fact, while many use her AdaFruit wearable projects to create eye-catching costumes for conventions and events, she said she hears that fans often cosplay as her.

Encouraging young girls to enter science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields involves making engineering less intimidating, so the AdaFruit Industries website is inviting and as vibrant as its founder’s fuchsia locks. The icon for a MicroPython guide is accompanied by a cartoon of a friendly purple snake named Blinka, and Raspberry Pi computers (low-cost, pocket-sized computers) are promoted on top of actual raspberry pies. Fried said that these animations are a “fun trick” that make products and activities engaging to younger ages, which allows parents to pursue a creative hobby with their children. She likened the characters like Blinka to people’s favorite comic book character or Marvel superhero, noting, “Why shouldn’t electronics have super heroes too?” 

Products on AdaFruit’s website utilize affordable parts and approachable builds, but also emphasize STEM-adjacent skills. “It’s not always about technical skill, as artistic and designer skills are also an important part of any build,” Fried noted. Products range from 3D-printing tools, kits for experimenting with products from the open-source hardware and software company Arduino, LED-lit sequins for wearable displays, and a kit to create a monster mask with moving eyes. Popular original designs include the Adafruit Feather—lightweight and flexible microprocessor development boards released in 2015—and CircuitPython, a derivative programming language that eases beginners into experimentation with low-cost microcontrollers.

Limor and Blinka./Photo courtesy of AdaFruit Industries.

For 7 years, AdaFruit’s YouTube channel has hosted several weekly programs, including weekly new project demonstrations and an Electronic Show and Tell for the community. Fried also appears regularly on Discord, a voice-chat software for gamers, to an audience of over 14,000. Fried said these regular programs and interactions are important for the community to discuss the joys and sorrows of making, inspire each other, and keep projects progressing. AdaFruit’s interaction with Internet communities follows Fried’s own start—and has allowed her to develop the large, tight-knit following that grew her company over 700 percent in 3 years, according to a 2015 Inc. 5000 ranking

The creativity and innovation Fried embodies are what fuel the maker community, which first arose in the mid-aughts as the Internet and blogs enabled people to share projects. The movement emerged at the intersection of instructional homemade projects and the hacker and engineering communities, fostering a tech-based branch of DIY. The community began taking shape with maker-specific publications and “show and tell” conventions called Maker Faires. They emphasize keeping material open source—a concept more commonly applied to software, which makers used to keep hardware builds and designs accessible to the public, and thus other makers. 

“Makers are the early adopters; what we do on weekends is what the wider industry will be working on in a few years,” Fried said. “We get to play and tinker with the cutting edge sometimes and be creative without constraint.” 

In forming an online space for creators that put a distinct emphasis on education, AdaFruit Industries became a huge resource for new makers to learn and established makers to share—and Fried’s influence grew with it. She was the first female engineer to be on the cover of WIRED magazine in 2011, was named Entrepreneur magazine’s 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year, and was called a White House Champion of Change in 2016. More recently, she was listed in Forbes magazine’s 2018 “America’s Top 50 Women in Tech,” was a 2019 STEP (science, technology, engineering, and production) Ahead Honoree for Women in Manufacturing by The Manufacturing Institute, and was given the community 2019 Women in Open Source Award from software company Red Hat.

However, Fried was quick to draw attention to other creators. “I’m most happy that I’m not the only female engineer,” she said, referencing the WIRED magazine cover. “Since that cover, there have been many more amazing people from all sorts of backgrounds [on other covers], which shows how we can celebrate the different ways folks come to engineering and what they can share for all of us to learn.”

Fried is a great proponent of  getting people from all backgrounds and ages into making; she notes that engineers are problem solvers, and that expanding the scope of who can be an engineer allows a wider variety of problems to be solved. She puts particular emphasis on highlighting female engineers—her website’s product photos often show distinctly female hands, adorned with rings and acrylic nails, demonstrating how the tools work. 

These small details can have a lasting impression, said Fried. “One of the things we’re really proud of is anyone can look at our product photos or company photos and imagine themselves working at Adafruit…because they can see someone like them here.” Those images, and Fried’s larger work to make engineering more inclusive, are already bearing fruit. 

A viewer of AdaFruit’s weekly YouTube program emailed Fried to share a story about their 11-year-old daughter, who asked if boys also do engineering. “She will never know a world where there aren’t women doing engineering,” Fried said with pride. 


Allison McLellan is a writer and editor in the New York area. She enjoys planning trips to different cities to see her favorite bands and turning her daily life into an internal stand-up monologue. When she isn’t writing about technology, music, or conspiracy theories, you can find her in the woods with a good book. She can be reached at allisonmmclellan@gmail.com.

Elisa Macellari is a Thai-Italian illustrator and graphic designer based in Milan. She specializes in children’s illustration and editorial illustration. Elisa likes colorful things, wild animals, jungle, mysterious creatures, strange objects and tom yum soup. Her illustrations have been exhibited in Italy and abroad.