An interview with Laen (the force behind Dorkbot PDX)

[PT] recently interviewed [Laen], the man who makes it cheap and easy for hobbiests to have small PCBs manufactured. He created Dorkbot PDX’s PCB group order, a rapid turn PCB service which we see used in projects all the time (pretty much any purple PCB has gone through [Laen]).

Turns out his real name is [James Neal]. He’s a sysadmin by trade but deals in recreational circuitry at night. We were surprised to learn that the service has been rebranded. Its new name is OSH Park and it’s got a purple website with a new submission system. In the interview he discusses the genesis of the service. Inspired by a group parts order (that’s a mouthful!) with other hackers in Portland he saw a need for boards on which to mount them. The service has grown so much that he was spending 2-4 hours per night panelizing the designs. He made the wise choice to include an automated submission service in the new website that takes care of most of this work for him.

The rest of the interview spans a large range of topics. [Laen] shares his feelings on getting the boards manufactured domestically. He speaks briefly on the future of the service, and riffs on why open source hardware has value to him.


  1. rattboi says:

    Laen, not Lean.

  2. Colecago says:

    Neal backwards eh?

  3. octel says:

    The word is “hobbyists”, not “hobbiests”.
    Hobby -> hobby-ist -> hobbyist

    Maybe you should “crowdsource” proofing of articles, HaD…

    • wifigod says:

      You serious? HaD is NOTORIOUS for very, very poor editing; it’s almost like a trademark! Kidding aside, I really don’t see why they don’t hire a proper editor. They would likely find somebody willing to do it for nothing!

    • M4CGYV3R says:

      I’m the hobbyist. Nobody is hobbier than me.

    • Coda says:

      People usually let these things go by, CB4, but really, the quality of the output seems to be going down, and getting someone’s name wrong is inexcusable. It’s right that the people who can actually read and write and want to see commentary which isn’t distracting because of typos, spelling, grammar, and other mistakes, speak up about it once in a while. It’s how we learn to do better. We all make mistakes, but whether we can go forward from that is up to you.

  4. zack says:

    I have used the service many times, including small runs for undergraduate classes. It would be far more expensive without this service. Lean is my hero!

  5. Minimike says:

    Laens a great guy , only had a few boards off him but he’s very helpful and cost effective.

  6. BrysonR says:

    Been using OSH Park for a while. I recommend it for small PCBs over any other board house.

  7. Destate9 says:

    This dude has gotten me out of jams more times than I’d care to mention. His prices are freakishly good. Due to his mad cheap boards, ever since I joined the Ohio State University FormulaSAE team, we have had him make all of our boards. Laen PCBs are the official choice of the Formula buckeyes!

  8. Hirudinea says:

    Yea, Laens cool but who that guy he’s sitting on?

  9. dext0rb says:

    I had no clue the boards were MFG in USA! That’s awesome. I think next spin I do, I will be using OSH Park. I just wish the soldermask wasnt purple – sorry, just doesn’t do it for me :D

  10. Ren says:

    Was he speaking for himself or just parroting whatever the bird told him to say?

  11. feurig says:

    There are many “forces” behind Dorkbotpdx including Thomas Lockney, Jason Plumb, Alex Norman, Jessie Mejia, Jim Eastman, and Cameron Adamez among others (mostly naming the current active actors).

    Laen’s service grew from the community not the other way around.

    And i love it and use it . I Just want to correct your “force behind” statement.

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