At Purdue, I am a faculty member and direct a robotics and autonomous systems lab. We make robots and all kinds of autonomous systems for first responders, agriculture and other application areas.
Development of fire fighting robots is the most favorite thing we have made.
Really there is not one skill. Working to build real systems, there must be a mix of mechanics, electronics, computing and the willingness to get your “hands dirty”. The most important maker skill is the willingness to learn whatever skill or technology that you need to build the robot or system.
I have always been good at building mechanically-based things. I also have several degrees and a lot of experience in digital computing. My biggest skill challenge is power & electronics. So, I have learned a great deal, on my own, about building basic electronic circuits to provide power. The bet way to overcome it is to ask for help and recruit others who have complementary skills.
Maker culture is defined, by me, as people that are not afraid to jump far outside of “their box’ to build the things they see as needed, fun or important. Have no fear that you might not know how to build part. And most important is never be afraid to mess it up.
It removes barriers that people have about their own limitations. Just because someone “hasn’t done it before” doesn’t mean “they cannot do it in the future”. Makers are people that typically use the adage that “50% of things learned in college are learned outside of the classroom”. The maker culture can drive that number up even higher…
Making is about solving complex problems. Scaling up the process will enable a confident skill set to solve societal or more complex problems.
Changing the way we apply curriculum, learning and labs to fit a more creative culture. Teach and enforce technical challenges and cross-disciplinary skills sets.
Making is not only in the craft of building things. “Making” establishes a creative, independent, goal-driven, mindset that encourages risk-taking and driving hard toward something cool and useful.
Don’t be afraid. Just jump in with both feet and build something. Start with something that is easier and progress to things that are more challenging, but never be afraid. Also, and maybe most important, is to build something that you have a passion to build.