Author Topic: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)  (Read 5732 times)

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Offline embeddedguy85

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #25 on: October 23, 2017, 11:11:25 pm »
Well, thanks for all the replies. I have to say it is discouraging because my plan was to learn and build projects on my own and then hopefully get into freelancing... but the issue I see now is money! Because I am cash poor but time rich as it is right now. How could I afford such professional equipment to provide the services companies need?
You are contradicting yourself. If you don't have the knowledge to use all that equipment, how you will use it? How do you plan to get customers?

At this point it is a hobby, and you can start electronics hobby with $10.

It is like saying "I want to be an auto mechanic", but I can't afford to buy a 4 car garage right now.

I dont need all that high level equipment to learn and build some fun projects, but I would need them to do the high level services. If I dont have the money to buy that equipment, and I wont have the money unless I get a job, and at that point I would have very little time to learn. It's a catch-22.
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #26 on: October 23, 2017, 11:12:15 pm »
After all, if you define a PWM output, it would be nice to see if it really changes pulse width.
There are ways around it. If you are doing this for a client, it would be stupid to bill them for this. But if you are doing it for hobby, then you should have enough time, if you don't have enough money :)

I did not have a scope for the majority of my life, and was perfectly fine. Well, I had access to an analog scope, but that thing was mostly worthless for what I was doing.
Alex
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #27 on: October 23, 2017, 11:14:15 pm »
I dont need all that high level equipment to learn and build some fun projects, but I would need them to do the high level services. If I dont have the money to buy that equipment, and I wont have the money unless I get a job, and at that point I would have very little time to learn. It's a catch-22.
Doing services is not an easy job, you are better off getting a regular job and gaining some experience. There are a lot of pitfalls in consulting, getting necessary equipment is probably the cheapest thing.

Think about contract paperwork you will have to sign, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble if you don't have someone knowledgeable look over it.

You need to have a running capital to have a business like this.

Also, majority of people have jobs and learn in spare time on weekends. If this is a problem for you, you need to re-evaluate your situation somehow. Plus a good job is a huge learning opportunity, so probably don't get a job at McDonalds.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2017, 11:17:09 pm by ataradov »
Alex
 

Offline embeddedguy85

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #28 on: October 23, 2017, 11:17:52 pm »
If you stay in the firmware end of the business, you will still need a scope and logic analyzer but perhaps not as high end as if you were designing hardware.

After all, if you define a PWM output, it would be nice to see if it really changes pulse width.

Is freelance firmware writer a popular thing to outsource?
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #29 on: October 23, 2017, 11:19:32 pm »
Is freelance firmware writer a popular thing to outsource?
Reasonably popular. But a lot of those jobs go to either big professional design houses, or to cheaper markets, like India, Ukraine, etc.

You would still need to be familiar with hardware, and have some equipment. Nobody is going to give a job without seeing some portfolio of hearing some references.

You've got to start small - hobby projects are a good thing.

One good way to get contract job is to be an expert in a certain area - like knowing wireless technologies, or know how to certify things. It is way harder if you can just program an Arduino.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2017, 11:23:10 pm by ataradov »
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Offline hammy

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #30 on: October 23, 2017, 11:22:42 pm »
You can rack up the bill, of course. But I don't think this was the question.

How much is it for your computer setup? Your customer wants a security and data protection for the stuff you work on. Also a backup and an archive for the data and documents for several years.
A quite fast PC for your daily work is necessary and an essential part of your lab. At least some external hard disks or a NAS storage with RAID and attached backup disks is nice to have. Some customers dont allow the use of a cloud for data storage!
You need some software for your work. ECAD package? KEIL compiler for some MCUs? Tax software? Office software? An operating system you can run the software the customer provides to you? A printer? A scanner?

Maybe all this stuff is already at home. But for your freelance work or small company you usually need some more IT stuff than normal. OP question was about the costs of an initial lab setup. And the cost for IT, to run the freelance job/business is something the most people don't think about ... because ... you know ... the already have a 13" MacBook!  ;)

« Last Edit: October 23, 2017, 11:28:18 pm by hammy »
 

Offline ataradov

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #31 on: October 23, 2017, 11:27:07 pm »
How much is it for your computer setup?
It was not about PC specifically. Other things on the list are desirable, but not 100% required.

Also a backup and an archive for the data and documents for several years.
I'm not sure this is necessary. When the project is done, it is done. Archival services are an extra.

Alex
 

Offline dmills

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #32 on: October 23, 2017, 11:35:57 pm »
Most of my kit (And I am an RF geek, the expensive end of the game) comes from ebay via the 'for parts of not working' classification.

"Does not power up" is pretty much my favourite thing to see on a listing because it just screams 'stupid power supply fault', got a good track record with those.

To give an example of what you can find I just scored a HP 8753B VNA for £360, clearly the thing has a display fault (Only the red gun seems to be working) but that monitor is a standard Sony part that is readily available so even if I cannot fix the thing (I am suspecting the cermret trimmers on the monitor board, nasty things), I can just throw another one in there for £50 plus an hour of so of fiddling.  Yea, it is a 25 year old design, so what? It will still calibrate just fine and measure my high speed traces for discontinuities just as well as the modern stuff. We will see when it turns up, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes not so much....

I have a mishmash of Anritsu, Hp/Agilent/Keysight, Marconi, Aeroflex, Fluke, TTI/Farnell, Prism, AVO and other random things, none of them paid any more then about 10% of list for, and the average is very much less then that. My cost, probably £10k or so, list? I dread to think....

Don't forget that hire is a reasonable option for the shiny stuff you only need once in a blue moon, it gets spendy quickly, but if you only need that power analyser for a week or that 20Ghz scope and probes for a few days for a specific bit of qualification, it is a cost effective option.
 

Offline Mr. Scram

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #33 on: October 23, 2017, 11:40:08 pm »
If you're in it for the money and not just a hobby, don't forget to factor in time spent browsing and bidding on eBay, the time it takes to fix things, devices that turned out to be properly broken after all and all those things.

As a hobby, it's fine to sink time into your equipment, but if you're trying to do it professionally, it's not as cheap as it may seem. They don't say "time is money" because they're joking.
 

Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #34 on: October 23, 2017, 11:43:35 pm »
Depends entirely what you want to do.
Absolute essentials would be Scope, DMM,PSU, Soldering station, hand tools etc.
You certainly don't need a state-of-the-art PC.
$1k could certainly do it to start with, but you quickly need to work out the balance between your time and spending money to save time. 
« Last Edit: October 24, 2017, 12:09:19 am by mikeselectricstuff »
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Offline mikeselectricstuff

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #35 on: October 23, 2017, 11:46:41 pm »

Question is, how much would I have to spend to setup a lab capable of doing the most common freelance jobs?

I'm just not seeing WHY someone would need to spend so much on equipment. Maybe a more sophisticated oscilloscope? But which projects require such a piece of equipment?
.. but of course If you can't answer those questions yourself, you almost certainly don't yet have sufficient skills to make a living freelancing.

Who would hire a freelancer who doesn't even know what tools they need to do the job?
 
 
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Offline dmills

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #36 on: October 23, 2017, 11:47:28 pm »
Well aware of time being money, and it is nearly never worth fixing the cheap stuff if it is not utterly trivial, however once you are looking at £30,000 of phase noise measurement kit that you picked up for £1,500  then blowing a few days on seeing it right makes some sense if you have a use for it.

Got to keep an eye on the opportunity cost as well.

Regards, Dan.

 
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #37 on: October 23, 2017, 11:59:28 pm »
As this is a response to a PM from me I think I should comment.

The OP was planning to start out with a soldering iron and a DMM.  Yes, you can do a lot with that and some LEDs.  I have a life long friend who is an MSP430 expert and mostly uses LEDs for debugging.  The more you know, the less you need.  But the price is time and experience.

I'm tooling up for a serious embedded effort as there are no jobs for old PhD level scientists in the oil industry and I want a job.  Less for money than for social engagement with technical people at similar skill levels.  I have vast DSP experience which I'm hoping might give me an edge in SDR algorithm designs.  My initial list is a 200+ MHz MSO, 3.2 GHz SA and a 4 channel PS.  At a minimum that comes to around $6k.  It is certainly not necessary to spend $6k to get started and I never suggested it was.  But to do professional work with embedded devices with RF links it certainly helps. And it IS essential if you're working with some bleeding edge device that just came out.  In my case, I've got a LimeSDR to play with.

I think I should note that I have NO professional electronics experience or formal instruction.  This has been an on again off again hobby for 50 years,  I have probably spent about $1500 on test gear over those 50 years. Much of which I had to fix to be able to use it.  My first good scope was an old Dumont 1060 dual trace 60 MHz scope with a  30 day warranty.  The horizontal sweep died after about 6 weeks.  It sat until I managed to swap a couple of ESDI disks for a wonky Tek 465 which worked well enough to allow me to fix the Dumont and then in turn fix the 465.  It took over a week of work every evening to track down the bad solder joints that afflicted the horizontal sweep on the Dumont.  I bought a Rigol DS1102E because I didn't want to face all those socketed transistors and old solder joints.  I've got a bunch of other old Tek and HP gear that is probably no longer worth the trouble of repairing.  The Dumont I'll almost certainly keep.  It doesn't have a fan and is a very nice analog scope.

As far as I can tell, the OP has no experience with embedded programming at all.  Or electronics.  I suggested he get an Elegoo Mega2560 kit and a DMM and get to doing stuff.  That will let him get his feet wet without spending too much.  He might well find he does not enjoy reading hundreds of pages of datasheets and user manuals for devices trying to figure out whether it will meet a requirement.   The Elegoo seems to have a pretty good set of tutorial examples and lots of interesting bits to play with.

He's interested in the STM32F4xx which is certainly a fine device.  But he asked me how to tell if a device would work with it.  Naturally that is what datasheets are for and why you can make money if you can do it.

In light of his limited means, I think the OP should start out as cheaply as possible and find out if he enjoys the work.  If after 6 months he's done all the stuff you can do with an Arduino starter set and is having fun, he can buy the scope, logic analyzer and other accoutrements.
 

Offline embeddedguy85

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #38 on: October 24, 2017, 12:10:58 am »

Question is, how much would I have to spend to setup a lab capable of doing the most common freelance jobs?

I'm just not seeing WHY someone would need to spend so much on equipment. Maybe a more sophisticated oscilloscope? But which projects require such a piece of equipment?
.. but of course If you can't answer those questions yourself, you almost certainly don't yet have sufficient skills to make a living freelancing.

Who would hire a freelancer who doesn't even know what tools they need to do the job?

Well of course im not applying to jobs right now.
 

Offline cdev

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #39 on: October 24, 2017, 02:14:05 am »
For around $7 on ebay you can get a quite usable USB logic analyzer that works well with sigrok. Thats an amazing deal.

Do you have a DMM or an analog multimeter?

You can get a Blue Pill STM32F103 board for under $2 and program it with a stlinkv2 which also costs around $3 or use a 3.3 volt USB-UART converter board (any of a half dozen different kinds will do) to program it. The development tools to use that are free to download.

Then you will be programming an embedded computer.
"What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."
 

Offline cdev

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #40 on: October 24, 2017, 02:21:20 am »
A very very large number of jobs involving technology as well as publishing and dozens of other fields are likely to be outsourced/offshored in large numbers in the next few years. Office work of all kinds will be hit hard. As many as 40% of US jobs. Plus healthcare.

Shhhh! Its a big secret. Don't tell anybody, okay? Blame it on automation.

Is freelance firmware writer a popular thing to outsource?
« Last Edit: October 24, 2017, 02:32:56 am by cdev »
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Offline Mr. Scram

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #41 on: October 24, 2017, 02:42:51 am »
A very very large number of jobs involving technology as well as publishing and dozens of other fields are likely to be outsourced/offshored in large numbers in the next few years. Office work of all kinds will be hit hard. As many as 40% of US jobs. Plus healthcare.

Shhhh! Its a big secret. Don't tell anybody, okay? Blame it on automation.

Is freelance firmware writer a popular thing to outsource?
That was 2008. A few years later, companies started realizing outsourcing isn't a silver bullet. Many have partially or fully retraced their steps.
 

Offline Brumby

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #42 on: October 24, 2017, 03:12:54 am »
There are a lot of people with a lot of suggestions here.  They each are pointing in their own direction, but they all have one thing in common: They are reporting where they are at after having travelled or observed their own journey.

You have yet to begin yours - and it can be safely said that your journey will never be identical to anyone else's.  The phrase "it depends on what you want to do" as mentioned several times already, is just the beginning direction.  The road you travel and the changes in direction you take will make your journey unlike anyone else's.

It is because of this very unpredictable nature that I strongly recommend you take a step back from all the recommendations of high end equipment and software and focus on a more basic approach.  In fact, I would suggest $1000 spent on a reasonable collection of general purpose gear for a lab is far and away the best way to start.  Get to know how to use that gear with confidence - and when you find yourself limited by the capabilities of a piece of gear, you will not only know what features you need - but why you need them.  As an additional benefit, you will have an appreciation of the constraints of the task at hand and, therefore, you can look at how certain features are implemented so that they fit your need.

For example, say you have a need for a peak voltage measurement.  There are a number of options available - but let's also say you aren't always going to be in a position to observe these readings in real time.  Solutions might be to have some logging software - or to have a meter with peak detect and automatic hold.  Getting an instrument without some such capability is a waste and even when you do - which of these is the better solution?

The best person to answer this is you ... but only when you are in that position.  Certainly you can bring a specific question here for our input - but we can only offer suggestions.  The ultimate decision is yours.  There will be hundreds of such decisions along your journey and while we can give you some insights, we cannot give you a budget, let alone a shopping list for a mature lab.

Some people may say that some of the gear you get for your $1000 is not going to be good enough - and they are certainly going to be correct ... at some point.  The issue that you need to come to terms with here is that you must not attempt to assemble a full spec lab at the outset.

What I suggest is that you do what I did many years ago when I first extended my woodworking into the realms of routing.  A local hardware store was clearing their stock of old router bits, so I was able to assemble quite a range for an extremely modest amount.  Certainly, the quality wasn't high spec - but I was able to create a wide variety of finishes.  Over time, the most commonly used bits were replaced by high quality replacements which lasted much longer and gave much better results.  I also found I needed longer bits for some applications and new profiles for other work.  I even designed my own profile and had it made up.  My range of router bits now looks nothing like my original purchase - but I still have more than half of them in my collection, since they are still useful for a cut that I don't do all that frequently.


The worst purchases you can make are the ones where you do not understand why you are choosing a specific item.  Building a lab is like growing up - you can't just skip the teenage years to become an adult.  You learn a lot of "Why" during those years.
« Last Edit: October 24, 2017, 03:28:49 am by Brumby »
 
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Offline cdev

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #43 on: October 24, 2017, 03:30:22 am »
The perspectives people give you here can and will save you a huge amount of money.. so every penny you spend will likely be worth it.

You'll be a very well informed buyer.
"What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."
 

Online Berni

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #44 on: October 24, 2017, 05:53:01 am »
You might be taking things a bit too quick here. What you need to be good at freelance engineering is mostly experience. Simply having a nice $6000 lab won't do it.

Yes there is the typical laundry list of equipment that are pretty essential for basic work (multimeter,scope,psu,soldering equipment, magnification...etc) But to start with none of that equipment needs to be particularly good (Like a cheap Rigol 100MHz scope) so you can make it trough for $1000 just fine to start with. Then as you get in to the more specialized fields you buy equipment as you need it. If you get in to high speed digital you might want a >1GHz scope, but that cheap rigol will still come in useful for more basic tasks even one you have the fancy scope. When you get in to RF there is a whole new list of expensive equipment to get.

But as a freelance design engineer you will still spend half of your time just in front of a PC so this is just as important to being productive. So a reasonably up to date PC with good design software is quite vital. You likely want to choose one PCB design tool and focus on it to get good at it. This stuff can cut the time to design a board in 1/4.

Again all of this is useless unless you got engineering experience! You need to have designed at least a few electronics projects to be any good(as a hobby or working for someone). When you sit down with your new customer to discuss the project you have to be prepared. Your costumer might come to you with purely a conceptual idea of what he wants the product to do without any understanding how it might do it. Its your job then to evaluate what the best way to do it is and talk with the customer on what sort of limitations or benefits doing it this way might have. You get no hand holding in freelance, no company graybeard to call in to the meeting for an opinion. Coming in to this with no electronics experience will not get you far. The costumer has to see you as smart and competent, the only reason they want to pay you to do the job is because they can't do it themselves(usually due to the lack of said experience)

One can become a cashier at a store overnight, but the path to becoming a good electronics engineer is long (but can be quite fun!)
« Last Edit: October 24, 2017, 05:58:06 am by Berni »
 

Online AndyC_772

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #45 on: October 24, 2017, 06:20:39 am »
Is freelance firmware writer a popular thing to outsource?

It's highly unlikely that someone will design hardware, then outsource the firmware to run on it.

What people want is solutions to their problems. If the problem is "we need a device to do X", then the solution typically involves hardware design, firmware, testing, documentation, and training. You'll need to be able to do all these things.
 
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Offline Brumby

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #46 on: October 24, 2017, 06:31:16 am »
I knew there was something I didn't spell out as clearly as I wanted - and it was succinctly put here...
Any professional measurement you take will need to be backed up by a calibrated instrument and the instrument will have to be accurate enough to justify the measurement.
That is some very idealized scenario. I've seen so many contractors that have no idea what they are doing, and they have no problems winning the bids.

Equipment matters way less than your brains.


Your brain is your most powerful tool and your most valuable asset.  Many people have gone for years being very successful in various endeavours without the tools that others have leaned upon.

Certainly the right gear can make life easier, but without the underlying skills, you are not going to to utilise that gear effectively.  But if you put your mind to it, you can do quite a bit more without the gear than you might realise.
 

Offline Awesome14

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #47 on: October 24, 2017, 06:50:05 am »
It sounds like you want to make all preparations up front, debating this and that, as an excuse to avoid actually doing anything. How much do you know about electronics? Pick a project and build it! You don't require anything but a computer to design a pcb. See here for free software:  http://www.4pcb.com/

They also make your board in low runs for cheap prices. My impression is that you haven't yet conceived of the available opportunities. IoT is probably the most wide open field in electronics today. It involves using the Internet to communicate with and control other devices and systems via smart phone or computer, or between two different IoT devices.

But for starters, you probably do fine with a 3-1/2 digit multimeter for under 20.00USD. You can get a 30V 5A DC variable PSU for about 30.00USD. A 20 Mhz  dual-trace USB DSO costs about 60.00USD. You can get a good laptop for 200.00USD that will run anything you want.

I picked up an USB EEPROM reader/writer for 40.00USD. It works with many chips, even old ones. I picked up a DMM on DHGATE for 80.00USD that does vdc/vac, resistance, Idc/Iac, uA, mA, frequency, period, cap, diode, temp, RH, luminosity, and SPL.

Interconnects (think pomona), bread board stuff, assortment of board-level components, soldering station, tips, tinning compound, solder, flux, copper braid, solder sucker, heat gun, shrink tubing, jump wire, hand tools, and connectors will run another few hundred. Get a decent soldering station. I recommend a basic Weller unit.

You'll also need a cordless drill, rotary tool (think dremel) a mill and some end mills (drill press with a vise works in a pinch!). I never tried to buy everything I might need. I used the same soldering iron and tip for 10 years. You get to know the stuff you have and how to get the most out of it.

But before you make the jump, pick some project, and get just what you need for that project. When you complete the project, if you still enjoy electronics, pick a bigger project.
Anything truly new begins as a thought.
 

Offline Brumby

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #48 on: October 24, 2017, 06:58:05 am »
It sounds like you want to make all preparations up front, debating this and that, as an excuse to avoid actually doing anything.

This is all to frequently the case in many avenues in life.  Too scared to jump in until all possible preparations have been made.

The end result is .... you never start - because there is always something else.
 

Offline Dubbie

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Re: Total cost for a lab for marketable work (freelancing)
« Reply #49 on: October 24, 2017, 09:41:18 am »
You said that you are money poor but time rich. IMO that is the best thing at the moment. You can spend $30-40 on some dev boards and hundreds of hours reading and experimenting and you will learn a ton. The biggest obstacle to your goal right now is not equipment, but knowledge. Luckily in this day and age, gaining it mainly costs time.
 


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