For years, the humble Arduino microcontrollera cheap, open source, midnight-blue circuit board emblazoned with a tiny white infinity loophas been a favorite tool of the DIY electronics crowd. Developed in the mid-2000s in the foothills near Turin, Italy, the Arduino became one of the first microcontrollers truly accessible to the masses, enabling even rank beginners to hack together Twitter-controlled coffee pots and alarm clocks that can only be turned off by hitting a target with a Nerf gun.
But while Arduino—as an object and an idea—is beloved by the maker community, Arduino the company has long been plagued by squabbling and controversy. The latest case in point: WIRED has learned that the new CEO of Arduino, Federico Musto, who secured a 50 percent ownership stake in the brand in October, appears to have bolsteredhis reputation with academic credentials he didnt earn.
On his company’s website, personal LinkedIn accounts, and even on Italian business documents, Musto was until recently listed as holdinga PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In some cases, his bios also claimed an MBA from New York University. Neither university can find any record ofMusto attending, let alone receivingdegrees from, their academic programs.
At the Arduino offices in San Jose this week, Musto admitted to WIRED that he does not have degrees from MIT or NYU. This is wrong, he said, looking at a printout of his LinkedIn page.
What Musto does have, however, is significant control over one of the most important sources of DIY hardware in the world.
The Making of the Movement
Arduino is the poster child for the open hardware movement, says Christy Canida, a well-known DIY enthusiast in Boston. If I say microcontrollers, people dont know what Im talking about. But if I say Arduino, people know what that is.
A microcontroller—for anyone who needs help—is essentially the digital brain inside simple electronic hardware, be ita microwave oven, a home security system, or some harebrained homemade electronic invention. For years, DIY microcontrollers were vexing to assemble and even more difficult to program, says Jay Silver, an inventor and longtime leader in the maker community. Until Arduino came along, homebrewed electronic projects remainedthe purview of hardcore engineering hobbyists.
Arduino, by contrast, was built with beginners in mind. It comes fully assembled, interfaces directly with most computers, and can be programmed via a simple, intuitive command structure. And because it costs about as much as a large pizza, it doesnt sting too much if you fry one. From the beginning, the whole project has been open source. That means anyone can view Arduinos schematics and board files, modifythe design, suggest improvements, even make and sell Arduino clones. The only requirement isthird-party manufacturers must credit Arduino. In short, the Arduino founders didnt just invent something anyone could use, they gave those anyones free reign to make the Arduino their own.
The passionately nerdy maker community that exists today owes much to Arduino. And even though Arduino products have been partly eclipsed by newer, cheaper, or easier-to-use devices like Raspberry Pi, a basic Arduino board is still the first product that many newbie makers play with.
Unlike the community, the leadership of Arduino has been troubled for some time. About two and a half years ago, a dispute pitted four founders—Massimo Banzi, David Cuartielles, Tom Igoe, and David Mellis—against afifth, Gianluca Martino.
When Arduino was founded, Martino handled the manufacturing, having set up the first factory with his own money. In 2008, apparently unbeknownst to the other founders, he registered the Arduino trademark in his name in Italy. According to Musto, Martino filed the trademark to protect his investment, disliking how easy the open hardware license made it for competitors to build Arduino clones. The four other founders—who had themselves registered the Arduino trademark in the US—apparently found out about Martinos trademark play when they applied for an international Arduino trademark. The two factions, which essentially became rival Arduinos, went to court. Or, went to courts: in US, Italy, and Switzerland.
By 2014, Martino had partnered with another Italian, a boisterous tech entrepreneur named Federico Musto. Musto was the CEO of a hardware company called Dog Hunter, and had collaborated with Arduino to build a microprocessor called the Yun, which featured a proprietary Qualcomm Wi-Fi chip. Martino soon sold his entire share—worth 20 percent of Arduino—to Musto.
It was a business opportunity, says Musto. “But if someone said, ‘Oh, it is a business opportunity but you will spend two years fighting in legal,’ I would have said Guys, Im done, enjoy.’” Finally, last fall, Musto says he recalls receiving an email from Massimo Banzi, leader of Arduinos US trademark holders. The pair reconciled, forming a new company, called Arduino AG, with Arduino LLC—the group with the US trademark—as a subsidiary. Under the reorganization, Musto says he owns a 50 percent stake in the company, while Banzi and his group own 49 percent, and Martino and Daniella Antonietti, Martino’s business partner, own the rest.
On October 1, Musto and Banzi announced the reconciliation on stage at the World Maker Faire in New York and promised a new beginning for Arduino.
From the start, not everyone has been happy about this supposed new beginning. Limor Fried, founder of the DIY electronics company Adafruit, and her partner Phillip Torrone, are two of Arduinos biggest evangelistsand their company is one of its biggest US distributors. So when the Arduino founders started working with Musto two and a half years ago, they brought him by the Adafruit headquarters for an introduction.
Fried does not remember the encounter fondly, and one moment in particular stuck with her: He gave us his business card, and it said Federico Musto, PhD. So I asked him where he went, and he answered MIT. Fried is an MIT grad herself, so she asked him who his advisor was and which lab he was in. Musto got quiet, she recalls, and quickly wrapped up the meeting. She let the matter drop, until Musto was declared Arduinos CEO. She and Torrone did some digging and found numerous instances where Musto was listed as having an MIT PhD. When they contacted the registrars of both MIT and NYU, the universities said they had no record of Musto ever attending.
With this evidence in hand, Fried and Torrone emailed Musto, who replied that it was a mistake, and that he would correct the matter. But his various internet bios kept citing the credentials. So the pair contacted the media.
An animated man in an open-collared shirt, Musto gesticulates happily when talking about Arduinos new microcontroller product lines. Sitting in Arduinos San Jose headquarters, he grows more subdued when the subject of his academic credentials comes up. Adafruit, he says, has been engaged in a smear campaign against him ever since he got involved with Arduino. The motivation, in his view, has to do with business.
Aside from questioning his adversaries motives, he has few answers about the degrees themselves. Musto says that around 25 years ago, he won a scholarship from his school in Italy—the name of which he says he does not remember because its since changed—to be a visiting student in New York. First he spent a month at Wagner College, then two more months at NYU through Bocconi University in Milan. Then he returned to Italy and enrolled in a computer science program that included some studies as an exchange student at MIT. Musto says he also, separately, did some coursework at MIT that was paid for by Olivetti, a company he worked for.
Whether or not thats true (NYU and MIT say they have no record of it), a few months of classes do not a PhD and an MBA make. Its true, its my fault, sometimes I try to squeeze and say, yes I got the MBA, he says. When presented with printouts of all the instances where he was listed as having a PhD from MIT and an MBA from NYU, he said that he had not written the bios himself. Then he reiterated that he had been an exchange student, but that had been 25 years ago and explained how you cant even study that way anymore, and he probably could not find the records. Only thing I can prove is I went to kindergarten, he says, with a smile and a shrug.
Share and Share Alike
Musto, who has owned several technology businesses, may well be qualified to run Arduino. But his detractors are concerned that Musto, given his apparent fictions, now has so much sway over such a valuable component of the maker universe. Substantively speaking, its not yet clear how he might change Arduino: He says he plans to keep adding more complex, sophisticated microcontrollers to the companys product lineup. He still professes a commitment to the open source idea and to the Arduino community.
But to some, that commitment rings hollow for a simple reason: The open source community operates—as the name implies—on openness. The maker community is like all small communities, in that it is full of people who dont let liars in, says Silver. Torrone says that one of the reasons why he went to the press with the information about Mustos credentials was precisely that: to defend the community.
To women in the maker movement, who are often accused of being fake geeks and frequently have their expertise questioned, Mustos apparent lies are personal affronts. When you go to MIT, there is always this murmur that they had to lower the standards for you, Fried says. And after you graduate, you get asked all the time if you were actually smart enough to have earned your credentials. Its a little bit insane that this guy has gotten this far without ever being questioned.
As of press time, Mustos LinkedIn page now only lists one academic credential: Montessori Kindergarten, Torino, 1971-1972.