Anyone who’s picked up a tool with the intent of fixing something can tell you: Repairs don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, there isn’t exactly a plan to begin with. Sometimes, the path forward isn’t clear. And sometimes, when things don’t seem to be working out, it’s smartest to put down your tools and step away for awhile—returning later with a bit more perspective and a renewed sense of purpose.
The same can be said for tackling life goals, like graduating from college. Just ask Ryan Butler. Today, he’s getting his diploma from the University of South Florida in Tampa. Ryan’s the first to admit that his path to a diploma wasn’t exactly traditional. There were some detours along the way. But—like any determined fixer—he returned again and again until he made it work. Now, with degree in hand, he’s got indelible proof of his persistence.
Ryan was born and raised in Lakeland, Florida—just a stone’s throw away from Tampa. He graduated high school in 2002 and tried college twice, but it didn’t quite fit. Instead, Ryan threw himself into work and eventually volunteered to serve in the US Army.
“One of my big reasons for enlisting was free college,” Ryan told me, “but after joining … I realized that I enjoyed being a part of something bigger.”
While in the Army, he served in the Military Police Corps. Ryan was on active duty for five years, including a tour to Iraq. His military experience, especially protecting others and serving the country, are a point of pride for Ryan. He signs off every email with “US Army Veteran.”
After his honorable discharge, Ryan took some time to think things over: “I returned back to Lakeland to find my next path.” That was in 2013, and the time finally seemed right. Ryan once again set his sights on a college degree. With the help of the GI Bill, he enrolled at the University of South Florida.
That’s where he first encountered iFixit.
Ryan took a technical writing course with Professor Brittany Cagle. USF is one of nearly 60 universities that have partnered with iFixit to provide students hands-on practice creating repair documentation for a global audience. While participating in iFixit’s Technical Writing Project, Ryan gained experience as a project manager, keeping his team on track as they wrote repair guides for the Nvidia Shield Tablet K1. Nearly two years later, his team’s impact continues to extend far beyond the walls of their classroom. Their battery replacement guide alone has been used almost 7,000 times—and it’s even been translated into Japanese.
It turns out that Ryan got bit hard by the fixing bug in Professor Cagle’s class. He organized a club on campus, volunteering with students across disciplines to fix stuff and document their repairs to help others do the same. The club is called “iFixit@USF” and all of us here in the San Luis Obispo office were tickled when we caught wind of what they were up to.
What’s the motivation behind the club? According to Ryan, helping the environment is a big part of it. Club members are interested in “slowing down the waste of items that are thrown away because there are no repair guides out there.” Helping each other hone technical writing skills outside of a formal class setting is another big part of it.
Also, it’s just plain fun. “I enjoyed taking something apart for the first time in my college career,” explains Ryan, “and wanted to continue doing so.” For him, it’s not so much about the thing itself; it’s about the feeling that comes along with a successful fix. “It’s kind of a high to look back and say, ‘I got that to work!’”
When it comes to his toolbox, Ryan eschews the flashy in favor of the basics. His favorite tools are “a multi-tool, that has a knife and pliers on them, and a multi-purpose screwdriver” with interchangeable bits.
As for his proudest repair? That’s easy. It’s the one that set him down the fixer path: “The first one I did for iFixit. The Nvidia Shield Tablet K1.”
Ryan Butler is a proud veteran. He’s an inveterate fixer. And now he’s a bona fide college graduate. From all of us at iFixit, we congratulate him on attaining his degree, and we wish him all the best on whatever path he chooses to take next.