Back To Blog

Getting started: building a modular company, part 1

We get emails pretty regularly from people who are interested in building their own modules. Typically, the questions revolve around what skills they should work on (or as students, focus coursework around), pathways to the fame and riches of owning your own company (we’ll let you know when we figure out the fame and riches part), and experiences that will help get your feet wet. We originally wrote a post about this back in 2021, but a couple things have changed since then, so we thought it might be time to revisit. A lot of it is still similar, though!

We definitely think there’s more than one way to bake a cake, and if you’re baking cake, then it’s not wrong, because there will be cake at the end. My metaphor is falling apart because mmmm cake, but this is to say that our way is certainly not the only way, and there are a lot of other companies out there who have built things really differently and based on different foundations. If what we have to say doesn’t work for you, ask around!

In this first part, we'll chat about our backgrounds and how things started. In parts 2 and 3, we'll chat about design, manufacturing, programming, and more. 


A lot of people write in asking what they should study in school to get here, or what skills they should learn. This is a really hard question to answer without a good understanding of one’s goals, so we’ll answer it through the lens of our own backgrounds.

The Inevitable Origin Story

Noise Engineering started as a hobby for Stephen. Prior to this, Stephen was a programmer in the games industry and one day, he was critiquing modules that belonged to a friend (Shawn, now our Audio Alchemist). Shawn dared him to make a module, and Stephen knocked it out that weekend. That became our first product, the Ataraxic Translatron.

Stephen started doing this as a way to do something with his hands. He started teaching himself to program and dabbling in electronics well before his freshman year of high school. He built a functional television once. He really enjoyed the nerdery of it. But these were hobbies and he largely didn’t do much with either. He got an undergraduate degree in math. He got a masters in from a program specializing in video games. His knowledge of audio came from another hobby: making music. All of these together made him a great software engineer embedded with the audio team on his project. But it also meant he looked at a screen all day, and so making modules was a fun outlet.

If Stephen’s background is intimidating, Kris’s is not. Kris is a recovering academic. She has a smattering of degrees and certificates, but not a single one relates to what we do here. Around the time NE started doing well, she was tired of the academic rat race. We had grand plans for Stephen to do Noise Engineering and for Kris to keep on professing in biology, but it just wasn’t fun anymore. After pondering options, she walked away from that life and became Stephen’s partner in crime. 

That means she became employee number two and had to learn literally everything on the job, from how to use a soldering iron to designing schematics and routing boards to some very light C++. Having a load of science degrees helped in that she knew how to learn new things, but she definitely had a few “excuse me, my brain is full” sorts of days.

Over time, we have added a few folks to the crew. From an engineering standpoint, we have Adam, who has a ridiculous amount of experience both in programming and in music, but never got to join his two passions until he came here. And we have Markus, Patrick, Shawn, and Elana who help in so many ways, even if they aren’t doing the software or hardware creation. 

In speaking to other modular makers, a surprising number of our favorite colleagues are self-taught. This is to say that there’s no one pathway to doing this, and doing it well.

A shared background

We all come from different backgrounds, some of us with no college, some with some, and some with stupid amounts of “formal” education. The thing that unites us is a musical background. We all play at least one instrument (even if not very well these days…). We have all studied music theory in some form or another (Adam has many years of conservatory training!). Our shared background in music making and music theory is something that strongly informs our designs. We can’t recommend a good working understanding of music and how it’s made enough. After all, if you don’t know anything about music, musical instruments will be hard to design.

Strength in numbers

Another thing we learned was that having a diversity of perspectives informing design makes our products demonstrably better. In the beginning, it was just Stephen. Then it was the two of us. Then Markus joined us and made incredibly astute contributions (and was exceptional about communicating them, which many folks find intimidating). Bringing Markus onboard may have been the single best thing we did for our design ethos, but each time we added a person, our products got better. You may not be ready to hire people, but getting feedback from a range of people on your potential product will make it better. 

Tl;dr: what worked for us

A strong background in music theory and a passion for music. A lot of tinkering time and then a substantial length of time in a professional setting using skills. A diversity of inputs on product design. Ability and willingness to take on whatever comes at you.

Never Miss a Beat

Get first dibs on discounts, presales, and all NE news.

Your email address will never be shared, sold, or used for nefarious purposes.

I'm interested in news about: