When Kyle Wiens first posted a step-by-step repair guide online for his college laptop back in 2003, he didn’t think he’d one day be submitting filings to state legislatures on device owners’ rights to repair and maintain anything they own, from smartphones to farm tractors.
Wiens is CEO and co-founder of widely used website iFixit.com, which offers almost 80,000 free repair guides for tens of thousands of devices and pieces of equipment. What began as a community-supported collection of guides to repair computers and smartphones has grown to encompass all sorts of things, including one of the largest online collections of power tool repair guides.
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“I found that the first time you take something apart it’s hard, but the second time it’s easier, so I can document the process,” says Wiens. “If this information exists in the world, I should have access to it.”
Wiens’ background is in software engineering, but he’s always had an interest in fixing things with his hands. He inherited this from his grandfather, Everett Miller, who had worked as the maintenance and construction section leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “He designed mobile repair facilities for water treatment plants [at Los Alamos],” Wiens says. “When I was a kid, he would just buy an old stereo and we would take it apart together.”
After Wiens launched iFixit in 2003 with his co-founder Luke Soules, they tried to work with manufacturers to get full repair guides for devices posted online. Encountering resistance from large consumer and commercial technology manufacturers, Wiens and Soules worked with iFixit’s rapidly growing user community to create step-by-step repair guides with photos and diagrams. “We ended up having to crowdsource to replace what manufacturers should have done anyway,” says Wiens. Stymied by the big tech companies, Wiens became an advocate of what would become the Right to Repair movement.
Over the last decade, he’s emerged as a leading voice for independent and user-driven repairs, and for new legislation pushing back against manufacturer restrictions. “Kyle has been a real stalwart on this,” says Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association, an advocacy group pressing for legislation to protect the Right to Repair at the state and federal level. “He’s also become a bit of an expert on copyright law. You wouldn’t expect that from a parts and tools guy. ”
The years-long efforts of Wiens and advocacy groups like the Repair Association on this issue bore fruit last year, with the Federal Trade Commission publishing a report critical of manufacturers’ restrictive repair policies, and a statement issued by the Biden administration supporting third-party repair access. Gordon-Byrne says this shift at the federal level should provide momentum for a range of Right to Repair legislative initiatives at the state level this year.
But for Wiens, it’s still all about repairs and tinkering. “If you can follow a guide, you can fix something, craft something; make people’s lives better,” he says.