From London to San Francisco, to Berlin and Waterloo, hackerspaces are popping up everywhere, offering a place for geeks to work, collaborate and experiment. Since the first one was opened in Berlin in 1995, they have proliferated globally, providing a a safe, non-threatening place for technically-inclined people to hone their skills and to meet like-minded people.
Sometimes known as MakerSpaces, these are the digital equivalent of a hippie commune, often operating as non-profit organizations with the aim of benefiting people in the local community. They act as the hub for all digitally-minded folk in a city, and present unique opportunities for learning and self-development.
They’ve even spawned some fascinating projects, including a robot that makes sandwiches and even a space program. But what makes them so great, and why should you bother going to one?
Learn Something New
Are you interested in a bit of biohacking, or is coffee roasting more your thing? What about sewing, or are you more of a Python coder? How do you feel about lock picking? Hackerspaces have classes where you can hone the skills you care about. These are almost always organized by members of the community, and usually delivered by people who are intimately familiar the subject they are talking about. You don’t have to worry about a hit to your wallet, either. These classes are often delivered at low or no cost, allowing you to learn a new skill without having to stump up for expensive college courses.
Quite often, you can also run your own classes. Not only will this allow you to speak to other people who share your interests, you will also develop your public speaking skills and get a reputation locally for being an expert in your field. Just find out who organizes your local hackerspace and ask if they have any times when you could run a class.
3D Printing And More
Got a spare $3000 knocking about to splash out on a brand new 3D printer? Perhaps not. It goes without saying that price tag associated with 3D printers is sufficiently large enough to deter would-be makers from owning one. The same is also true for laser cutters and vacuum forming machines. Sadly, the technology that causes makers and hardware hackers to drool at the mouth tends to be startlingly expensive, ensuring a high barrier to ownership.
It’s not uncommon for hackerspaces to own a 3D printer or two. These are usually purchased with the help of donations from members or with grant funding, and can be used by the public for a small fee. This is generally to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the device. There might even be someone around who can show you how these amazing little devices work!
It’s not just high-tech gear on offer, too. Most hackerspaces have a small library containing books on a variety of topics, often donated by members of the community, as well as electrical consumables and a well-stacked tool shelf.
Do you find working from home distracting? Does your job let you work away from the office? Perhaps you should consider looking at co-working, which is a service offered by many hackerspaces.
The premise behind it is simple. You show up on the day and you pay a small fee. In return, you get a desk, an internet connection and perhaps even a few cups of coffee to keep you going as you work on your latest oeuvre.
But why should you bother working at a hackerspace? Rob Nightingale is the founder and CEO of SocialReap and for the past few years has been working from the co-working space at DoES Liverpool, one of the larger hackerspaces in the North of England. I asked him why.
To me, a co-working space is a bridge between the solitude of working from home, the cost of renting a permanent office, and the sometimes over-noisy or busy coffee shops that are rife in most cities.
Another compelling reason to work at a hackerspace is that you’ll be working alongside fellow geeks, programmers and entrepreneurs. Got a question about regular expressions, or is there a bug in your code? Odds are good that there’ll be someone just a few meters away who would be able to help you out.
Which brings me to the most compelling reason of all. You’ll be joining a community of like-minded people, who work on amazingly interesting things. You’ll learn new things, and make some incredible friendships. You will be able to hone your skills by hacking on projects with cool people. You will have interesting conversations, and be exposed to new ideas.
Photo courtesy of DoES Liverpool
Yes, the best reason to go to your hackerspace is the people who attend and make it special, and the community around it. The people who delight in spending five minutes teaching you how to solder, or giving you programming advice. The people who take the time to put on classes, or donate to buy the latest 3D printer.
If you live in a reasonably large city, there’s a fair chance that there is a hackerspace. At the time of writing, Hackerspaces.org counted 1569 of them, all spread throughout the world. If there’s not one in your town, why don’t you start your own?
Is there a hackerspace in your town? Have you paid it a visit? Let me know in the comments below.