Why you should care about your local hackerspace

Open centers of grassroots innovation, hackerspaces offer opportunities to source talent, create goodwill, and push technology forward

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Organizations and managers within organizations should also look to their local hackerspaces. Why? Because hackerspaces tend to be hubs of entrepreneurial activity, and they can be a good place to recruit amazingly talented people, especially the so-called T-shaped people who have both an incredibly broad skill set and range of knowledge, as well as deep expertise and knowledge in at least one area.

Some hackerspaces are also open to collaborative ventures alongside local for-profit firms, or are at least willing to promote your organization through the channels they control. In exchange, a donation to sponsor the space is always welcome. For companies -- in terms of community goodwill and "hacker cred" in your local community -- there may be no better investment than sponsoring a local hackerspace.

Of course, you may be wondering what to do if you don't have a local hackerspace. The answer should be obvious: Start one yourself. Launching a hackerspace isn't necessarily difficult and there's plenty of information available from those who have gone before. For example, here's a handy guide to starting a hackerspace, courtesy of the fine folks at Adafruit. Also, the hackerspaces website has a treasure trove of useful information, including an awesome list of hackerspace design patterns.

But in the end, it's really just the following, per Mitch Altman:

Envision a culture you want to be part of, and put it out there. Pick a name, get a website, make stickers, hand out stickers to anybody and everybody, meet every Tuesday, and eventually get a physical space.

Interview with a Hackerspace organizer
Finally, to complement my own thinking on this topic, I reached out to Jeff Crews, current President of Splat Space, and posed a few questions about hackerspaces to him. Here is his take on hackerspaces:

Q. What is your definition of a hackerspace?

A. A hackerspace is a social group or organization, with or without a fixed physical location, made up of people who are interested in the inner workings of "things." Hacking involves the willingness to take physical or virtual objects and processes apart, find out how they work, and reassemble and recombine them (hopefully with improvements!).

The attitude of getting under the hood and fussing with the guts in order to learn and innovate is the key here, not the presence or absence of a given kind of technology. A knitting circle following premade patterns is not a hackerspace, nor is an "electronics club" that only builds prepackaged kits. A knitting circle that pushes the boundaries of their art, incorporates new materials, creates new techniques, and uses "knitting tech" in ways that have not been attempted before is a hackerspace even if nary an IC chip is found in their supply cabinet.

Q. How would you define success for a hackerspace?

A. Success initially means having regular meetings and paying the rent/keeping the lights on (if you're renting a space). Success over time is growing, developing more and more of a local and online presence, becoming known for innovation, sharing of knowledge, and outreach to those who could benefit.

Q. How does a hackerspace fail?

A. A hackerspace fails by being too exclusive, too centered on one thing, too cliquish and secretive, or openly hostile to outsiders and "the wrong kind of people." Territoriality is for chimps.

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