Shortly after NYC Resistor went live, I began researching Hackerspaces and while I always wanted to open one of my own, I never had the time or the funding to do so. Fast forward a few years and a few of the local makers in my area have formed a club that would meet once a month to discuss what they were working on. Around that same time, a coding club formed as well. At some point, members of the CSRA Makers and HackAugusta joined forces to form theClubhou.se .
As much as I would like to take some of the credit for this, I have only recently been able to join this Makerspace due to its formation unfortunately aligning with the time my home burned down last year. Nonetheless, I am a member now and I am working hard with the other members to make it even more awesome than it already is.
As I mentioned earlier, I am an instructor for a group of intelligent teens we call the Young Makers. Every other week, we meet at theClubhou.se and give a lesson on something maker related. One week we may learn how to make servo motors work using Arduino microcontrollers, then the next class may be dedicated to deconstructing electronics to salvage parts we might use in future projects. We like to call these events Deconstruction Derbies.
Regardless of the scheduled activity we always have a hard time ending the class because the children simply want to continue learning. I will be the first to say that when you have to end a coding class over an hour late because of the kids' desire to continue coding, you feel a great sense of accomplishment as well as a lot of confidence in the next generation of innovators.
In general, I tend to get along with almost everyone who happens to cross my path in life, but I can honestly say that some of my best friends are also members of theClubhou.se. Even though I have only been an official member for two months now, I feel like I have been a member from the beginning. Everyone welcomes me and my ideas openly because that is what a Makerspace is all about. It's not about being closed-minded, secretive, and trying to one up someone else, but is more centered on sharing knowledge, helping fellow makers succeed, and empowering each other to do what we love doing.
I asked one of the founders of theClubhou.se, Chris Williamson, if he would be interested in a short interview for this article, and being such a good friend, he agreed. I sat down with Chris and asked him a few questions that may lend some insight into why a Makerspace may be a good choice for you, the reader, to consider joining. So without further adieu, here is a transcript of the interview.
Charles: Chris, you are one of the founding members of The Clubhou.se, a Makerspace located in Augusta, GA. Why did you feel that it was important to bring this type of collaboration space to your area?
Chris: I felt that we needed a place to get together with likeminded folks. Being in robotics for ten plus years, I was sad to have no one interested in the same things as me that I could find locally, so I reached out to people finally, and ended up meeting some awesome people in the process.
Charles: What improvements have you seen come to your area that are a result of theClubhou.se's existence?
Chris: More widespread robotics education, early introduction of technology to kids, as well as bringing connectivity and networking to our highly varied technology community in Augusta. More technology outreach to the general public, including Wounded Warriors, and other groups have been tremendous.
Charles: Has your Makerspace played a pivotal role in launching any successful startups that may have never happened without it?
Chris: We currently have three or four startups that are being worked on in the space. We are all successful in our own right so far, but none have been publically launched. My personal start up is 'txtcam', a new type of camera device that allows you to get rid of those selfies, and also never leaves anyone out of a photo! I have a second start up that is 'SpacePRIDE', which involves robotic technology and pushing the boundaries for the NASA Sample Return Challenge.
Charles: On the maker movement in general, some say that it is a passing fad, while others insist that it is the future of innovation, and that Makerspaces will lead the charge in defining the next era of technology. What are your thoughts on this?
Chris: I believe that community spaces in general will be around for a while. The amount of knowledge that you can pack into one place at a given time is just amazing. Sure, lots of ideas are thought up when you're sitting at home by yourself, but allowing yourself to collaborate with others on the idea can really bring it to light and push it out the door much faster. Technology moves in an alarming rate, and by collaborating with people, you can help keep yourself on the leading edge.
Charles: Do you prefer the term Makerspace over Hackerspace, and why?
Chris: I actually prefer the term Makerspace only because I am more of a 'Maker' than a 'Hacker'. I believe the two terms are actually very different, and you can have a space of each. Hackers leaning more towards the programming side and software side, while Makers lean more on creating things and being more hands on. Although, I could see an argument of either side having the same traits.
Charles: You and I have been friends for quite some time now, and have both witnessed each other build some amazing projects. Can you tell me about some of your latest endeavors that have benefited from theClubhou.se, and the maker movement in general?
Chris: My current projects are 'txtcam' and 'SumoBot League'. txtcam is a hardware start up built around creating a new device for streamlining the ability to make memories and capture them for social media. SumoBot League is a robotics curriculum that I'm currently writing to help get more people interested into robotics. This curriculum will entail everything that is STEM education, from soldering, to hands-on building, designing, programming, and competing in a very fun environment.
Charles: If you had one piece of advice to give to someone who was looking to join a Makerspace, what would that advice be? Likewise, if you could offer advice to someone wanting to launch their own Makerspace in their city, what would you tell them that might better prepare them?
Chris: JOIN! You'd be crazy not to join up and just be able to hang out with likeminded people. Makerspaces are always needing support, and if you're looking to join, then they can definitely use your support! On the other hand, if you're looking to start a space, I have this to say: Be ready to pull your hair out. Literally, running a space is a very complicated matter and does get scary sometimes, but as soon as you get everything put together things will start working out. Just keep strong and keep pushing!
His last answer pretty much sums up why anyone should join a Makerspace. The ability to meet up with likeminded people, work on projects in a collaborative manner, and the ability to not only gain knowledge but share it with others, is a very appealing thing. I cannot urge you enough to seek out a Makerspace in your local area, visit it during an open house event and join at the highest membership level you can afford if you feel it fits your needs. Remember that just because it is not perfectly fitted to you, does not mean that it cannot add features that better suit your needs. With every paying member, the spaces ability to purchase additional tools, equipment, and other things grows and as such, so does the Makerspace.
At the moment, there are two directories on the internet that independent Hackerspaces and Makerspaces list themselves on. Hackerspaces.org is a wiki-style website that lists almost every active Hackerspace in existence in its directory. Likewise, Makerspace.com lists many of the active Makerspaces around the country. Not all Hackerspaces and Makerspaces are listed on these sites though, so check out your local listings as well as contacting local universities and tech clubs to find out if there is one near you.
Image Credits: Some images appearing in this document were provided by NYC Resistor, theClubhou.se, IN-Berlin, FabLab, and Chris Williamson.