Enginursday: The Maker Community IRL

With the world accessible in an instant these days, sometimes your local community goes by the wayside when looking for help or common interest.

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Don't get me wrong, the internet community is awesome. Put aside most of the arguing and egos brought on by the feeling of anonymity, and it's still really cool to find and talk with people on the other side of the globe with the same interests as you. There are always the big conferences and events: Maker Faire, Hackaday Superconference, etc. But while it may seem like you live in an area void of other makers, or even those interested in technology, it's probably not the case. If it is, maybe you can be the catalyst to start such a scene.

I hope most of this is nothing new, but it's something I wish I had read years ago and learned about the local resources and community available to me. I'm lucky that Boulder and the surrounding areas have an incredible tech community, but there are plenty of areas where it might not be as apparent (I grew up in Central, PA, and the only tech company/presence I can name from there was MapQuest). If you're in an area not necessarily booming with tech, here are some places to look for like-minded individuals.

Canoe at Makerspace Exhibit Night

The Boulder Public Library recently had a showcase night for some of the projects coming out of their makerspace, BLDG 61

Hacker/Makerspaces

This is hopefully the first thing you search for. These days it's difficult to find an area that doesn't have a makerspace – in fact, more libraries are starting to include them. In addition to being a great resource for tools and space to work, a fair amount of them hold public events such as classes, open-houses, talks or meetups (more on those later). Occasionally, some are not as well-staffed, or are less able to accommodate random public drop-ins, so an email ahead of time is usually good practice if there isn't an explicit invitation.

Meetups

Even if you're not looking to meet other makers in your area (sounds like a dating site tagline), I suggest checking out the site Meetup. Meetup helps people form groups and manage attendance for events. Through Meetup I have attended recurring group discussions, talks and panels with some pretty big names – even just morning coffee sessions where it was 3-4 of us discussing current technology events. For those looking to get into giving talks about their areas of expertise, a lot of the meetup groups start or end their events with a talk, and are frequently looking for new topics.

Startup Week/Events

These days it's difficult to find a town or city not trying their best to attract tech companies - for better or worse, everyone is vying to be the next tech hub. One hallmark of this is frequent events directed at fostering a startup community (mostly catering to tech startups). Some of the next generation of tech startups - IoT especially - will likely be drawn to (more affordable) areas with real-world problems best solved by connected devices: agriculture tools, home automation and manufacturing. It makes sense that a lot of these startup events frequently border on the maker community, a group prized for their ability to create working prototypes or finished products on hobbyist budgets (great job everyone!). These events are also a good place to look for jobs where your maker skills apply, a question I receive very frequently.

Education Institutions

A lot of these events also occur on college campuses or other education institutions. Unfortunately, most are limited to students and faculty, but there are usually some events open to the public as well. If it's not readily apparent, a quick email to one of the STEAM departments might yield results. You'll find mostly talks on technology or project demos, but they can hold a lot of value if the topics pique your interest.

If None of the Above are Happening

There is a chance that none of these events are happening in your area, in which case the internet is still a way to connect with other makers, but it could also be an opportunity for you to start something yourself. Meetups are some of the cheapest and easiest ways to get a regular discussion group going; I've been to events that took place at a table in the back of a restaurant in the beginning, and are now booked to capacity. If you're looking to create a local maker scene, think about these options above as first steps.


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  • Great article! Your mention of MapQuest brings back a memory -- back in the late 1990s, I needed directions to an address in Tucson for a hamfest I wanted to go to. (BTW, I live in the Phoenix area.) Having never been to that part of Tucson, I decided to ask MapQuest for directions from my office (in Tempe, a Phoenix suburb) to the address. Since Tucson is roughly 120 miles via freeway from Phoenix, I was a bit worried when MapQuest claimed it would take more than 30 HOURS to get there! It turned out that it didn't know about that street in Tucson, so rather than saying "I don't know", it gave me directions to the same address in a little town in Oregon! (I printed out those [mis]directions, and for several years used them to explain the cliche' of why guys don't ask for directions...)

    Another good, though somewhat indirect, way to find "like minded" individuals is through Amateur Radio (also known as "Ham Radio"). A fair number of "Hams" are also makers (and many makers are also Hams), so even if you (currently) have no interest in Ham radio, it might be worthwhile to at least visit a club meeting in your area (especially if you can't find other things). Although not all local Ham radio clubs are affiliated with the ARRL (which is the national level "club" in the U.S.), many are, and they do have lists of them. They also have lists of many hamfests. (On a related tangent, knowledge of Morse code is no longer a requirement to get any level of Ham license.)

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