140323_hackerspace.jpg Eric Skiff/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Why you should join a hackerspace

By Nick Mediati (@dtnick) · Published March 25, 2014 at 7:30am.

If you spend enough time around members of the tech community, the term “hackerspace” is bound to come up in conversation sooner or later. “Hackerspace” is a catch-all term to describe a communal space where members come together to work on projects of all shapes and sizes—think of it as a workshop that you share with several dozen of your closest friends. But despite the name, you don’t need to be a self-professed “hacker” to consider joining one. Here’s why.

It’s not just about tech!

Image: Kevin Lee

I think there’s a misconception out there that hackerspaces are all about soldering and toiling away on electronics projects and 3D printers and little else. And while tech is a central focus for many hackerspaces, others have little to do with typical tech.

Genspace is a prime example. Located in Brooklyn, Genspace is a community biolab that lets you go hands-on with biology and life-sciences. It’s part hackerspace, part high school science classroom.

Then there are places like The Crucible in Oakland, CA. Known locally for its fire arts program (among others), The Crucible offers programs that cover everything from blacksmithing to electronics to ceramics to welding. Working on something a bit…bigger that disturbs the neighbors? A place like Oakland’s NIMBY might be more up your alley.

Put another way: If you can imagine it, you can probably find a hackerspace that caters to it.

You can learn some new tricks

Many hackerspaces put a heavy emphasis on education and offer classes that are open to the public. You often have to pay a small fee to participate in classes, but some hackerspaces do offer free events and workshops that may be worth checking out. And the classes offered typically cover a wide variety of topics. NYC Resistor, a Brooklyn-based hackerspace and collective, holds classes that range from an introduction to microcontrollers to making a sculpture mold.

You can gain access to tools, workspaces, and equipment

CNC machines at The Crucible.Image: Kevin Lee
CNC machines at The Crucible in Oakland, CA.

Need a specialized tool for a project but can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on one of your own? A hackerspace might be for you. Hackerspaces often grant members access to tools and various other pieces of equipment such as CNC milling machines, laser cutters, high-end 3D printers, and more. Some even offer workshop space that you can rent out for your projects.

Not every hackerspace offers open membership: Many hackerspaces are close-knit groups and don’t hand out memberships willy-nilly. If you’re interested in becoming a member, you’ll want to build up trust and familiarity with that hackerspace to show that you want to become an integral part of the community, that you’re not just there to borrow a screwdriver, so to speak.

Start by attending public events and paid classes, and get to know some of the folks there. If the hackerspace rents workshop space, try contacting the hackerspace directly, and explain to them why they should consider renting space to you.

You can find some new friends

The human element might be the biggest draw to getting involved at a hackerspace. Hackerspaces attract individuals from all walks of life—from programmers to artists to teachers to white-collar officeworkers—who come together to share a common interest. If socializing with others who share your interests isn’t enough of a draw, consider all you can learn from other members. That alone might be worth the cost of admission.