Why A Community Hackerspace Should Be A Vital Part Of Being An Engineering Student

Travelling the continent’s hackerspaces over the years, I have visited quite a few spaces located in university towns. They share a depressingly common theme, of a community hackerspace full of former students who are now technology professionals, sharing a city with a university anxious to own all the things in the technology space and actively sabotaging the things they don’t own. I’ve seen spaces made homeless by university expansion, I’ve seen universities purposefully align their own events to clash with a hackerspace open night and discourage students from joining, and in one particularly egregious instance, I’ve even seen a university take legal action against a space because they used the name of the city, also that of the university, in the name of their hackerspace. I will not mince my words here; while the former are sharp practices, the latter is truly disgusting behaviour.

The above is probably a natural extension of the relationship many universities have with their cities, which seems depressingly often to be one of othering and exclusion. Yet in the case of hackerspaces I can’t escape the conclusion that a huge opportunity is being missed for universities to connect engineering and other tech-inclined students with their alumni, enhance their real-world skills, and provide them with valuable connections to tech careers.

Yesterday I was at an event organised by my alma mater, part of a group of alumni talking to them about our careers.  At the event I was speaking alongside an array of people with varying careers probably more glittering than mine, but one thing that came through was that this was something of a rare opportunity for many of the students, to talk to someone outside the university bubble. Yet here were a group of engineers, many of whom had interesting careers based locally, and in cases were even actively hiring. If only there were a place where these two groups could informally meet and get to know each other, a community based on a shared interest in technology, perhaps?

It’s not as though universities haven’t tried on the hackerspace front, but I’m sad to say that when they fill a room with cool machines for the students they’re rather missing the point. In some of the cases I mentioned above the desire to own all the things with their own students-only hackerspace was the thing that led to the community hackerspaces being sabotaged. Attractive as they are, there’s an important ingredient missing, they come from a belief that a hackerspace is about its facilities rather than its community. If you were to look at a room full of brand-new machines and compare it with a similar room containing a temperamental Chinese laser cutter and a pair of battered 3D printers, but alongside a group of seasoned engineers in an informal setting, which would you consider to be of more benefit to a student engineer? It should not be a difficult conclusion to make.

Universities value their local tech industry, particularly that which has some connection to your university. You want your students to connect with your alumni, to connect with the local tech scene, and to ultimately find employment within it. At the same time though, you’re a university, you see yourselves as the thought leader, and you want to own all the things. My point is that these two positions are largely incompatible when it comes to connecting your engineering students with the community of engineers that surround you, and you’re failing your students in doing so.

Thus I have a radical proposal for universities. Instead of putting all your resources on a sterile room full of machines for your students, how about spending a little into placing them in a less shiny room full of professional engineers on their off-time? Your local hackerspace is no threat to you, instead it’s a priceless resource, so encourage your students to join it. Subsidise them if they can’t afford the monthly membership, the cost is peanuts compared to the benefit. Above all though, don’t try to own the hackerspace, or we’re back to the first paragraph. Just sometimes, good things can happen in a town without the university being involved.

73 thoughts on “Why A Community Hackerspace Should Be A Vital Part Of Being An Engineering Student

  1. I was part of a group who tried to start a hackerspace once. After the local university started it’s students only space the students had no reason to join. The remaining, non-students were too few to rent or buy a shop so we disbanded.

    It never occurred to me that there might be something more to that than just their desire to provide something for their students but now I am wondering. To this day there is still no general-purpose makerspace in my city of almost 300,000 people.

        1. At the best spaces I have visited the “adults” provide stability, the students provide the energy and creativity. Where there are few students it just isn’t the same.

      1. It might not always be because it is seen as a threat – just becoming aware a resource their students are wanting and using in the hackerspace that they can do ‘better’ as they have the budget and quite possibly the building already – Providing the best for their students when competing to get the best and brightest minds to come to their university does seem to be part of the business model.

        The real question is surely if you ask as an outsider will they let you use their space, presumably for a fee but who can tell. For instance great sports facilities at my local university that get hired by many local schools and can be used by anybody (or at least could be last I looked). If they are not actually gatekeeping and preventing outside participation then I don’t see it as a problem at all – and how can you be sure they are gatekeeping if you don’t actually ask to join the ‘university owned’ space – they have no great need to advertise outside of the university.

        1. Sometimes, the university management goes, “What do you need a new lab/equipment for? That community hackerspace offers the service already – no funding for you!”. The management just wants to get rid of all recurring costs, including rent on facilities which “aren’t needed”.

          But, if we sent all our students to the local hackerspace with their assignments and projects, they would be completely run over and overwhelmed, so we need our own labs – if not for anything else then just making sure we have the space and the equipment when needed instead of having to share.

          Having a “prototype workshop” in-house is a huge boon for research as well, but it doesn’t work if people don’t utilize it. The fixed costs are running whether you use it or not, so it makes no sense to send the students elsewhere.

        2. When it happened in my city there were people asking the university to open up membership to the local community. They said they would consider it but came back with the excuse that their insurance didn’t allow it. That seemed believable to me at the time but now that you mention it I do know at least one local university that has publicly available memberships to it’s gym. It’s not the same one that has the makerspace but I haven’t checked their gym, maybe they have public memberships there too.

    1. I was thinking that it would a good thing if the company I work at put up a hacker space for the employees. We have 5 campuses and several thousand engineers in the county I work in so I thought it would be great.
      I can see now that it is probably a bad choice as there is a hacker space right across from one of our campuses.
      So it would probably be better for the company to donate some stuff and sponsor some events at the local hacker space instead.
      Of course a lot of my friends already have mills, lathes, lifts, laser cutters, and 3d printers so I guess we have kind of an ad hoc hackerspace.

  2. I worked with an Electrical Engineer on a Maintenance Project. We were on the Production Floor, I was ‘Working’ while he was watching. I asked him to roll the welder over here, so I could use it.. He turned around and started pushing a Portable Pump Cart over to me..

    Too Much book, and not enough Real World.

    1. I think unfortunately that’s a big problem with education in many many countries and many different fields. I work in life science/ environmental science since 23 years and I’m still flabbergasted how clueless those “educated” Biology people (and related fields) are in a real live laboratory setting.
      when i was a fourth semester apprentice when i had to co-host an advanced biology class for university students many of which never had used a pipette before….that was just embarrassing.

      1. I’m not sure it is really embarrassing – it isn’t their area of speciality so it isn’t a shocker to find they don’t already know all about everything there – but they probably know a great deal you don’t in their area. There is a reason why you want cross discipline teams for most if not all projects and find the best people are the ones that want to understand why this is the ‘correct’ method here and develop some understanding of the other sides of the problem.

        In Cap’s case with the wild variation in size and shape of welding machines along with so many differences in basic functional method I’d not expect somebody to recognise the tool for what it is if it is so far out of their usual skill set. The only welder they have ever seen might have been ultrasonic/laser/spot and on a tiny scale. Would Cap really know exactly which tool goes to which name for all the tools of the EE’s job, and be confident enough to grab the right one when they thought the gesture pointed rather more to left than the tool they thought it would be?

        1. i cant comment on Cap’s situation but in my case your missing the point: it absolutely IS their area of expertise. the only difference is the teaching method, some do apprenticeships others go to university. some 20 years ago it used to be the case that university graduates were more likely to be supervisors and managers higher up the food chain but nowadays both career path are considered equivalent for most intent and purposes i.e they compete for the same jobs. so yeah i absolutely still think its ridiculous that someone who is supposed to be equal to me and do my job as well as i do have no clues what the basic tools are apart from what they have seen in their textbooks.
          I’m not saying this is universally the case but it is in my country.

          1. There are lots of ways to be a scientist of any sort that have nothing to do with a lab setting or actually using these specific tools. For instance you might be more of a mathematical/theoretical crafting type and doing the analysis of others labwork and creating the experiment concepts. And in any case a great deal of lab work you don’t do it yourself anyway now – that is what the robots are for! They work in the sterile environment without the constant surrounding people as a source of contamination, able to run much much bigger batches faster and more precisely etc.

            It is perfectly reasonable to expect a new hire to need to learn how you do things there, and to not be coming at the job from the exact same path you did. If they didn’t spend all that time doing lab practice type stuff as you did to end up there then presumably they did something else so have a more refined understanding or entire other skillsets you do not. You were not born knowing this stuff either – once upon a time you arrived at a biolab without knowing these tools or all the reams of best practice for this type of lab and had to learn…

          2. >analysis of others labwork and creating the experiment concepts

            That’s almost like having a structural engineer who has never even built a doll’s house checking your drawings and calculations. No hands-on experience, no sense of scale or perspective, no practical understanding of tools or methods… A scary prospect indeed – and today it keeps happening more and more, and buildings collapse because of it.

          3. >That’s almost like having a structural engineer who has never even built a doll’s house checking your drawings and calculations.

            As building a dolls house has absolutely nothing at all to do with calculating the wind load, snow load, or defining what materials are required to match the requirements on the structure that really isn’t a problem at all.

            Now if you asked them to actually drive the digger, mix the concrete, wield the saw etc you might hit trouble if they have never built stuff themselves, and maybe if they have never spoken to a builder they would design something that can’t actually be built practically when left to their own devices in design. But in terms of running the numbers on your design that is and always has been book knowledge – the ‘real’ builder will always tend to fiddle the spec to make them more money. Knowing they can get away with not building to the drawing long enough to get paid as the design and regs should always be for a reasonable safety margin.

      2. Wow, if only the rest of us could aspire to ascend to your levels of mastery without being taught at all. I guess I’ll just have to keep climbing the mountain by learning one thing at a time.

    2. Where I work we always pair up new grads with mentors to help them get started off on the right foot as well as any interns. I guess we understand that not everyone knows everything and that learning is a skill and everyone in the profession has to keep learning or retire.
      Sounds like where you work throws people to the wolfs and let them sink or swim. I would rather be a mentor than a wolf but that is just me.

  3. I left University specifically because they could not understand the concept that knowledge could be obtained by a source other than them. Personally, I don’t see them ever embracing hackerspaces. However, I would gladly hire a qualified Engineer that spent more time in a hackerspace than a classroom.

  4. > when they fill a room with cool machines for the students they’re rather missing the point

    In more ways than one.

    The “hackerspace” ecosystem leans on a particular kind of thought, where the person is assumed to be more or less dumb and incompetent, so they should be provided with means of achieving their goals with minimum effort in understanding the procedures and processes of whatever they’re trying to accomplish. It is geared towards “makers”, not “engineers”.

    The difference is that a “maker” is only interested in the end product as a one-off thing for their personal interest, not the process, while the “engineer” always has to mind the process because that is a very important part of their job: to understand the manufacturability of the product they’re making instead of just drawing abstract parts to be 3D printed at a great cost that will never scale up to mass production.

    1. This is an incredibly myopic take.

      Regarding the process of building, you suggest that manufacturability at scale is the only thing that matters, but in reality, not everyone is solving problems with an EAU of 20 million and manufacturing at scale is not the sole metric of success.

      There are entire teams of engineers who focus on innovation, aka R&D. This is where all great things big and small are birthed. The capability to build at scale is considered when the overall usefulness of the device has been evaluated in a tangible way and a positive marketing potential is established. This can not be accomplished in someones Spice or FEA software alone.

      All of the above is also ignoring iterative development. There isn’t much to learn from doing something perfectly right from the get go. You learn more from failure than success. If you remove or attenuate the design feedback that engineers may receive from realizing their designs (even if just for curiosity) you are setting them up for delayed professional development or even outright failure.

      You may consider ‘makers’ and one-off engineers to be inferior, but this is where all the technology in your life originates, so why disparage it?

      1. The question is, how do you make the leap from “Let’s put an Arduino in it” to proper engineering that can – if needed – be industrially manufactured at a reasonable price point.

        It doesn’t happen in an environment geared towards “makers”.

        1. The impression I’m getting from your arguments is that people should just not explore their ideas unless the design is ‘engineered perfectly’ up front.

          Or maybe you’re just expressing anger because your field of engineering is mechanical and you feel threatened by rapid iteration enabled by 3d printers and microcontrollers.

          1. The main problem nowadays is, that the huge majority of the students don’t realize that the development process is not finished as long as you need a 3d printer and microcontrollers for basic functionality. The supply chain hiccups are a massive yet commonly ignored reminder to finish the development before starting the large scale production processes.

        2. So? Why does that have to always be important? Best way to kill the enjoyment of a hobby.. make a career out of it. And mass production is a career.

          But sure, hackerspaces aren’t geared towards designing mass produced products.

          Just like industrial environments suck at producing items that don’t suck. Commercial goods lack in innovation, arbitrarily lock users out of functionality, are poorly designed for repair or modification and mostly meant to waste resources and quickly head to the landfill so the consumer will buy the next model.

          Dude sounds like one of those sad people that can’t see the value in anything unless there is a dollar sign in front of it.

        3. Simple, you have a laser cutter with the printer so that it can be learned what flat stock is and how it can be superior to make a flat construct by cutting holes instead of laying a bunch of flat filament. Then they can graduate to realizing it can be better to use bar stock and a drill than flat stock as ‘struts’ or straps or linkages.

          As for Arduino. Its fine. Start with it, then explain that programming in C can result in better performance. Go from a Pi Pico to a bare RP2040 chip or from an Arduino to a bare Atmega for example

          I personally always think of how to make more for cheap. Sadly looking at many projects it seems its easier to wait 3-5 iterations in before they jump to discrete. Not sure if its because of a hurdle with designing and populating, or the economy of scale doesn’t work until the run is 10,000. It could just be because an experimental project is so cool people want one and it just goes out the door in beta form. But I guess that’s better than never seeing the light of day.

          Many people just don’t know what they don’t know. I would think on the job experience through a work program or apprenticeship would be most helpful.

    2. Not sure that is really fair – the room full of cool machines are likely a similar sort of machines that would be used in mass production settings. The only difference being for real mass production 99% of the time now its create the injection mold at great expense and the part is stamped out in plastic damn nearly for free*, where the tools the space provides are more likely to be the tools to create that mold, the initial prototype parts or the smaller run altogether parts…

      Manufacturability is still darn important for the ‘maker’ – as they actually have to be able to make it, use it, repair it – the approach and values placed on all the various elements to a design will be different but the methods are not miles apart. It is always make what I want with the money I can spend and the tools I can use…

      *unless of course it is an at all ‘premium’ grade product in which case now its all CNC cut metal cases, and so exactly the same as what the fancy tools the makerspace might provide can do, just the maker space ones are not going to be part of a hugely expensive dedicated production line…

      1. Manufacturability for a maker is a bit different – it’s more like 19th century manufacturing where you whittle away at it until the part fits, better or worse.

        There’s a LOT more going on with engineering for industry, or engineering in general, than just “creating the injection mold”. A lot of planning has to go into materials, tolerances, forces etc. to make sure the thing can be put together without throwing half the stock the bin because they won’t fit.

        1. As a personal anecdote, when I was starting out, I proposed a structure with a folding tab saying “…and for this part, we simply tap this over with a hammer and it locks in place…” – and immediately one of the senior engineers asked – “Who’s gonna be swinging the hammer?”.

          Fair point. While the design was simple to assemble in a manual workshop – like in your own garage, or indeed a hackerspace – it would actually require developing a whole industrial robot to move, locate, fix and then strike the tab.

          I had unconsciously designed the part as if I were making them on my knee rather than in a factory.

        2. >A lot of planning has to go into materials, tolerances, forces etc. to make sure the thing can be put together without throwing half the stock the bin because they won’t fit.

          And that is still the same for a ‘maker’ more often than not – as they can’t afford to throw lots of stock in the bin. Maybe as it is a one off or short run the important details are only the tolerance between parts with each unit being not 100% interchangeable – it is easier to adjust the bore/piston/running surface to match the other features and add a registration pin once everything is assembled and working on this one example than make every part to micron or better precision…

          >I had unconsciously designed the part as if I were making them on my knee rather than in a factory.

          As I said the approach and value placed on elements of the design will be different – but it is still designed for manufacturer with the budget, tools and materials available! Also for the small run industrial producer it is still probably worth using a man on a hammer. Even in a ‘real’ setting there is frequently going to be parts of the design that are very much the same as the makerspace would produce – not everyone is building dedicated and automated production lines to churn out 1000’s of identical parts a day for ages to come…

    3. This sounds suspiciously like an engineering student/grad that’s never actually made anything…

      You wanna know what the worst part of majoring in engineering was for me? I’m going to tell you anyway. Dealing with engineering students that couldn’t build anything. They routinely over promised and under delivered on every project, just assuming that someone else would figure out the technical details and then taking credit when someone else poured their lide into a project to meet the deadline. Unsurpringly, these are the same kinds of ‘engineers’ that do this routine in the workplace.

      1. That’s what we’re trying to deal with and do away with, but unfortunately the “hackerspace” environment doesn’t really teach them how to do things – they just offer the easy solution to get the students in and out.

        What happens is, their solution is to either 3D print it or laser-cut it – out of some cheap material like fiber board – and then the students come back to you with something wonky hot-snotted together, working by accident rather than design.

        1. This is where Formula Student shines. You have a goal (functional race car) that you have to reach by applying engineering techniques.
          It does you no good to build the fastest, best car out there if you don’t have the plans and documentation for the engineering side of things. You must design and build the race car to the specifications. The design must be shown to meet the requirements. The final design review is a requirement to be allowed to take part in the races.
          The cars are designed, then built to the design plans. There’s a design review by the race organizers, then they check that the car is built according to the plans.

          A typical Formula Student team will have over 50 members, with sub-teams covering different parts of the design and construction. The team members get practical experience in design, construction, and team work.

          My son tells me that documentation is the biggest key to success – document the design and the how and the why of the design choices as well as experience doing the construction. It takes all of that to improve the design from year to year.

          Besides all of that, they also have to manage to finances – the team has to purchase the materials and tools they use to design an build the car. Much it comes from donations from various industries and companies. The team organizers (the students) are responsible for acquiring and retaining sponsors who donate money and materials.

          Formula Student:

  5. I’m fortunate enough to study at an university with an active student-ran hackerspace. It’s mostly focused on electronics and HAM radio, but we have a lot of students from a few electronics-related divisions. While not very connected to the university, apart from the fact that they gave us the space, and members being exclusively students or alumni it’s basically anything-goes, and nothing is very official, so you are free to do almost anything you want.
    From what I’ve heard, some companies in the area are interested in hiring people that were active members, as it’s one of the best ways to gain practical knowledge across many fields and apply your skills. While electronics is the main thing, we have a small machining workshop, so you can learn welding, how to operate a lathe, or a CNC, even if you’re an EE and would never come across it during the course of your study. Quite a lot of us spend a lot of time there making projects or tinkering with stuff, so you can graduate miles ahead of people that never touched a soldering iron.

    1. >While electronics is the main thing, we have a small machining workshop, so you can learn welding, how to operate a lathe, or a CNC

      Our local hackerspace dumped their lathe and they’re not really interested in maintaining their desktop routers either. There’s no welding machines, and just one regular drill press. They’re focusing on laser cutters and 3D printers mostly with a display case wall full of 3D printed gadgets. It’s more of a “Look we can print plastic gears!” type of thing than actually doing anything useful.

  6. Our local technical university tried this with us, in part because some of our founders reputedly had an enormous fallout with the ego of the ruler of the school. We spun up the makerspace, got some great press and involvement from the city/county, etc. They immediately announce that they were going to pump $75k into a student only space a few blocks away. Ten years on, we’re still here, have quintupled in size, have spent millions getting our building restored, created hundreds of jobs in the community, and said president is gone.

    Best start up gig ever. :)

  7. What is missing from this conversation is the importance of Formula SAE spaces at universities. These are often the best makerspaces / engineering spaces, they promote real world engineering mixed with practical design skills. Often alumni are involved which act as mentors. I have seen hacker and makerspaces come and go in my town but the FSAE teams endure 20+ years on.

  8. If only our city had a hackerspace. Sigh. A couple of small ones have come and gone, went broke. Odd because there is a lot of tech industry here, 3 Navy bases with big repair shops, and several community colleges with engineering classes. Jacksonville, FL.

  9. I have had probably 10 hackerspaces to choose from in the cities I’ve lived, and none of them have turned out to be a place I want to spend much time. They look good on paper and sometimes (but actually rarely) had a nice collection of tools and machines. But for some reason all the hackerspaces that I felt at home in ca 2010 have been taken over by politically minded activists who would rather tell people what to do and discuss who is allowed to use what when than build things and talk tech. And as a result the people I liked with no interest in woke culture have all gone elsewhere and we stay in touch and share projects by other means.

    Fine if thats what you want to do with your time, but necessary to be a good engineer? Hardly.

    1. What I hear is someone conservative in a liberal state using a catch-all term for whatever they don’t like at the moment to blame people who kept him from using equipment because he must have done something wrong with it or there was an accident, and I’ve seen that kind of thing happen before in person.

      Hackerspaces in general, especially in California (i’m looking at you happily Noisebridge) are well known as a concept in the hacker community to largely be somewhat anarchist in nature, not necessarily politically but sometimes with a focus exactly like that. Every hackerspace I’ve been to has been some form of organized chaos with varying degrees of legality for a lot of it. Depending on what the focus of the space is, it’s usually empowering people to learn to use equipment that could be dangerous or even deadly with larger machines or laser cutters commonly. Frankly it’s amazing they even exist considering how many legal issues places like that have to deal with.

      When you have a bunch of people with varying backgrounds and varying intelligence who want to make things and often end up doing things in not a formally established way, it can lead to some pretty crazy things but wonderful things. Sometimes things that might be in legal gray areas, or things that a formal university would not want to sponsor. This typically means there’s a very open-minded bias to the membership.

      1. For further clarification here, I typically remind people even though words are thrown around, a hackerspace is usually how I describe what I did above.

        There are makerspaces as well, which I’ve always considered to be the more formal form of hackerspace, places that are established as a business and run by employees or university staff, and have various established formal rules and typically insurance and no alcohol. I’ve always considered makerspaces the sanitized, mass market packaged version of a hacker space. These are places that cater to a general maker movement, and generally you don’t get to do more questionable or potentially dangerous things in these places, basically it’s a much more controlled environment.

        Then you have pure fab-labs and so called incubators, which are typically tied directly to a company or university and limited only to staff or employees, and outside people cannot join, but it’s set up with equipment that is typically very professional for the direct purpose of prototyping or developing whatever the focus is for the space.

        I came to this understanding belonging to a hacker space and finding the whole concept of a place to make something through them and people who have been instrumental in the foundations of the maker movement and hacker spaces around the country are the people who gave me this constructural understanding of the hierarchy of things and spaces where people make things.

        I do enjoy the craziness and openness of a true hackerspace, but even they have rules and people who make sure that others are trained on dangerous equipment. I wish more organizations and universities would embrace true hackerspaces because that true free atmosphere is where I’ve seen real substantial technological development happen, and real development with people. I don’t think most people, especially university people, understand how much having a great deal of freedom to create without a formal structure except for necessary really fosters innovation.

      2. That might be what you hear but it isn’t what happened. It happened to some of the people I liked though. And seeing them ousted for relatively minor things because they weren’t on the bandwagon made me also feel unwelcome. Actually the people who knew how to use the stuff efficiently and safely (myself included) are the ones who left, and now some of the tools from the spaces have either been reclaimed by the original donators on their way out or left in a perpetual state of “that works it just just needs someone to do X maintenance first”.

        Regardless of what label you want to put on me (conservative isn’t one I’d use myself), I hope we could agree that most of the meeting minutes at a hackerspace shouldn’t be occupied by political ideology and agenda.

        1. In my experience most of the equipment that ends up in a hackerspace needs to be fixed before being usable, so I’m very familiar with that whole situation and things going back to the original owners because people don’t fix things for them for free.

          I no longer belong to my hackerspace even though I still love them in concept because from what I saw an environment like that attracts drama and dramatic people who are often very opinionated. Several very conservative people who made the shop uncomfortable for others and did some dangerous things with equipment were banned, as well as some people you could describe as the opposite of that for starting arguments. I left because I spent more time fixing things for them than I did making anything and it seemed like every time I turned around somebody wanted my help because I knew the machining equipment. Except when I would go to teach a machining class all those people who kept bugging me all the time never signed up.

          I got fed up with the drama from people being time vampires as well as the board being openly hostile when I pointed out their own personal drama as well as one of them sticking me dealing with a rigger bill for moving their equipment, because a board member couldn’t be bothered to pay them. It was a sh*tshow so I left. Not exactly the same situation as you but I’ve seen similar things.

          In the end though some hackerspaces do come about with a social conscious goal in mind so maybe you should go find a general makerspace to do your thing. They are generally places treated more like making as a gym membership and you don’t need to fraternize with people though they are all different. My naming convention above is not necessarily universal for people but that’s what I’ve seen.

  10. According to Bard: The University of Cambridge sued a hackerspace called Cambridge Hackspace because it used the name of the town / city. The university claimed that the hackerspace was infringing on its trademark rights. The hackerspace argued that it was using the name for educational and non-commercial purposes, and that it was not trying to confuse people into thinking that it was affiliated with the university. The case was eventually settled out of court, with the hackerspace agreeing to change its name.

    The case is an example of the growing tension between universities and hackerspaces. Universities are increasingly concerned about the use of their names and trademarks by third parties, while hackerspaces argue that they are simply using the names to describe their activities and that they are not trying to deceive anyone. The case is also an example of the challenges that hackerspaces face in trying to operate in a legal environment that is not always well-suited to their needs.

  11. Got to say my local uni is very inclusive and the key people are friendly. My main criticism would be that IMO they chose to buy all the wrong stuff. Last time I visited, there was no reflow oven, spot welder for lithium batteries, no metal capable laser cutter or 3D printer. No ‘scopes / VNAs. No access to heavy machines such as lathes / milling machines. Etc. I’m sure there were good reasons for all of this but end result is the equipment they did have was useless to me :(

  12. Having previously worked within an UK engineering department – a major problem for a University making such a space available for the public to use would be funding – especially when such a facility would require technical support on how to use equipment – possibly open “out of hours” such as in the evening or on a Saturday – plus materials and insurance.

    Many universities have an internal cost system where departments have to ‘pay’ for the space they use to make sure space is used to its maximum. Having space not dedicated for makers within a timetabled situation could restrict access when any teaching activity would require a priority.

    A possible way forwards would be for the government to require universities to have maker spaces as a service to their local community, and to provide grants and funding to make happen.

    Maker spaces in libraries has also been floated as an idea in the past – but again this unfortunately cannot happen without the relevant support and funding.

    1. … One possibility for support could be for ‘final year’ students to run the maker space as part of their degree programme for additional credit – “Engineering in the Community”

  13. To address the premise of the article title itself, I’ve learned most engineers don’t actually make things physically. They’re tasked with designing them- and this means most engineering students as well as engineers don’t actually have an understanding of how to physically make things, especially with general tools outside of a 3D printer. This causes a great deal of consternation for those of us who make what they design and we have to work with them.

    Better engineering curriculums do have engineering students occasionally enter a machine shop, but normally from what I’ve seen having previously been an engineering student the actual physical creation part of the career is not something most of them formally learn as part of the career, accept in passing.

    I do fully agree with the thinking of the article that true hackerspaces should be vital to engineering students. I feel like there’s a part of the curriculum that an engineering curriculum can’t really teach but regardless of the discipline of engineering engineers need a place to learn hands-on application of creation with different tools, and it also gives them a place to interact with those who’s work they would affect. This crossover I have seen on countless occasions be critical to developing real changes in approach, and designing for manufacturing which is a part of the engineering curriculum sorely lacking in America.

    As a skilled machinist who was once an engineering student, but chose to specialize in creation rather than design, and who also worked with a team including many engineers who learned to work as machinists to improve their understanding of designing for manufacturing after graduation, I’m more convinced than ever that many engineers truly need a place to gain understanding of exactly how what they design is going to be made, or at least be exposed to some of the tools that make them think about this aspect of their work.

    I see hackerspaces specifically as the only true kind of place that really fulfills that requirement in a synergistic way that attracts intelligent people and often engineers but from differing backgrounds of craftsmanship and design together in one place where that understanding begins to happen.

    If you’re an engineering student- I would argue it should be your duty to find your local hacker space and join and interact. It will add to your understanding of your own work in a way that a university cannot teach.

      1. What a flippantly dumb comment… The people I worked with knew how to use machine tools. Engineers are not stupid, if taught properly many of them make very good machinists. Their discipline typically though doesn’t formally overlap with physical creation is all. Plenty of them though actually enjoy learning how to make things. Your one dimensional comment doesn’t really provide any depth to anything

    1. Within the engineering courses I was part of – the main focus of many of the subjects was by the use of “Problem/Project Based Learning” where a major part of the assessment was the design and development of a working solution to a given problem. Students were also required to keep a detailed logbook of the development path, how problems were solved, how the system was partitioned and tested etc. with a mini viva to gauge depth of understanding. Proved very successful and was invaluable in students gaining practical experience for ‘year out’ placements and future employment.

      New tasks had to be created each year to stop recycling from previous years, and mechanisms of checking between students where also required to stop plagiarism with severe penalties applied when detected such that the vast majority of the students all did ‘their own work’

    2. I studied mech eng in a UK uni in London and spent most of the Summer holidays after 1st year in the machine shop building a specialised crank shaft for a 4 stroke engine. The facilities were amazing with excellent supervisor, but apart from me and a PHD student making a weird metal spike, the place was empty. With some help, I did the turning, milling gear slots, heat treatment and grinding. And best of all, all the gears and bearings fitted perfectly and it worked fine. It inspired me to go and do more hands on ‘making stuff’, and get paid for doing it.

      1. Bravo sir. As an engineer who can do machining, please pass on that there are machinists capable of working with and understanding engineers as well. The common thread among machinists is that engineers never listen to machinists and I don’t see that to be a necessary reality. There just needs to be more direct communication and respect between the two

    3. My son is studying mechanical engineering at a university in Germany. It is a combined course, combining the courses needed for the degree with tradeschool classes and work.

      He has regular classes during the normal school semesters. He works for the local company that sponsors the program during the summer. The local company also organizes the tradeschool courses.

      When he finishes, he’ll have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, he’ll be a journeyman machinist, and he’ll have experience in what production looks like from the view of the people who man the factories.

      He’ll also have hands on experience leading a team and planning projects. He is a team leader in his school’s Formula Student racing team.

      I think the combination of university degree and tradeschool is a good idea. He has mentioned several times how his classes have made sense of some of the things they do in the factory – and he’s also mentioned that there were plenty of times when the hands on experience doing machining has made the theoretical classes easier to understand.

      1. Bravo to your son. That indeed sounds like a comprehensive and brilliant system I have come to expect from Germany that I wish the US would follow after. The United States needs a comprehensive serious intelligent trade program that joins with engineering exactly that way. I feel like more machinists should know and be given the ability to learn engineering at some level and vice versa. Those two areas are complementary in my mind and give a greater understanding of both when done correctly as Germany seems to do

        1. Not all schools do it that way, and not all students study that way.

          My son had to jump through extra hoops to join this program. Many of the students he goes to school with are not in the same program – they don’t get the trade school training or the work experience.

          You have to find a school that has it, then you have to be accepted at the school and by the partner company that provides the trade school stuff and the job.

          My son is an employee at the company. He is paid to go to university classes and to trade school classes and to work in the factory at other times. He will have to work for the company for a couple of years after graduation.

          So, yeah, it is a cool idea but it is not available for everyone.

    4. As a current EE student, I can say I have done very little actual circuit design work during my degree program. It has mostly been applied mathematics courses and programming courses. From what I have been told, the school doesn’t even offer a class in actual PCB design. The closest thing I have done is basic op-amp circuits and some basic logic gate stuff like adders and counters on breadboards. I get the engineers are the designers and not the builders, but I agree that its a bad policy. As an old martials arts instructor of mine said, “You can’t master anything without mastering everything associated with it.”

  14. In a hackerspace its about the community, the tools is kind result of their common interest to make things but not a goal in itself.

    Especial the mix of different background and ages is in my view importend, this way you can learn a lot of each other. Not only on technical things but also social or on other areas.

    I am member/founcer of hackerspace TkkrLab in Enschede with University of Twente, you would think we would have at least some students as member, but they are absent. Still trying to figure out why, maybe hackerspaces as place is still unknown (or they don’t know what to find/expect here) or they are to busy with study, social live etc.

    1. I also did a quick reality check with Bard on Hackaday:

      No, Hackaday is not run by an extremist group of elitist power hungry and tyrannical entities intent on world domination and totalitarianistic domination of the average peasant. Hackaday is a website that publishes articles about technology and engineering. It is owned and operated by Hackaday Media, LLC, which is a privately held company. The company’s employees are not known to be extremists or power hungry, and there is no evidence that they are intent on world domination or totalitarianism.

      Hackaday is a popular website with a large and diverse audience. It is a valuable resource for people who are interested in technology and engineering. The website’s articles are informative and well-written, and they provide a valuable service to its readers.

      There is no evidence to support the claim that Hackaday is run by an extremist group of elitist power hungry and tyrannical entities intent on world domination and totalitarianism domination of the average peasant. This claim is baseless and should be disregarded.

  15. There’s an extremely well-equipped university makerspace on the ground floor of the tech accelerator my company is in. Their website loudly proclaims that the space is available for use by building tenants, and when I went down there after we first moved in there was a lot of supposed excitement from the space staff about having commercial engineers around doing stuff and possibly mentoring students.

    Except it is impossible to access the space or any of the online training/onboarding unless you have a university staff or student card. And even 18 months later they have made zero effort to actually provide any alternative.

    Good job.

    1. That is my experience with University spaces- they will claim they are adding something to the community but it’s never open to anyone but students. Which is exactly the problem the article is trying to address here.

      My city is basically a college town full of robotics nerds and we have a few spaces outside the universities to go to but it’s pretty fractured. There’s so much talent in this city if there was real money granted we could have a technological hacker and makers Utopia here but there’s so much myopic thinking on the part of educators in this regard.

      For some reason when it comes to real equipment above a laser cutter, lathes and mills and serious equipment, it seems like a lot of time it’s the liabilities that surround those things that keep more serious places from being established. When I was still a member I heard how difficult it was for an established long running space founded by someone who is nationally prominent just to get basic liability insurance. Insurance companies don’t know how to classify the risk from places like this.

      I honestly think one of the major things that keeps these places from popping up more is liability insurance availability. We need a national model for that to create more places for people to create and actually learn real machines.

  16. thats a cute way to gain “experience” ……but we need to get away from university junk, get back to trade schools and real on the job training. I’ve never run across a graduate that knew his head from a hole in the urinal in engineering. The world has a false notion of engineering anyways, think its all lab coats and product design. Good luck losers.

  17. I re-read this article today – and many of the comments that have been made since the article was published. And, after a few mugs of tea to recover from the feelings of disappointment over how few supported Maker Spaces there are in the UK, I then realised, almost a year on from your article, that probably Nothing Had Changed (More disappointment, more cups of tea).

    The ‘Government’ and ‘industry’ are always telling us there is a huge skills shortage – but then do nothing (that I am aware of) to solve the problem.

    Why not mandate that ALL Universities with engineering courses MUST host and support Maker Spaces? as part of their student experience, and as a service to the community.

    Why not do the same for UTC, FE and 6th Form Colleges? – that could also feed into Schools – to turn the tide away from the current consumer, celebrity and sport based culture – to make being interested in REAL technology an accepted part of life, and not something that is viewed as a minority geek pastime.

    Why not give local industry a big tax break for supporting Maker Spaces with the equipment that they write off over 3 or 5 years? – and maybe give their previous electronics employees, that have now retired, something to do by helping at the Maker Spaces to inspire others. Many that retire are probably still interested in technology and would welcome an alternative to gardening, golf or basket weaving.

    As a retired academic, it is most disappointing, distressing and demoralising to have to sit and watch the shrinking numbers of young people with an interest in Electronics. When ‘Numbers’ was on TV, there was a sharp increase in the number of students enrolling on Maths Courses – Where are the non-minority non-geeky TV programmes with at least some Engineering Content to maybe inspire potential Students, AND their Parents?

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