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Fresno is getting its first ever hackerspace! Not sure why this is such exciting news? Read my interview with Derek Payton, co-founder of Root Access Hackerspace, and soon you’ll be talking about it with excited exclamation points, too.
Derek filled me in on why the word “hacker” is not always a bad thing and how you’re probably a hacker yourself (you are!), and he gave me all the details about the open house he and co-founder Andrew Runner are hosting for Root Access this Saturday, August 5.
FresYes: What is a hackerspace?
Payton: Before we get into what a hackerspace is, allow me provide a little background on the word “hacker.”
Modern entertainment media and popular culture have corrupted the word “hacker” to mean a cyber criminal who uses software bugs and exploits to break into computer systems. A lot of people tend to think of a guy sitting in a dark room with lots of screens, wearing a hoodie or ski mask, and techno music blaring on the speakers.
The word “hacking” was first used in 1955 at M.I.T., and meant working on a technology problem in a different, more creative way than what’s outlined in the instruction manual. A “hacker,” in the original sense of the word, is someone who takes things apart to learn how they work, learn about them, and rebuild them, or who uses their knowledge of computers to overcome a problem in a creative or interesting way. This is what we mean by “hacker.”
So, a hackerspace is simply a space for hackers; a community-operated workspace where people can gather, socialize, share tools and infrastructure, and work on their own projects. Hackerspaces also often provide tools and equipment that might otherwise be too large or expensive for most people to buy and house on their own.
Hackerspaces are closely associated with the rise of “maker” culture, and they emphasize learning-through-doing in a social environment, motivated by fun and self-fulfillment.
FresYes: Is computer hacking a good thing?
Payton: Computer hacking isn’t inherently good or bad; there are both good (“White Hat”) and bad (“Black Hat”) kinds of hacking, as well as a massive gray area in between (“Gray Hat”). These people—the various Hats—are all security specialists and they all employ the same techniques, the only difference is their end goal. White Hat hacking is about detecting weaknesses so that security can be improved, while Black Hats generally have a more nefarious intent.
FresYes: Can a complete beginner learn hacking as a skill?
Payton: Absolutely. In fact, most people are already hackers!
Anyone who’s ever creatively solved a problem, or put something together in an interesting way, and said that they “Mickey Moused it” or “jerry-rigged it” has made a hack. Hacking, in general, only requires curiosity and desire to tinker.
Computer hacking, specifically, does require some technical skills. Computer programming is a core, foundational skill for computer hacking that most people can learn with a bit of time and effort. Most computer hackers—the really good ones, anyways—know how to write code.
FresYes: What are the uses for hacking? Are there jobs available for local hackers?
Payton: There are plenty of opportunities in Fresno for anyone who knows how to code. Our tech scene has exploded in the last several years, and there are companies hiring programmers for everything from embedded systems, web development, PLC programming, software security, network security, system administration, and more.
If it sounds like I’ve just rattled off a bunch of random technology jobs, then… you’re right! Most people who work in the tech industry are hackers in one way or another.
FresYes: What will Root Access Hackerspace offer Fresnans?
Payton: Our hackerspace will have a strong emphasis on electronics and the space where hardware and software converge, and is comprised of three main parts:
1) A workshop that provides access to rapid prototyping tools like 3D printers and laser cutters, as well as electronics workstations that include oscilloscopes, multimeters, and soldering irons.
2) A small store that sells microcontrollers like Arduino and single-board computers like Raspberry Pi, as well as other parts for electronics projects. This is the only store in Fresno—that we’ve been able to find—that caters specifically to hackers and tech makers.
3) A classroom where we will provide instruction on equipment and teach other technology skills, host user groups and meetups, and throw community events like board game nights, LAN parties, and movie nights.
FresYes: How skilled do you need to be to participate in Hackerspace events?
Payton: We welcome people of all skill levels, because hackerspaces are about learning. All you need is some curiosity and willingness to tinker.
FresYes: What’s the best way to keep up with what’s happening in the Hackerspace?
Open House details
Root Access will hold an open house event Saturday, August 5, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 1476 N. Van Ness in downtown Fresno.
They’ll have a small selection of electronics to sell, as well as laser cutting and 3D printing demos. Check them out and see what a hackerspace is all about.
Special thanks to Derek Payton for all of the great info and explanations!