Mitch Altman Discusses Bringing Youth into the PCB industry

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Mitch1.jpgMatties: So, the facility in San Francisco, Noisebridge, this is where Jonathan, who's joined our team, was spending quite a bit of his time. How is that funded? I see that there is no cost other than some materials, but how is that project funded?

Altman: Noisebridge, like most hackerspaces in the world, is non-profit. Most of them in the United States are run primarily on donations and membership dues, and that's how Noisebridge makes most of its money. But Noisebridge is kind of unique in that we get almost all of our money primarily from lots of small donations from individuals. Our annual budget is about $70,000, and more than two-thirds of that is from small, individual donations and the other third is from membership dues, which is $40 to $80 a month. Any member can choose any amount within that range and every month just make that choice.

It works well for us. We make a little bit of money from selling T-shirts and a few things like that, but that's pretty little. Overall this works great. Everything at Noisebridge is free. If we have a class or a workshop that requires material sometimes there's a reasonable charge for the materials, but other than that everything is totally free. We don't want lack of money to be an impediment for people to come to Noisebridge and learn what they want to learn. You don’t need to be a member to do anything at Noisebridge.

Matties: That's a great model that you're putting together, and it goes right back to your roots of the desire of being a teacher because how we act is what we teach.

Altman: Yeah, totally. At Noisebridge, unlike at schools, no one is getting paid, so they're only doing it because they really love teaching, and everyone who goes there goes there because they went out of their way to be there, to learn what they wanted to learn. No one wakes up in the morning or afternoon or whenever they wake up and goes, "Ugh, I have to go the hackerspace."

Matties: It's exciting. They want to be there.

Altman: Yeah, unlike school, and school should be that way.

Matties: As far as what they're learning, you mentioned soldering. I checked out the your soldering classes online. Is Noisebridge focused primarily around electronics? Because I saw other categories, like machining and other areas of interest.

Altman: Noisebridge is really diverse. Most hackerspaces have more than one focus. Noisebridge is somewhat unique in that we have many, many focuses. So, electronics is one of the big ones, but we also have good fabrication tools. We've got laser cutters and vinyl cutters and a really nice machine shop, so people make pretty much anything out of plastic, metal or wood at Noisebridge. We also recently got a really nice welder. We have some, not just cheap but also somewhat high-resolution, expensive 3D printers so people can do a lot of rapid prototyping for projects that they do. We also have a lot of sewing and crafts of all sorts and visual arts as well as music.

And there are people who come together for software, learning Python and Ruby and C++ classes and workshops on these things. We have people who come together to teach each other various aspects of science like neurophysiology, neuroscience, and just this week we got a whole bunch of stuff donated from people at Noisebridge who are putting together a nice bio-hacking setup. So, there's things in lots of different realms at Noisebridge. Like all hackerspaces, we really have the tools that the community wants for learning what they want to learn.

Matties: Do you see any corporate interest in this sort of environment where they're coming in and wanting to sponsor and support this effort?

Altman: Noisebridge usually is somewhat reluctant to take corporate sponsorship, although we've done that from time to time. We only take donations if there's no strings attached. So if a corporation is just thinking that what we're doing is really cool and they want to give us something that they think will help the people at Noisebridge, and it'll help get their name around because the stuff they gave has their name on it, that's probably totally cool.

We've gotten very few larger grants at Noisebridge. Not because we're against them, just because people haven't gone out of their way to look for them. We got a large grant from Google with no strings attached and they didn't even require that we thank them. We got $15,000, which they accidentally gave us twice and they said, "Oh, just keep the second one." We use that as an equipment fund, so if anyone at Noisebridge thinks that a piece of equipment would be really cool to have, then they can raise half the amount of the money for that piece of equipment any way they like, and then the equipment fund pays for the other half.

We've gotten stuff from Hackaday. We've gotten stuff from, too, which is a website that forms a community of people supporting each other in creating electronics projects for the public good. They've donated soldering equipment and a bunch of solder just because they thought what we were doing is cool and that helped some people become aware of We got stuff from Eagle, back before they were bought by Autodesk, and a few other smaller companies like that have given us stuff that fits in with what we do.

Matties: You have a lot of people coming together, putting their ideas together, creating new products, concepts, theories and a variety of things. Is there a path forward through your organization for them to carry their products to market or pursue, as we started this conversation, a career path?


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