UWindsor Lance: Plugging in to plug the brain drain

UWindsor Lance
Issue 26, Volume 85
Jan 9, 2013
Jon Liedtke

Windsor’s plugged-in nerds are taking up residence to teach digital skills to help put a plug the region’s brain drain.

A hackerspace, slated to operate at the Windsor Public Library in the area formerly occupied by the Windsor Woodcarving Museum, will be upgrading local computer skills starting this month.

Hackerspaces are part of DIY culture; serving as community workshops for people to learn programming code or build and repair computers and other hardware.

In this instance, hackers are a group interested in exploring and modifying computers and other kinds of electronics, not electro-boffins exploiting weaknesses in the web and planting malicious code.

Doug Sartori, president and founder of the area’s first and only hackerspace, HackForge, intends to build up Windsorites’ capacity for IT skills and staunch the area’s brain drain. “Our focus is to help create and improve the workforce that companies will need and showing that Windsor is a viable place to pursue technology.”

Sartori is excited to see “what [the group] can do for themselves and at the same time have fun and learn how much a group who has one passion can bring to the community.”

Membership fees will be charged to secure equipment, provide programming and fund projects. “We’d like to keep them as low as possible and offer a student discount,” Sartori said, but added that the group’s budget would be small in the first year. After establishing a track record they will be eligible for grants. The group will also be offering workshops and activities to non-members.

“A lot of our focus is getting our members involved in providing programming to youths,” said Sartori. He explained that providing programming for the public is what sealed a deal for a free space at the library. One example would be hackerspace members providing teams of high school students with fun activities and mentoring in computer networking and computer programming.

Marc Pillon, manager of information technology for Windsor Public Library, sees both libraries and hackerspaces as places of learning.

“We’re hoping [HackForge’s community programming] will help our patrons learn more about these types of things and have the opportunity to play with some equipment they might not otherwise have access to,” said Pillon, who is also a HackForge board member.

Sartori would like to see HackForge also evolve to include a “maker-space,” involving woodwork, metalwork and other skilled trades, though another space would be required as a quiet library isn’t a suitable home for heavy machinery.

HackForge has teamed up with WEtech Alliance to run their inaugural event, a
“hack-a-thon” or 24-hour long computer coding competition set for Jan. 19.

“We’re hoping this is the start of a wonderful collaboration,” said Irek Kusmierczyk, project manager for WEtech Alliance. WEtech Alliance’s mandate is to promote technology and innovation in Windsor and Essex County. They focus on building relationships between the university, colleges and the community, as-well-as provide mentoring to students.

The competition, branded Hack WE, will charge St. Clair and University of Windsor students in the development of programming solutions to problems faced by industries and companies. The City of Windsor will provide the first challenge.

“The City of Windsor is going to provide their open data,” said Kusmierczyk. “The students will use that data as the content to develop really interesting platforms … mobile apps or web apps based on that information.”

“This is a really great example of the power of collaboration between the university, the college, industry, the city, government and not-for-profit organizations. You’ve got all the stakeholders from different backgrounds in on this,” said Kusmierczyk.

HackForge held its inaugural meeting on Tuesday. The group is open for new membership and proposal submission. Current project proposals include fieldtrips to nearby hackerspaces and a wish list for equipment for the space.

For more information, visit hackf.org.

UWindsor Lance
Plugging in to plug the brain drain
Issue 26, Volume 85
Jan 9, 2013
Jon Liedtke
Page 3

Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.


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