Hackerspace: What now?

I had two primary goals at Derbycon: to fund the CTC for another year and to find funding for a new hackerspace.

Well, the community came through and funded both.

The problem is that since Derby, things have gone sideways, as they always do here in Africa. You know, normal stuff. I was bitten by my own guard dog, who was blindfolded, thanks to the advice of the best vet in town. Then the stitching was done improperly, and I got a wicked infection. Then I was told that the building the CTC and potential hackerspace was “unavailable” to me, thanks to an unintentional “misunderstanding”.

The building issue is still a bit up in the air, although we’ll likely be able to continue there as long as we pay $2,000 in arrears on one of the spaces.

But this biggest issue is, “Who will run it?”

At Derby I told you about one young man. The whip-smart passionate Ugandan who started as a volunteer, absorbed everything he could, became quite an advanced technologist, went away to school, travelled the world, then came back to the CTC offering to help “teach kids programming”, “write apps to change Africa” and “build robots”. My heartfelt plea to you was, “Help me fulfill his dreams”.

You came through and funded it. But even before Derby, he was flaking out. He was absent from the center, telling our manager that he “wouldn’t come in until he was paid”. After Derby, I arranged to have Linz come all the way from the U.S. and teach him programming. Even though he told me he was trying to move from Entebbe to Jinja to work with HFC full time, never showed up despite my calls and messages. This infuriated me because his status shows him online, and I know he’s getting the messages.

I leaned into him, told him my expectations as head of the future hackerspace and he apologized, told me he would move to Jinja immediately and “start teaching while I was away” (in Kenya visiting our children). A week later, the CTC staff informs me he never showed up.

And just like that, for my health and the health of HFC, I cut our longest-running volunteer loose, despite his valuable “story”.

But the fact remains: there are technologists in Uganda that are ready for the next level. Techies who are passionate, driven and reliable who will absolutely jump at the chance to be in the hackerspace and will consume everything we have to offer. Because of this, I’m still determined to launch the hackerspace.

But again, “Who will run it?”

I am the logical first choice. I mean, that’s what I’m “paid” to do, right? Well, sorta. I’m paid to keep the Ugandan programs running, and be the “face” and driving force of HFC “worldwide”.

That means keeping the BnB, Keep and leather program running in Uganda. Most importantly, I’ve also got to keep the CTC running. As sexy as a hackerspace is, and regardless of how drawn I am to it, for every student in the hackerspace there are hundreds that just need work, that require basic tech skill to survive. I can’t turn my back on that valuable program. All that adds up to a full-time gig.

This was where the young man I let go was supposed to come in as a caretaker of the space, safeguarding the equipment, handling students and registration, teaching some courses etc. I’ll need to find someone to take that slot, but it can’t be just anyone. After all, I am trusting this person with a lot.

Then it comes to training and trainers. My whole career I’ve been a “jack of all trades, master of none”. Sure, I go deeper, learn robotics, or mobile development, or hardware hacking, these things that are needed here in Uganda, so I can teach them to others but when?

I’ve leaned on video training from major training vendors and that helps, even in the hacker space, but I need more content, provided offline because of our pathetic bandwidth. And I know there are people in the community that could help, either on the ground or remotely via Skype, to give courses and guidance and that person-to-person feedback that’s so valuable. But I haven’t been able to make that happen yet.

The fact is, I simply can’t run a hackerspace by myself, it “takes a village” as my friend Eric Michaud says. It’s frustrating to be so close, have the funding and yet be so far away.

So what am I asking for? Well, plain and simple, I need a “village” to get this off the ground. Trainers, advice, all kinds of things.

If you can help in any way, please get on this list and I’ll send you some info.