I met Dan at a cafe on James Street. We had been childhood friends and I hadn’t seen him in about twenty years, but recognized him in an instant. He eyed my laptop and asked if I was using a secure connection. I gave him my wrinkled “I don’t know face” and then we walked down to his “Makerspace” as if going down into “The Batcave.”
After a quick tour, we sat down for a long awaited convo.
Joe Cunningham (JC): Dan, so what is the Makerspace?
Dan Jaworski (DJ): The Syracuse Innovators Guild is a collaborative workspace, workshop, and makerspace located off of James Street in Eastwood—108 Walter Drive. We’ve been around in several different locations since 2010. Right now our members include about 14 local programmers, IT people, a college professor, engineers, a certified ethical hacker—it’s a range of different kinds of geeks. We call it “SIG.”
We’ve been around in other locations—used to be downtown across from the Tech Garden for about four years. We are working on putting together a 3D printer; we have a CNC (opposite of a 3D printer), tools, and Wi-Fi.
We’ve also got an events website to promote tech-related events. We had a showing of The Internet’s Own Boy about the life of Aaron Swartz, one of the founders of Reddit who made the RSS feed (and committed suicide last year); I’m working on a Creative Commons workshop to talk about licensing your work online and encourage collaboration: Arduino classes, stuff like that.
JC: What is the draw to working here verses other places?
DJ: It gets you out of your house; we are right by the brewery [Eastwood Brewing Company], the coffee shop [Kubal]; we’ve got classes now; high speed internet (we’ve got FIOS), and we’re inexpensive.
Rent when we were downtown was more expensive without access to nearly as much. Right now we have two payment structures based on if you teach a couple classes a year. Prices range from just $15 a month for students to $50 premium..and then a little more if you don’t want to teach a class.
The nice thing about teaching classes is you get people asking questions you never would think of; you get real world experience verses just reading about it. I learn more when I teach. People will talk about what they are experts in and work on daily: programming, security, open street map, Linux servers. We are more of a techy space verses art-centered places elsewhere around town.
DJ: I do tech support consulting for individuals and small businesses. Some of the more amusing things I can’t really tell you. I’ve done some podcasting and am involved with the Syracuse Linux Users Group. I graduated from OCC in 2013 with a degree in Computer Information Systems – CIS, not CSI!
JC: Do you enjoy what you do?
DJ: Eh, it’s a job. I enjoy helping people.
JC: What do you like most about working in this space?
DJ: Definitely the collaboration with other people in similar fields. Doing freelance and even being in a bigger company you end up alone a lot, Googling a lot more than you’d expect; whereas here you can talk to other people who know security, HIPPA, coding—what I have to deal with. At least you can get a second opinion on something.
JC: What is the vision for this place?
DJ: Fill it with like-minded people who want to collaborate and work together and use tech to improve the community. We want to use it as a source for education of the public and work together.
I mostly view it as a place to take classes and a coworking space. Other people see it as something a little different, but everybody has their own positive experience (sheer access to tools, etc.).
DJ: What would be the benefit for you to come here as a writer? [Dan surprised me with a question.]
JC: Well, I’d get out of the house (as a freelancer, big production benefit). I won’t spend $2 to get free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop every time I walk in the door (guilty if I sit down and don’t buy anything).
DJ: And you’re oftentimes not secure working from a coffee shop!
JC: What kinds of things are the members here working on?
DJ: Polar (I think that’s he’s real name) is working on bus tracking app and server that tracks where the city buses are for people who ride them and also the dispatch; he’s working through problems with school bus trackers too to alert parents when the bus is nearby in sub-zero Syracuse weather.
We’ve got Mo working on Megaverse – a computer game that’s more than a computer game – a universe simulator that’s so much more than like a World of Warcraft. It’s open source, pretty beautiful code: still in development, released in Alpha last year. Anybody can jump on board and add to it.
JC: What would your advice be to local tech people aspiring to do something more?
DJ: The big thing is to come to some of our events and check out the place, see if it’s a good fit for you. It’s definitely affordable for most people; and we’ve got student rates. Donations are encouraged, but events are totally open.
This place definitely helps me meet new people in my field, have access to info via people I know know what they are talking about verses people posting randomly in forums and praying.
People here also point you to resources online too. I definitely learned a lot here teaching and as a student of others. It gives me a place to work since I don’t have an office or store front. There are multiple advantages to having a second location verses spending significant money on an office. You get people, space, tools you wouldn’t have. It’s really a great place for me and those who use it.