An Oasis of Innovation for Those Who Love to Tinker and Experiment

Makers at Denton Public Library Makerspace — The Forge — learning how to make something with a 3D printer.
Photo by author

As soon as I heard about it, I was hooked.

I didn’t know what it was.

The idea was too new.

The idea was too underdeveloped.

The idea was almost too good to be true.

Having the opportunity to share tools, skills, and knowledge with a community appealed to me tremendously.

Having always loved to tinker and experiment, I knew in my bones that a vast network of these magical places would someday transform our world.

The year was 2010.

I just learned about the Maker Movement.

The Church for the Nerd Nation

A man giving a presentation at Dallas Makerspace.
Photo by Steve Rainwater on FilckrCC BY-SA 2.0

Makerspaces: This previously unknown concept spoke to me like a new church seeking its scattered Nerd Nation assembly.

I will always feel this way.

Organizing a large number of notoriously anti-social, leadership adverse geeks and nerds — usually brilliant, opinionated, and each often accustomed to being the smartest person in the room — had its challenges.

Once adjusted to all the different personalities, people find that makerspaces provide an invaluable resource for those who are interested in pursuing creative projects.

Aside from offering a wide range of tools and equipment, makerspaces also provide an impressively supportive community of like-minded individuals.

A creative community for innovation

Dallas Makerspace members Oguz Yetkin (left) and Mark Havens (right) from 2010 talking about the maker movement.
Photo by Steve Rainwater on FilckrCC BY-SA 2.0

In a makerspace, creativity and collaboration are combined to form innovation.

I am very proud to be a part of this movement.

Before I knew it, by the beginning of 2010, I was in the thick of starting a makerspace.

First, we had to build and grow a community to support it — we had to build the first Maker community in Dallas.

Our story

Haley Moore working on a project.
Photo by Steve Rainwater on FilckrCC BY-SA 2.0

No wonder I never follow instructions — or listen to people — or obey rules, for that matter.

Through much trial, and error — along with much blood, sweat, and tears — I found that my optimal learning style was hands-on.

Not verbal.

Not visual.

Hands-on — tactile.

This means that instead of spending hours reading about how to do something — instead of watching dozens of videos on YouTube — instead of attending a lecture — I learn best by diving into a project head-first without knowing what I’m doing.

Whenever I get stuck, I’ve already spent enough time learning what I need to know in order to learn how to get unstuck.

When it came to starting a makerspace, I had the same instinct — jump in and make things happen without much of a plan. We sort of figured things out as we went along. It was like we were explorers.

I had experience starting companies.

I had experience building communities.

But before then, we had never started a makerspace.

None of us had.

This was something new.

Intuitively, I felt that building a community was essential to building a successful makerspace. Even if we had the money and the building, without the community, I felt that such an initiative would fail.

So, this became our initial focus — building a Maker community.

It all started with an obscure online Dallas Makerspace Interest Group forum created by Ed Paradis. This generated enough community momentum for an initial offline meeting at a game store. Here, we were able to gauge genuine interest — there was a lot of it. But only a handful of attendees from this meeting showed up for subsequent meetings. Eventually, this core group of dedicated attendees became our regular Thursday night gathering. We laid the original groundwork and eventually became the acknowledged founders of Dallas Makerspace. The rest is Dallas Maker Community History.

From strangers to Makers

A black 2011 Dallas Makerspace cake with logo.
Photo by Steve Rainwater on FilckrCC BY-SA 2.0

Slowly but surely, Dallas Makerspace became something real.

Even though twenty to thirty people showed up to our first meeting, only four or five of us showed any serious commitment in the months that followed.

We started meeting regularly to discuss our plans and ideas. And we quickly realized that we each shared a passion for making and learning. We all wanted to create a space where everyone could come together to tinker, build, and create.

In just a few short months, we went from being a small group of strangers with a big idea, to a thriving community of Makers who were constantly supporting and inspiring each other.

How I learn by doing

An image of a college diploma.
Photo by Yuhan Du on Unsplash

I always struggled in school and could never memorize or take shortcuts. Only when I got “hands-on” was I somehow able to learn the things that I did.

I’ve been told that my CV is brilliant.

However, it was difficult and very time-consuming for me to earn my credentials.

I was a C student in high school.

In college, I only made an A in subjects that I was passionate about. In every other class, I would earn a C.

Some classes I took many times before I passed them.

Graduate school was so much easier for me. Because I was careful not to take classes that had tests.

I researched the syllabus of every professor before enrolling in a graduate class. If the professor included a test on their syllabus — any test — then I would avoid their class like the plague.

What I learned when I got into my Ph.D. program

A college student taking a test.
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

I have always hated tests. I test very poorly. I simply don’t have the mind for memorization.

I learned that nobody cares about my academic record. All anyone cares about is how I perform in the real world.

I seem to do consistently well with projects, papers, and people.

Nobody I ever encountered throughout life cared about my GPA.

I compensated. I was very good at learning things that didn’t require memorization.

GPA — grade point average — is often seen as a marker of intelligence or potential. A high GPA is frequently associated with academic success, while a low GPA can be seen as a sign of poor performance or lack of ability.

However, when I was accepted into a Ph.D. program, everything became clear to me. GPA isn’t even important to professors! A high GPA is often regarded by some as an inverse indicator of someone’s ability to do good research. After I got into my Ph.D. program, grades and classes no longer mattered. My department viewed them as a technicality.

Upon entering the program, I was left alone to do whatever I wanted, learn whatever I wanted, and achieve whatever I wanted.

That was fun.

It’s the same within the Maker community.

What matters most in the Maker community

Former Dallas Makerspace president Andrew LeCody watching a homemade 3D printer in action.
Photo by Steve Rainwater on FilckrCC BY-SA 2.0

In the Maker community, grades are rare and classes are for getting people exposed to a topic. Classes can also help facilitate a community of special interests.

Creativity and problem-solving skills are what matter most in the Maker community.

It provides an opportunity for people of all backgrounds and abilities to come together and create something new.

Grades don’t matter.

Credentials don’t matter.

Work history doesn’t matter.

Whether you had a high GPA or a low GPA in school…

Whether you went to MIT or you just got your GED…

Whether you’re a CEO or a janitor…

You can find success within your Maker community.

Buy me a coffee.
If you like this post, another cup of joe from a fan like you would certainly go a long way towards encouraging me to write another one like it. Drop by, say “Hi,” and let me know your ideas about topics you might like to read about. You could be the spark of inspiration I need to write about something even more awesome!

Mark Havens is the Founder and Executive Director of Dallas Maker Community (DMC), a nonprofit organized to bootstrap Dallas Makerspace, the largest all-volunteer makerspace in the United States. DMC continues reformed efforts to provide Maker-focused marketing and makerspace leadership education to other Maker-centric organizations throughout North Texas.

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Mark Randall Havens

Mark Randall Havens

Executive Director of Dallas Maker Community; Founder & Founding Director of Dallas Makerspace. https://markhavens.us