An interview on Making with

Mitch Altman

CEO of Cornfield Electronics, co-founder of Noisebridge hackerspace

About Mitch

Mitch Altman is a San Francisco-based hacker and inventor, best known for inventing TV-B-Gone remote controls, a keychain that turns off TVs in public places. He was also co-founder of 3ware (a successful Silicon Valley startup) and did pioneering work in Virtual Reality at VPL Research in the mid-1980s. He has contributed to MAKE Magazine, has written for 2600, and wrote a chapter for “Maker Pro”, a book that was published this year, and for the last several years has been giving talks, and leading workshops around the world, teaching people to make cool things with microcontrollers and teaching everyone to solder. He promotes hackerspaces and open source hardware wherever he goes. He is a co-founder of Noisebridge hackerspace, and is President and CEO of Cornfield Electronics.

What is Making?

I like the word “hacking”, since it is a way of life, and not just about making physical things. It’s looking at everything as resources, resources that can all be used any way you like to make your projects cooler. Then learn what works well, and not so well, and sharing what you learn with everyone who wants to learn.

Who are Makers?

Everyone who wants to be a hacker is a hacker. You are a hacker if you want to be, regardless of age or skill level.

Why is Making important?

We survived as a species on this planet because we came together to support each other in create, share, and improve cool tools. We don’t need to create tools any more to survive, but it is still important for us to create, each in our own way. When we create and share we feel empowered.

What is an exciting example of Making and why?

People at hackerspaces explore and do what they love, with community that supports them in doing so. This is the most exciting thing about a hackerspace. We live in a world where, sadly, not nearly enough people feel their lives are way worth living. When people find and connect with supportive community that encourages each and every person to continually explore and do what they love, peoples’ lives are transformed in amazingly positive ways. The specific ways this happens for each person is unique, and is always exciting.

How is Making transforming education?

Project-based, hands-on, play-based learning is a fantastic way to learn. This is what goes on in hackerspaces around the world. This is why they are such fantastic educational environments. When someone is exploring and doing what they love, they will find projects they love. People are become highly motivated by this, and very quickly. And when they inevitably find limitations in their knowledge that impedes the progress of their project, they are then highly motivated to learn what they need to know. I think it is very exciting that many schools and libraries and museums are transforming their curricula by making use of this. (This is proving that schools do not need to be centered around standardized tests.)

How can Making change my community?

Hackerspaces are physical places with supportive communities for people to explore and do what they love. When people find and do what they love, their lives become way better. Everyone in the broader community is welcome at hackerspaces. This gives opportunities for more people to find fulfillment in what they do. The more people find fulfillment in what they do, the better the community becomes.

There is also an economic aspect to this. If someone finds a project they love, they may find that others love it also. And if people love what you do, they may pay you to do it. And if it becomes popular, small businesses can grow and flourish as a result.

Projects of all sorts, including art and civic projects, grow from hackerspaces, all of which can be helpful to the surrounding community.

How does Making solve big problems?

There’s no guarantee that projects that come from hackerspaces solve big problems. At least not directly. But if one person explores and does what they love doing, then that one person is living a more fulfilling life. And since hacking is about sharing, that person is having a positive impact on others lives. If those others explore and do what they love, then their lives become more fulfilling. If these people share, then this positively impacts even more people. If some significant minority of people do this, imagine the impact this could have on our world.