A place where makers can grow, develop new careers

At Cape Canaveral, the Artemis rocket sits with a payload destined for the depths of space. On board is a mini-satellite the size of two loaves of bread that could help NASA travel more safely to Mars.

The wait has been long, but this mini-satellite – built by a Tampa team led by Wes Faler – could be launched as early as mid-March.

“Its main purpose is to participate in the Deep Space Derby. To do that, you need to successfully send the data back to Earth,” says Faler.

The mini-satellite dates back to NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge in 2017, when Team Miles won $20,000 and became one of three chosen to send a payload into space and compete for a share of a prize. of $5 million.

Through Tampa Hackerspace at 4931 W. Nassau St., Faler put together the team named after Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Morning.” He has since started his business Miles Space and moved it next to Hackerspace.

“We’re demonstrating a very different way of doing communications that we think are very reliable and at a lower cost. This, of course, would benefit NASA,” Faler says. “Everyone else is focusing on the strength of their signals. We are working, accepting that our signals are weak and removing the noise.

A life changing experience

Nearly a decade ago, Faler had just moved to the Tampa Bay area from Dearborn, MI. When he exhibited at a mini maker fair in Pasco County, he met Bill Shaw, who pledged to take the lead in finding maker space. Shaw then took over the reins of Tampa Hackerspace, co-founding it with Ryan Holmes and Jon Adair in 2013.

“Hackerspace created Team Miles and therefore Miles Space,” says Faler.
“It totally changed my life.”

These days, Faler, who founded Miles Space with Hackerspace President Alex Wingeier, offers Hackerspace membership to staff of two full-time and three part-time employees.

“I’m looking for people [to hire] who would be interested in becoming members of Hackerspace,” adds Faler. “I need people who have multiple skills.”

Faler, who holds a bachelor of science degree in manufacturing engineering from Kettering University in Flint, MI, had been interested in plasma thrusters, a major part of the NASA project, since high school. The competition gave him the opportunity to share and test his ideas.

Faler is one of the creators who made Hackerspace what it is today. 83 degrees also spoke with creatives J. Kent, who sculpted the beloved Mabel dinosaur on display there, coding instructor Edna Jonsson and sewing instructor Alice Hunt.

Mabel is a familiar face

Inspired by Sue of the Chicago Field Museum, Mabel the T-Rex is a familiar figure upon entering the Tampa Hackerspace. About six feet by 30 inches, the dinosaur skull with its open mouth and long protruding teeth quickly attracts visitors.

“Everyone loves him. I had to fix his base twice. Kids will be rushing to hug him,” says Kent, who fashioned the creature out of cardboard, paper, glue and mats. ground more than five years ago.

When he did, Kent set about creating something out of common, recyclable materials instead of expensive casting resin and rubbers or monster clay. With the encouragement of friends, Mabel found herself too old to be kept at home.

“The way people light up when they walk into the store is worth it,” says Kent, who spent nine months creating it.

“She’s literally my baby in that regard,” he jokes.

Kent was studying mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida when the death of a friend in a car accident caused him to reevaluate his life. He decided he would be happier with a fine arts degree, so he made the switch even though he was about to finish his engineering degrees.

He has now found his engineering background useful as an independent contractor doing graphics and computer-aided design in the aerospace industry. He also makes movie props and costumes.

A trained blacksmith and craftsman, Kent carved dragons that acted like cats. It foresees a full series of two-foot-by-two-foot creatures. And he plans to do something big like Mabel.

“Mabel won’t be alone for long,” he said.

Teach girls to code

Jonsson is working to close the gender gap in tech careers. A cybersecurity professional, Jonsson teaches middle and high school girls how to code at Hackerspace.

“We focus on women in tech, helping women get into STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] careers,” she explains.

The group meets at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays during the school year to learn things like creating a website chat box with Python.

“We have a hard core that comes every time. They are very passionate and they have learned a lot,” says Jonsson.

Jonsson brought the program to Hackerspace after working with the national Girls Who Code organization in Chattanooga. The Hackerspace Chapter is one of many sites in the Tampa Bay area, including a college-age group at USF.

Jonsson found her love of coding while working in real estate, creating pre-built websites for clients. She decided to attend a boot camp and learn to code.

In coding, she found a well-paying career where women are in the minority. The number of women in IT is expected to rise from 37% in 1995 to 22% in 2022, according to Girls Who Code.

“Women aren’t as encouraged when they’re young to get into STEM careers,” says Jonsson. “By getting them involved while they’re in college, we’re helping them believe in themselves and know they can do these things.”

There are opportunities for those with skills, even if they don’t have a bachelor’s degree, says Jonsson, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity and information assurance.

Teaching sewing techniques

The daughter of Bernina sewing machine dealers, Hunt was trying to sell sewing machines when she was 5 years old. As soon as she was old enough to reach the machine, she began to learn how to sew doll clothes and horse blankets. This evolved into sewing pillows and dresses to compete in 4-H contests.

Now with some 35 years of sewing experience, she is one of the sewing teachers at Hackerspace.

“It’s not a career for me, but I sew quite a bit,” says the Tampa-area resident, who works as a web designer. “I’ve done everything from dresses to t-shirts to children’s pajamas.”

Hunt got involved with Hackerspace through free meetups every two weeks about three years ago. These days, she’s one of the sewing teachers at meetups and at the Hackerspace sewing room, where students can learn how to sew things like tool belts and Christmas tree skirts.

“A lot of people don’t have a sewing machine. That’s the advantage of space,” says Hunt. “The machines are already there. We have most of the equipment you would need for most sewing projects.

Hackerspace has household sewing machines, which have lots of decorative stitches, as well as an industrial machine, a few sergers, and an embroidery machine.

What brings people to Hackerspace

As a longtime member of the maker community, Kent has seen her grow from a 3D printer in a small workshop to a building complete with belt sanders, jointers, table saws, an embroidery machine six-needle and more.

It’s become a place where people can connect with experts who have the skills they lack. Kent even got a contract with Miles Space.

“We have everything from carpenters to blacksmiths, from white hat security programmers to bankers,” says Kent. “People come and they do what they want. I’ve seen bankers make beautiful bespoke wooden furniture. I’ve seen blacksmiths sew saddlebags. And I’ve seen rocket scientists just sitting there playing with clay.

“You don’t have to go there knowing anything. Our goal is to teach and inspire,” says Kent, who has remained active while caring for his parents.

People who’ve never sewn can walk away with a pouch they’ve made, and people who’ve never picked up a tool can say, “I fixed that,” he points out.

Hunt decided to join Hackerspace because she wanted to support the creative community, which has a deep knowledge base.

“If you have a question about something, you can ask the group,” she points out, adding that there’s usually someone in the group who can answer it.

Jonsson, who also teaches python at an adult cybersecurity group, has been a member of Hackerspace for three years.

“I love how kind everyone is. You can find a course on just about anything,” she says.

The facility tripled in size to 12,000 square feet.

“Our mission has always been educational. We exist to teach people making skills. Lately, we’ve been trying to put more emphasis on project-based courses to help people stay engaged and learn with us,” says Shaw, its former president. “We have a pretty good balance between tech-focused classes and family-focused classes. We consider families, enthusiasts and technicians to be our three main audiences. »

When COVID hit, community members stepped in and helped produce protective gear.

“Despite these challenges, we retained 80% of our members,” notes Shaw. “They stayed with us because they believe in our mission and still value being part of our community. It was amazing to see everyone coming together and supporting each other the way we did.

To learn more, visit the Tampa Hackerspace website and check out the Hackerspace Events Calendar.

Read previously published articles on Tampa Hackerspace.

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