Finding a maker: A true story

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Finding a maker: A true story
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On Sunday morning, I was out for a bike ride. On the way home, I took a shortcut from one road to another and had to walk my bike through a small gate. Once through the gate, I saw on the pavement, beside a blue Volvo, a twenty dollar bill and two singles, flattened out. Found money is always a pleasant surprise, but I realized soon that it meant someone had lost it. I knew there was a young family in this neighborhood and I wondered if in their haste to get the kids in from the car, money had fallen from a pocket.

Nearby where the car was parked, I saw a garage, partially opened. I approached and called inside. Initially, there was no answer, so I called again, a bit louder. “Yes,” came an answer. “Just a minute and I’ll be out,” he continued. A few seconds later, a man my own age emerged. His hands held a clipboard on which sat an HP calculator.

I said hello and told him about the money. It wasn’t his, he said, even though it was his car that was parked outside. The young family lived across the street and weren’t home at this time. So I gave him the money to give to them and he slid it under the clip on his board.

I noticed a blueprint of some sort on his clipboard. “Are you doing some kind of engineering?” I asked. He smiled broadly.

“Well, I’m designing a toy airplane,” he replied and showed me his drawing. He was shy about it, like a kid.

“Really,” I said. “That’s what you’re working on?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve got a shop where I like to work.”

“I do MAKE magazine,” I said. “Have you heard of it?”

“Wow. I’m a subscriber. I love MAKE,” he said with a big smile. “I’ve been to Maker Faire each year. It’s wonderful. MAKE’s a national treasure.” I smiled back.

I introduced myself and he told me his name was Mike. He’s a physicist who works at Agilent (a company that was split off from HP). “We’re neighbors,” I said. “I just live around the corner.”

“You know, there’s a maker right over there,” Mike said, pointing to another house. Mike told me that the man makes a widget to monitor home hot water usage. It learns about when you use hot water and then regulates the production of hot water so that you’re not running your water heater all the time.

“You should come back and I’ll show you around my shop,” he said, describing his shop in some detail. “I converted my garage when I moved here. That’s why all our cars are parked outside.”

We exchanged emails, then shook hands and I continued on my way, thinking how you can find makers everywhere, but finding one unexpectedly down the street is truly special.

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty

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