A walk through a Maker Faire is an encounter with the unusual. It's not usual to see passion so obviously displayed. It's not usual to see autodidacts given the same status as the heavily credentialed. And it's not at all usual to see so many answers to IT's on-going human resource problems in one place. Those are some of the reasons to schedule a visit to your nearest Maker Faire.
After wandering around the Orlando Maker Faire on Sept. 12 and 13, I came away, as I usually do, with a long list of projects I'd like to attempt. This year, though, I went to the Maker Faire looking for people and projects that might have something to say to enterprise IT, and I managed to find plenty of both.
On the project and technology side, there were things on display that either stretched my understanding of what a particular technology could do (such as drones that couldn't fly unless you threw them off a roof, and then not for very long), or set me thinking about applying technology to solving new problems (including how the Internet of Things is about so much more than wearables). In many cases, I saw a solution created by a "maker" and imagined that solution brought into the enterprise by a forward-thinking CIO.
[ Want to know more about the Internet of Things? Read 10 Raspberry Pi Projects For Learning IoT. ]
The people side of the equation was even more exciting. Here at InformationWeek, we've written a number of articles about the significant difference in IT participation between men and women. I didn't see a significant difference in the male and female participation levels, though I'm going to throw a caveat onto the statement: The younger the participants, the more even the gender mix. From pre-school up through university students, gender didn't seem to play any role at all in knowledge, expertise, or enthusiasm.
As age went up, enthusiasm seemed to remain constant for both genders, but the media changed: More women were working in paper, fiber, and clay, while more men were working in metal and electronics. All of them, though, could easily be considered a vast talent pool for IT hiring managers in search of new blood.
Here are a couple of other things I found, each of which provides a lesson for enterprise IT. One is a lesson in acceptance, the other a lesson in the value of information.
In many ways, the different kinds of makers are members of different tribes, communities brought together by a shared interest in a technology or application. Within those tribes, I saw newcomers welcomed and encouraged, even when their skill levels were low. The acceptance I spoke of, though, was between the members of different maker tribes. Bio-hackers asked questions of Arduino gamers who went and looked longingly at the Steampunk costume tables. Respect for creativity and the act of "making" ruled, regardless of the tribes (or "silos" in business jargon) each worked within.
When it came to information, Richard Stallman would have been proud of the value almost everyone in attendance placed on the free exchange of information. Sure, there were displays from companies or individuals who wanted to show what they made but keep the details secret. These received quick, polite looks from attendees. The real excitement surrounded those who were freely sharing what they made and how they made it. The words "open source" worked like magic to attract a crowd, and the promise of code on Github ratcheted up enthusiasm another notch.
I've boiled things down into a few lessons, here. Take a look, then make plans to visit your local Maker Faire (or mini-Maker Faire.) If you're looking for ways to boost the creativity and morale of your team, take them along, too.
Have you been to a Maker Faire? Are you a Maker? I'd love to hear about what you're making -- and how you think IT can bring the lessons of the Maker Faire into your organization. See you in the comments section below.Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio