Mothers come together, create Berkeley ‘hacker’ space

The women in Mothership Hacker Moms gather together in their space on Berkeley's Adeline Street. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

They call themselves the Mothership HackerMoms, but they are not referring to breaking into distant computers and tinkering with code.

In their definition, a Hacker Mom is a “bad ass,” who is “creative, curious, inventive, indie, artsy/crafty, designy/techy, visionary, outspoken, scrappy,” and much more.

The “do it yourself/I can do anything” attitude was on full display Wednesday morning in a light-filled, bright white storefront on Adeline Street in Berkeley. A group of six women, all mothers of young children, some pregnant with their next, gathered around a long table, creating together.

Babies crawled on the ground. Toddlers ran around. Infants suckled. But while the children were playing or seeking nourishment, their mothers knitted, focused on writing their screenplays and essays, and strategized about tonight’s open house where mothers will be shown how to make industrial hula-hoops.

“Hacker Moms was a term we coined to give us a certain identity as moms who are creative and think in different ways,” said Sho Sho Smith, the mother of two daughters and a freelance copywriter.

"Booby" hats made by Mothership HackerMoms

Mothership HackerMoms is part of a worldwide movement of “hackers” – people who come together in a physical space to make things. Until five years ago, there were only about 50 hacker spaces around the world. But, as Mitch Altman, the co-founder of Noise Bridge, a 5,200 sq ft hack space in the Mission District in San Francisco told KQED, a conference in Germany in the summer of 2007 inspired numerous Americans to open their own communal workspaces. Now there are more than 1,000 spaces around the world, including in New York, Philadelphia, and Oakland.

HackerMoms may be the first all-women hack space, said Smith. It hopes to be a model – and catalyst – for many more.

The group of women has only been together for a few months, but in that short time they have explored numerous creative arts, teaching one another what they know as they go along. The group produced an art show in December named “Leave it to Beaver!”where they sold goods they had made themselves. They have held held workshops on how to use Drupal and Illustrator, how to lay a resin coating on a canvas, done painting, drawing, photography, and made linoprints.

They collectively knitted a number of “booby hats” (breastfeeding moms will get the joke), which they are selling in their store. The women see their new organization – which has an open membership – as a place to learn new skills and explore their own creativity. One member is even planning to start a business – a breast-milk bank — as a result of the group.

“We want to show our kids we are fearless and we will try anything,” said Shannon Nichols, a photographer and the mother of a son, Callan.

The women came together after deciding that something was lacking in traditional mothers’ groups. Too many of them focused on diapers and what their babies ate, said Karen Agresti, who has a son Noah, and who is expecting her next child in two weeks. The conversation wasn’t intellectual enough.

Kids play as their mothers create. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“I come here for community,” said Agresti, who was working on her second screenplay on Wednesday. “It’s a place to come where I can bring my kid and where we don’t talk about diapers and food.”

One of the pitfalls of having children is that it is easy to subsume one’s life. The Mothership HackersMom is dedicated to reclaiming one’s sense of self in a way that does not exclude the children.

“Moms default into hiding behind their kids sometimes,” said Smith. “In a mom’s group, I felt I was always waiting for the mom to emerge and it often doesn’t happen. I wanted to find women I could relate to. We are a bunch of scrappy women. Whatever we need, we will find. This is one of the definitions of hacker mom. There is no such thing as “no.”

Hadley Sims, whose son Breccan is 1, felt lonely spending so much time with her child.

The "Leave it to Beaver" art show. Photo courtesy of Mothership HackerMoms

“I focused more on survival rather than my own creativity,” she said. “To have a space where I can come and cultivate creativity – I’m really grateful for the space.”

The group, which plans to file for non-profit status soon, has been meeting twice a week and only moved into its space at 3288 Adeline Street a few weeks ago. On Thursday nights, the group hires a babysitter to watch the children and holds a drop-in workshop that teaches something.

The group hopes to attract more members and eventually find an even bigger space where they can build more things on site. In the meantime, they plan to let groups use the space during off-hours to increase the sense of community.

“Motherhood can be a very isolating space,” said Smith. “There are dark sides to motherhood that Hallmark never tells you about. We’re not here to create a whole bunch of Martha Stewarts — unless Martha Stewart had a lot of tattoos.”

“The moment you say Hacker Moms, if you are one something in your soul wakes up,” said Smith. “You know these are your people.”

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  • Anonymous

    That doesn’t look very different than my living room.  This is a “hacker space”: http://techshop.ws/

  • Hfousa

    … and this is news because … ????

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    this is discriminatory to all the Dads out there…i thought we were beyond all that stuff in the 21 century 

  • Fluffy

    Probably because it’s a community event, like many other listings on this website.

    Do you hate your mother?

  • The Sharkey

    If you read the story, you’d see that they’re having an Open House tonight at their new space on Adeline.

    (Oops! Fluffy beat me to the punch!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=555950996 Jennifer E Jacobs

    Thank you for this story.

  • Jonesin99

    Nice. Seems like a cool fun group. thanks.

  • Berkeley Resident

    I have a feeling they will not turn away any dads who want to join and hang out with them.

  • Bruce Love

    So, donate equipment or buy some stuff from them or donate.

    To me it doesn’t look so much like a living room as the beginnings of what might turn out to be a really good hack.

  • Bruce Love

    It seems like they’re doing a few things at once.   They’re flipping traditional models of day-care on its head with the pooled purchase of babysitting to be delivered in the same mom-controlled space where the mom’s are doing their own thing.   “Their own thing” here is building a platform for entrepreneurial experiments with the specific goals of having a good time practicing art and craft and selling goods and services to, at the least, pay the overhead of keeping the day-care / mom-break space functional and good.   It’s a really clever hack and I hope it works out well.

  • The Sharkey

    At this point the definition of “hack” has been stretched to the point of being meaningless.

    But in some other photos it looks like they have some woodworking tools and whatnot in other areas of the space.

  • Anonymous

     Considering it’s mom this and woman that and the information on their site doesn’t mention the other half of the world’s population once or suggest that they are welcome I think I’ll pass and give my support to organizations like Techshop instead.  Tools and identity politics don’t mix well.

  • Anonymous

     They should do a better job of making that clear then if they are looking for community help then.  Even the East Bay Dad’s group, at least when I was involved in it, made a point of explaining that women were welcome and that the name is just historical artifact.

  • Nikkitq420

    So… hackers are badasses?  Yes, because diapers and Yo Gabba Gabba is soooooo tough.  

  • CityLove

    Wow. Our community is “drooly” (not just drippy) with cynicism. You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I’ll bet most of you would steal candy from these babies except that based on this article these moms would kick all your asses. Go crawl back under your rocks and eat more s#*t. 

  • CityLove

    Not all of, some good posts, but sheesh on the rest.

  • becky

    What a great concept — I wish this had been around when I was a SAHM.

  • http://davr.myopenid.com/ davr

    techshop is not a hackerspace. It’s a commercial business where you can rent time on their tools. I feel “hackerspace” connotates more of a community feel. People go to hang out, collaborate, etc at a hackerspace. You don’t see people just hanging out at techshop.

  • http://davr.myopenid.com/ davr

    Also if you’re in the area, please check out Ace Monster Toys! We’re just a couple blocks from mothership hackermoms, and we’ve had our space for almost 2 years now, so we’ve had time to collect a good number of tools and membership. Here’s a shot of one of the three rooms: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/TaXwpnLRnc_c0be6dfngZNMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=twitter

    We also have a massive 600 lb laser cutter.

  • Mermamma

    only Techshop has no babysitting available, fyi.  which is what keeps a lot of mothers at home crafting and creating alone, without that community.  it’s all to easy to forget that if you’re not a mother, especially if you’re not a mother with limited resources.

  • http://gonze.com/ Lucas Gonze

    w00t!

  • Anonymous

     Right, because only mothers raise children and deal with these issues.  Tired tired tired.

  • http://twitter.com/captfuzzbucket CaptFuzz

     I love Yo Gabba Gabba.

  • Anonymous

    So now “hacker” implies non-commercial, OK.  I don’t know about the new SF Techshop but there are definitely people hanging out at the San Jose one and working together on large projects (including high school kids after school).  Closer to home the Crucible was more like that until they decided to focus on corporate “team building” and priced themselves out of the range of regular people.

  • Graham

    Cool!  Glad to see another DIY space in the East Bay.

    I’m a “hacker dad” who mixes IT consulting and daddy-duties depending on the day, so I’d love to see some language about welcoming caregivers of my gender.  But as with “moms” groups anywhere, I’m sure the language isn’t intentionally exclusive – it’s just expressive of the fact that moms outnumber dads when it comes to taking care of kids.

    In other words, no need for anyone to get their boxers in a bunch.  It’s a group of people doing something cool.  Give ‘em a chance.  As with anything, if you have a critique, it’s only going to be effective if you couch it in constructive terms – e.g. say what *you* are doing to make it better, or at least give friendly advice on how to improve.  Otherwise you’re just making everyone’s day a bit worse.  These people are represented as words on a screen, but they’re still people.

    -Graham

  • Biker 94703

     Cranky cranky cranky.

  • Karen

    Graham,

    Thanks for your insightful comments and constructive thoughts. While Hackermoms is primarily a female-based group, we do welcome dads and you sound like an awesome one!   Ace Monster Toys is an established  Hackerspace with lots of cool equipment, gadgets and IT community. We think they’re awesome too. 

    We just opened our doors less than two weeks ago and we’re amazed by all the interest so far. Creative/DIY/Hacker/Maker moms were craving other comrades and a space to play, make art, brainstorm, try out new ideas or just escape for a few hours. We offer that. We’re an alternative ‘mom’s group’ with affordable childcare (during workshop sessions.) in a fun, supportive space.  We don’t have all the bells and whistles of a ‘traditional’  hackerspace, but we’re working on it!

    Check out our Facebook page for upcoming events, fundraisers and such. We’re also looking for donations of equipment (we like big tools too!) art supplies, storage cabinets and more.  We’re working on our non-profit status, so feel free to donate on our website too. http://mothershiphackermoms.org. 

    Come check us out sometime soon. 

  • FreakLabs

     Congratulations to Mothership HackerMoms! This is Akiba from Tokyo Hackerspace and the hacker/maker/DIY community needs more groups like you guys. Don’t worry about some of the negative comments that were posted here. They were obviously not by people in the hacker community. The female perspective is seriously under-represented amongst hackers and the mother’s/parent’s perspective is nonexistent. This is also a good chance to introduce kids to what it’s like to be maker/hacker and also to show them that hackers are not bad people trying to steal credit card information. We’re a community of artists, techies, programmers, chefs, musicians, and of course, computer security, that are curious about how things work.

    I can only imagine that good things come from the fact that you guys have come into existence. All of us at Tokyo Hackerspace are excited to hear about you guys and I’ve heard many words of encouragement and admiration from the other members. Good luck and welcome to the hackerspace community!
    :)

  • FreakLabs

     TechShop is a commercial venture whose purpose is to make money. They’re a hackerspace in the same sense that a fitness gym is a hackerspace. As a member, you do not receive a key to their facility and are granted 24 hour access. If you don’t pay dues, you are immediately barred from the facilities. There’s nothing wrong with TechShop, but even they don’t call themselves a hackerspace.

  • FreakLabs

     It depends on how you define hacking. A computer hacker is someone that modifies computers and programmers to do something that wasn’t for its original intended purpose. A network security hacker modifies protocols and network hardware to use them for something that was not their intended purpose. A music hacker is someone that modifies sounds and musical instruments for something that was not the original intended purpose. In general, hacker is a term for people that are curious about how things work and interested in modifying or creating things to suit their needs. Hacking as a word has gone far back, to the point where it referred to amateur radio enthusiasts modifying their equipment. At MIT, hackers were members of the Tech Model Railroad club. From the 80′s, the media has latched on to hackers and made it synonymous with cybercrime. Only recently has the original spirit of hackers as curious people interested in all sorts of things come back. You can easily see this if you went to Chaos Communication Camp last year, any of the Chaos Communication conferences, or any hacker conference not completely centered on computer security (that caveat was added since many people think of DefCon as a hacker conference, but its actually an infosec hacker conference). You should be able to see all sorts of people at Hope9 this year, a conference sponsored by 2600 magazine and featuring all sorts of hackers. So to reply to your post as “hack” being stretched to the point of being meaningless….the problem is that your concept of hacking seems to only be applied to a narrow field, whereas in the hacker community, its a general term.

  • a hackermom

    Dads are welcome.  Non-parents are welcome too! 
    Having a group not only tolerate my child, but actively plan for me to bring her is a blessing!  That is what makes this group distinct from other creative and rad hackerspaces. 

  • VenusHackerPersonAndMom

     Yes to what Karen said!  And our full web address is http://mothershiphackermoms.org

  • VenusHackerPersonAndMom

     What I meant was THIS IS REALLY THE CORRECT LINK TO OUR WEBSITE http://mothership.hackermoms.org/

  • Maggie

    I applaud parents that try to nurture their creative side while providing a safe and loving environment for their children. While raising my 3 full time I learned to sew, paint, do photography, install floors – anything to keep me interested in getting up the next day and doing it all over again.  It’s so much better doing it with other curious, frustrated and creative people.  Best of luck!

  • Kselfabc

    These ladies rock!!  Yeah sista’s!