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Santa Clara’s Hacker Dojo Celebrates 10 Years

While the Hacker Dojo has been around in one form or another since the late 1990s it’s only officially had a place to call home in for the past 10 years. Its latest home is in Santa Clara.

“[It’s] the hackathon that doesn’t sleep,” said Ed Choudhry, Executive Director of Hacker Dojo. “This is a great place to get your prototype up and running. To try things out, to experiment.”

The Hacker Dojo is a strange mishmash of co-working office space, laboratory and machine shop. With nearly 250 members someone always seems to be at a co-working desk or printing something out on the 3-D printer.

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“We’re an inclusive community, so anyone and everyone can come,” said Choudhry. “We have high school teams building robots here. We have another high school group doing artificial intelligence. We have speakers come in, we have an event every night and they’re all tech focused.”

It’s the eclectic group of members that makes Hacker Dojo a true success.

“What happens is when you have this crosspollination of ideas, you have a designer with an astrophysicist with a mechanical engineer, you start to get into different experiences,” said Choudhry. “When you have this fusion of different experiences and walks of life, you start to get these new, quirky solutions that actually fit.”

Hacker Dojo is a non-profit, so it’s biggest challenge in the past 10 years is finding an affordable space that will fit all of its members and activities and still stay within its budget.

“We’re constantly battling this ever-growing cost in real estate here. Predominantly in the South Bay and in the whole region,” said Choudhry. “I think one of the big initiatives for us is to celebrate being around for 10 years because it’s hard for a non-profit to sustain for three years. The failure rate is pretty high.”

One of the reasons Hacker Dojo has survived all these years is its ability to produce success stories. The developers of Pinterest once called the Hacker Dojo home, as did the creators of the Pebble Watch, the first smart watch ever created.

Other, less mainstream companies can also trace their roots back to the Hacker Dojo.

“Word Lens got acquired by Google and that was a core component to Google Translate,” said Choudhry. “When you hold your phone up to a language to read something, you can see it in the language you’re native to.”

On Oct. 5, Hacker Dojo officially celebrated its 10th anniversary with a giant party. The event looked back at Hacker Dojo’s history and looked forward to its future, which will include a new program called Transition to Tech 2020.

“We’ll be taking low income individuals and seeing if we can, within nine months, transition someone from cold start to a position as a developer,” said Choudhry. “Now the Dojo’s been this cool hangout where people who like tech and build cool things, now we’re going to turn it into an actual dojo where you really up your skill levels.”

Choudhry knows firsthand how that can happen. He’s a self-taught coder that learned a lot simply by taking up office space in Hacker Dojo.

“I think one part of me being able to learn how to code here, by myself, is that I had individuals that I could go talk to. That peer education helped and really supported me,” said Choudhry. “The exchange of ideas, that’s where the magic happens here.”

Hacker Dojo is located at 3350 Thomas Rd. in Santa Clara. You can also find it online at www.hackerdojo.com.

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