Q: Please tell us about yourself, educational background and the path that led you to Alexandria Hackerspace.
EL Shair: I am Amr EL Shair, founder of Alex Hackerspace, the second Hackerspace in Egypt, but the first one tech hub in Alexandria. I am 36 old graduate of the Faculty of Commerce (Business Administration Department) at Alexandria University. When I was 10 years old, I developed a passion about electronics and everything related with like TVs, radios and etc. Then, at age 12, I got fortunate: my father brought me back a computer, my first desktop computer, from one of his travels to Singapore. It was so rare to find desktop computers here in Egypt, at that time only in banks or other big organizations had them. Since that time, I literarily got “crazy” about everything to do with programming: games, computers and the likes. My dream then was to be a computer science engineer, but unfortunately secondary education grades were not up to par to be accepted in the Faculty of engineering at the time. After college graduation, I opened and ran an Internet cafe for 6 years, and it was truly an amazing experience for me in terms of computers and Internet. Then, I decided that it is not enough; therefore I got a web designing & programming degree from a scholarship of The Ministry of Communications. After receiving this diploma, I worked as Web a Design Instructor at Educational Center, here in Alexandria. During this time period in 2010, I attended an engineering event at Alexandria Bibliotheca, which focused on the next generations of different new technologies, and one of its sessions was on Hackerspace what does it means. This session fascinated me and after 2 years in 2012, I decided to quit from my job and start my first Hackerspace. I rented a flat and opened it up, but faced so many obstacles; one of them was the lack of funds to pay the rent. In 2014, I bought a new bigger place with my own money and it became the first branch of Alex Hackerspace.
Q: Tell us about the Alexandria Hackerspace: Why Alexandria Hackerspace? What programs and services do you offer? Who do you serve?
EL Shair: Alexandria Hackerspace is a small community of ‘crazy’ people: "hackers, geeks, developers, makers, techies and artists" who are trying to change the world in Alexandria, Egypt. We provide an electronics lab, a Wood & Iron working lab, a CNC (computer numerical control), a laser cutter, a 3D scanner & printer, and Lego kits for kids. We also provide courses in Electronic, Arduino, Raspberry Pi courses, Mechanics & Wood working courses and Robotics courses for kids. In addition, we provide a program called “Dreams Come true” whose goal is to help hardware & electronics startups to get their potential products and innovation to the market, by helping them with tools, consulting, design products and in their crowd funding campaigns.
Q: Can you please share with us some of Alexandria Hackerspace’s greatest accomplishments and success stories to date?
EL Shair: One of our greatest accomplishments to date is definitely our participation to the IVLP “International Visitors Leadership Program” in US in 2014.
Q: What groups in Egypt are the most underrepresented in STEM? Secondly, what key steps should we undertake to promote scientific literacy and STEM amongst these specific science and technology underrepresented groups?
EL Shair: The most underrepresented group here are the creators and inventors. The government does not support them not by tool nor budget; they don’t even support them in media or by recording patents officially. Creators and inventors face many obstacles in pursuing their dreams and the key steps to assist them in their endeavors are: (1) to help them by acquiring labs with new tools, and (2) to also help them acquiring suitable funding for their experiments.
Q: What is the importance of STEM education, innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and investment as well as infrastructures and the rule of law in the socio-economic development of Egypt?
EL Shair: The official educational system here in Egypt suffering so much from a huge gap between the job market needs and what the education system provides. The formal education system depends mainly on theoretical education instead of practical one. Over the last 5 years the Minister of Education has focused its attention on the STEM Education and its importance, but still a big gap remains, and we at Alex Hackerspace are trying to close that gap by delivering STEM education for the general public and not only school students.