I moved to Moscow just over 1 year ago when my wife was offered a job here. As a Scotsman abroad I had no idea what to expect in this historically and politically important country. And yes, I was a little intimidated. Some days I still say to my wife “Moscow! I still can’t believe we are living in Moscow!” Not in a bad way, it’s a brilliant city, and so far from many of the stereotypes that we see in the West.
For the past eight years I have worked as a photographer (www.mikemcfarlane.co.uk), but as that business came to a close, I returned to an earlier interest in robotics.
As the maker movement continues to grow worldwide, one of the first things I did was to look at hackerspaces.org/wiki/List_of_Hacker_Spaces to see if there was a makerspace or hackerspace in Moscow. And there was, ‘neuron’. With the help of the rather optimistically titled Google Translate I had a good look through neuron’s site and online presence. Certainly they looked pretty cool, but also very serious in their activities. As my Russian language was also pretty poor at that point, I decided not to get in contact. I was just too shy and intimidated.
A few months went by and as I felt a bit more comfortable living here, I checked out the neuron website again, and in particular the calendar. It’s maybe not as packed as some makerspace calendars, but what is there is really interesting – robotics, programming, operating system design etc. My Russian was still pretty bad but with the help of Google Translate I sent a short email to ask about joining. I got a really quick email back from one of the founders, in English, “Sure, come along and we will show you round”. I really wished at that point that I had got in touch earlier.
And so here I am six months later. I have a dynamic membership (which means I have a floating desk rather than being assigned a desk/workspace that comes with full membership) and come here to work and share (mostly my home made biscuits) a couple of days a week. Most of the people with full memberships are tech startups, so during the day it is a quiet and professional atmosphere, which is great as it means that I can be really productive during the time I am here. There are also various workshops and talks in the evenings that I haven’t been able to go to due to other evening commitments, but they are usually popular and interesting. I took my wife on a hot ‘geek’ date last week to a talk about 3D printing which we both enjoyed and got a lot of information from. One of the founders organises a voluntary school for Russian and international schoolchildren to encourage and develop their science and technology based education and I was very honored (and nervous) to be invited to present a week long robotics workshop at this school. Whether I am working, playing or something in between, then neuron is always a great place to be as I build my new robotics business. (My personal blog is at www.moosooboo.com but I am working on something a bit more interesting at the moment.)
And despite the modest and much spoken claim from the Russian members that their English is not very good, I nearly always find that they actually do speak very good, or at least enough English, so that we can communicate very well. And when we struggle for a word, there will always be someone else who will chip in and help out with the conversation. One of the frustrations as an English speaker trying to learn and practice a foreign language is that people you are speaking too often try to help you by speaking English, or they want to practice their English. But one of the nice things in neuron is that when I try to practice my (awful) Russian they will help me and gently encourage me. It is this quiet, courteous and helpful way here that makes it a brilliant space to make my neurons really work. So, if you are a foreigner in Moscow and want to make stuff, don’t be scared like I was, come say привет or hi!