As I travel around the world searching for fellow HW nerds, I’m happy to share my findings with you, dear SolidSmack reader. In this article, I bring you the best events and organizations to check out in the San Francisco Bay area. There more than, perhaps, anywhere, the term “tech” gets conflated with “software“. However, these vetted meetups hold the highest likelihood of being attended by your people — the meat-and-potatoes, wires and CAD and drones and VR and IoT and robotics type of nerds.

Previously, we shared where to find hardware nerds in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Since that was published, I also discovered this Seattle VR MeetUp which should also be included in the Sea-Tac HW nerd finding guide. But the Bay area is another story with a lot going on. This time, we’ll need a legit list.

See the video below for an overview and clips from numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the list.

YouTube video

1. SF Hardware Startup MeetUp

While the other events in this list will be in no particular order, this event — the SF Hardware Startup Meetup actually is Number 1.

View of the page of the SF Hardware Startup Meetup showing 8,315 current members
Oh look at those 8,315 members, would ya?! (And who is that on the right of that cover image? Yeah, it’s me. See, I really did vet these for you.)

Number 1 for what?

Oh, I don’t know, for finding HW nerds in San Francisco, and the Bay area in general, and the United States, and THE WORLD. What are my ranking criteria? Well, out of all the places I’ve gone, this one keeps bringing me The Most prospective clients for optical engineering consulting — either directly or through referrals from people I meet there. It’s one of the best places for peeking into the early stages of a bunch of hardware projects, too!

The Vibe

Besides being huge, it’s a very friendly and collaborative crowd. This is likely in part because so many people at the event will stand up in front of hundreds of strangers to tell them about their HW project-baby. That can be humbling, especially for a HW nerd. Also, this MeetUp is all about HW startups, so the instinct to help each other out and network is already drilled into most of the attendees.

I’m sure the other reason there are good, productive vibes here is due to the delightful and encouraging Clarissa Redwine, who up until recently was one of the organizers and lead MC’s. Hopefully her spirit stays with this group even though she was promoted at Kickstarter and kidnapped to the East Coast.

What to Expect

There will be hundreds of people, for one thing. So, bring more than a couple business cards. Usually there’s a presentation at the beginning by one of the sponsors of the event. After the main speakers do their thing, there’s always a shorter segment at the end where anyone who wants to can show off what they’re working on. They normally get 120 entire seconds. Sometimes people use this time to inquire about job opportunities or let the crowd know about their services (me, I do that). Throughout the evening, food and drinks are usually available (thanks sponsors!). And you usually have time at the end for more mingling and networking.

It’s always surprising the large number of never-attended-befores at each MeetUp. That makes it always worth going to for me — even 2 events in a row. If you’re passing through the Bay area, or live there, I highly recommend checking this out! Cool crowd, 10/10, would drink with again.

Projects Shown in the Video

Teaching the robotic spider HEXA how to ride a folding skateboard. As one does.
Teaching the robotic spider HEXA how to ride a folding skateboard. As one does.

The terrifying programmable robot spider, “HEXA”, by Vincross which Eva Li showed off can be found HERE.

Details on Leigh Christie’s folding skateboard can be found HERE.
(His site has a lot of other cool projects worth checking out, too!)

2. Circuit Launch – Brazilian BBQ

Holy Moley, do you like steak? Do you like Free Steak made a la Brazilian BBQ MAGIC!? What about freshly-made Brazilian cocktails made by a Brazilian? And how about electronic HW? And HW Nerds?

Some of the wonder awaiting you at Circuit Launch's Brazilian BBQ nights.
Some of the wonder awaiting you at Circuit Launch’s Brazilian BBQ nights.

If these topics tickle your fancy, be sure to drop by Circuit Launch’s monthly Brazilian BBQ in Oakland. We previously covered their space in this article. But BBQ night is a whole other ball of delights. First of all, the Circuit Launch community is welcoming, friendly and collaborative, so if you’re new in town, don’t feel shy about showing up to this alone. You’ll feel welcome. And the connections you’ll make with other HW nerds will very likely be priceless.

HW Nerd Breeds Joining Forces

Nowadays, this MeetUp often combines with Silicon Valley Robotics’ “Bots ‘n Beers” (next on this list), since they’re both in the same place and do regular events anyways. On those occasions, it may be referred to as “Bots & BBQ”. That means Even More of Your People to Meet!

A Note on the Noms

I made some great connections the night I attended and I also got to see people who now feel like old friends! Really though, even without that, I would go just for the Brazilian BBQ. I really like steak, and what I tasted that night was some of the most mind-blowingly tasty seared cow I’ve ever rolled around in my tongue cave. The Caipirinhas are also an experience unto themselves. Those are usually made by CEO of Circuit Launch, Alex Dantas, and by the way, has a CEO ever made you a cocktail? I can tell you from experience that detail makes them taste even better.

Alex Dantas, Circuit Launch CEO, Caipirinha-making-master, HW Nerd
Alex Dantas, Circuit Launch CEO, Caipirinha-making-master, HW Nerd

And did I mention it’s free?!

THIS LINK is your best bet to find the latest plans for when these will take place.

3. Bots & Beer – Silicon Valley Robotics

As mentioned above, Bots & Beer is often combined with Brazilian BBQ night at Circuit Launch, but it’s possible these events could happen independently.

Bots and
Bots and Beer…er…and “Beverages” (as this one was at a high school). Oh and look, another pic with me from the MeetUp page. I’m starting to suspect something fishy going on…

SVR for All the Robotics Revelry

That’s why you should check out this MeetUp page if you’re interested in robotics and passing through Silicon Valley. The Bots & Beer event is just one of the themed shindigs Silicon Valley Robotics puts on. At all these gatherings, you’ll find a concentrated bunch of robotics pros and enthusiasts. Whether you’re: looking to meet more of your robotics tribe, or want to learn from other robotics makers spilling the secrets about their dev, or show off your own robots, or find a robotics nerd to hire, you won’t want to miss this regular event!

As the name implies, yes, there is also beer! …unless it’s held at a high school, where alcohol is banned, as happened with one of the events I attended. In that case, the event was called “Bots and Beverages”. So keep an eye out for the title change.

4. Women in Robotics

This group exists to bring together women working in or interested in working in robotics. Men are also welcome at this event if they “support our mission” and “are invited to attend our meetups as guests of female members or with permission from the organizers”.

It seems to me that this group is sometimes used to find women in HW to hire. The host companies for these gatherings are often hiring at the time they host the MeetUp. Maybe that’s just an assumption I’m making combined with coincidence. But whether you’re a host company or an attendee, it really is a great place to find women working in robotics to hire…or otherwise learn from and network with! I met a bunch of very wise and highly experienced ladies with hands-on through to executive experience in robotics in this group.

Meeting Lisa Winter (Squee!)

When I went, Lisa Winter, of RobotWars and BattleBots fame was talking about her rise to stardom and the technical challenges she faced with some of the robots she built…like that one time her robot set a building on fire and the firemen came to put it out. OH BUT HAVEN’T WE ALL EXPERIENCED THIS?

Ok, or maybe just those of us who have worked in robotics and/or high-powered lasers know this pain?

Maybe just me ‘n Lisa?

Inside-Look Tech Talks by Host Companies

This particular session I attended was hosted by FarmWise (who just happened to be hiring). We also got a fantastic tour of the humungous equipment they’re building. FarmWise is creating monster robotic weeding machines with machine vision (my fave!) to automate some of the more tedious, back-breaky tasks in farming. After the tour, the other ladies (and a few gents) and I pummeled them with questions about their amazing doohickey until we ran out of time.

Also of note: there was free booze and delicious apps. Not sure if this happens at every event… but the bar (so to speak) has been set, if not.

The MeetUp page for Women in Robotics can be found HERE.

5. Target Open House

This place and event lineup is not just sponsored by Target, it’s Actually Inside a Target Store. Located in Downtown San Francisco at The Metreon, you can visit this space to play with featured IoT devices outside of event times, too.

Event inside Target Open House -- which just happened to be a SF HW Startup MeetUp combo (see #1 on this list).
Event inside Target Open House — which just happened to be a SF HW Startup MeetUp combo (see #1 on this list).

I attended a couple of their panel speaking sessions, and they were excellent. The panelists tend to be highly experienced with a lot of useful and candid advice to dish out to the crowd. And because IoT is usually part of the theme, hardware is implied. Hardware nerds of all sorts, not just those specifically in the IoT niche tend to come out to mingle.

Also of note: here there is also usually free booze and delicious apps.

You can peruse the events page for Target Open House HERE.

6. Hardware Massive

Also worth checking out if you’re visiting the SF Bay area is Hardware Massive’s events page.

Hardware Massive is a global network of HW nerds, but puts on events sporadically throughout the year in the Bay Area. We’ve covered 2 of them so far on SolidSmack: the first annual Hardware Summit in San Fran and HardwareCon in Silicon Valley last year.

Part of the crowd at Hardware Massive's first annual Hardware Summit in 2018.
Part of the crowd at Hardware Massive’s first annual Hardware Summit in 2018.

You can check out the same page for events in other places, too! For example, the Hardware Tech Summit coming up June 19, 2019 in Detroit.

7. SF Virtual Reality MeetUp

This one I have not had the pleasure of attending myself, but it came recommended from a fellow HW nerd highly in-the-know in the SF Bay Area. I’m also told the semi-regular hacknights hosted by this MeetUp are fantastic! And of note: as of writing this article, there are over 3,500 members. That’s a lot of HW nerds.

You can find the MeetUp page for this group HERE.

8. Noisebridge Hackerspace

Noisebridge is an iconic hackerspace in San Francisco with a good deal of electronics tomfoolery going on. The night I visited was Circuit Hacking Monday and I fumbled around with big, bulky LEDs and a breadboard with a diverse group. There were little kiddos learning electronics all the way up through to retirees in a guided class.

Everyone there was so helpful and kind…I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was just used to SMD electronics and was rather mystified by the old-school diodes. Kinda like when I find a land line phone… or even…*gasp* a rotary! (Hold on! I need to take a picture. Wait, how do I use this again?)

Kit I got to borrow when attending one of the Circuit Hacking Mondays at Noisebridge.
Kit I got to borrow when attending one of the Circuit Hacking Mondays at Noisebridge.

There are a ton more classes offered, for example, Python and sewing, and sometimes parties. Plus, the space is open to the public, so this is a very accessible place in all kinds of ways (as long as the funding keeps rolling in, which is always a concern). To view all the upcoming events, see their MeetUp page here.

9. ReadWrite Labs Events

ReadWrite Labs used to hold somewhat frequent panels and networking events, usually with an IoT theme. I’ve been informed they’re not as often now, but do happen about once every 6 months or so. ReadWrite events these days tend to have larger partners in the HW space such as Microsoft or Arrow. So, if you want to make sure you’ve left no networking stone unturned in the Bay Area, you can also check these 2 sites to make sure: the ReadWrite events page, and the ReadWrite Facebook page.

A Note For All The Things

Be sure to register for all events where applicable! The San Francisco Bay Area has a large and vibrant community of HW nerds and I’ve often seen these events book to capacity, leaving those showing up at the door unable to attend! Don’t be that guy. RSVP like your Momma taught you.

Have I missed a great HW nerd event in this list? Please comment below and let us all know!


Erin is a digital nomad and directs optical engineering and publishing at Spire Starter LLC: Her academic background is in applied physics and she used to work for The Man designing optics for indoor lighting, automotive headlamps and tail lights (Corvette, Escalade, Chevrolet Silverado, etc.), optical sensors, and sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. On the side, Erin is an artist, Christian sci-fi writer, and lover of beer, bourbon, and bourbon-infused beer.