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Programming Phnom Penh: the backstreet powerhouse

Programming Phnom Penh: the backstreet powerhouse

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Ben Hass at Hackerspace, a venue tailored for those who work independently. Photograph: Mike Hogkinson

The lacklustre end of a Toul Tom Poung street is the last place you’d expect to find blazing-fast wifi. House No 91 on Street 454 is the locale of the unofficial Hackerspace in Phnom Penh, and is also home to the recently developed CoLab.

The establishment mimics what the official Hackerspace brand has unfolded across the globe: a community-run space set up for professionals to meet and work on their projects.

Ben Hass, a web developer and active member of Hackerspace, programs for the University of California, Berkley from one of the space’s makeshift offices.

While Hackerspace generally draws the IT crowd, (a crowd which is rather sparse in Phnom Penh according to Hass), it is hoped CoLab will appeal to a wider range of professionals in the capital.

“CoLab is suited for freelancers, designers, researchers, or small business owners” says Hass.

But what exactly distinguishes this particular space from a coffee shop with wifi?

“Well for starters, you’re not obliged to buy coffee after coffee to keep using wifi. It’s an exclusive space for professionals. It’s much quieter here, and I find I’m far more productive working here than I would be at home or at a café,” says Hass.

Hackerspace and CoLab require membership to use the space, which consists of desks, office chairs, tea and a coffee maker (you’ll need to bring your own teabags and milk though) and, of course, a super fast, reliable internet connection.

“In the six months I’ve been here, the only issue has been three power outages. The speed of the internet is consistent, so it’s suitable for international video conference calls or interviews,” explains Hass.

Hackerspace members meet each Tuesday at 6pm over drinks to hang out and discuss “Hackerspace-y” related topics. Anyone is welcome to drop by to check out the space on these nights.

If you like what you see, you’re encouraged to take out a membership. Memberships start at $20 per month, which gets you keys to the building, a desk space, an area to host meetings or free events, and one day’s worth of wifi access per week. For Cambodians the price drops to $5 per month.

If you’re not down with programming lingo, but need a legitimate workspace, the friendly regulars at Hackerspace and CoLab will more than likely be able to accommodate your needs.

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