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Much in common between communities, but the Tech Museum is a San Jose stand-out

By Paul Knowles

(First published in www.exchangemagazine.com)

Waterloo Region residents who visit San Jose, California, will probably feel quite at home, very quickly. The two communities have a lot in common – except for the southern California climate, of course. San Jose is part of the state's famed Silicon Valley, home to many start-up and global tech companies, including Apple, Facebook and Google.

 

(Shown, left, part of the San Jose State University campus; below, kids engaging with a friendly robot at the Tech museum).

A significant number of Waterloo Region start-ups migrate to Silicon Valley, and vice versa... and it's not unusual to find companies with footprints in both areas.
The similarities reach well beyond high tech brand names and start-up incubators, though. San Jose's very walkable downtown has a lot in common with uptown Waterloo – including a Light Rail Transit system. Like Waterloo, San Jose has a university (well, actually Waterloo has two, of course), in the heart of the community – San Jose State – and like Kitchener and Cambridge, San Jose also has a community college, San Jose City College.
San Jose and Kitchener share the distinction of being hockey mad – Kitchener, with its constant sell-outs of the Rangers Junior A games, and San Jose, with a rabid enthusiasm for its Sharks and their farm team the Barracuda, that might surprise skeptical Canadian hockey fans.
Dining and entertainment options are also on a par with Waterloo Region. A must-do is the San Pedro Square Market, a smorgasbord of options featuring 20 unique vendors selling everything from sushi to tapas to poké. Not identical to Waterloo Region farm markets, but visitors will get the same eclectic vibe.
And of course – like so many other urban centres – San Jose has a full menu of new craft breweries – although owners like Steve Vandewater of the brand-new Uproar Brewing Company eschew the term "craft", preferring "independent" to describe genuinely small, independently owned operations.
It's all worth taking in, and might all seem oddly familiar, to Waterloo Region residents. But there is one key difference – San Jose is home to the Tech Museum of Innovation, a large, vibrant facility that celebrates tech, entertains, and accomplishes a vast amount of education.
The place is jammed with school groups doing hands-on exploration of all things tech, all the time. The Tech Museum's stated mission is "to inspire the innovator in everyone." Opened in 1998, it continues to innovate in its own right, with a new, Virtual Reality exhibit planned to open soon. The museum leaders take their responsibilities very seriously, though – this is no instant VR gimmick, because they are carefully studying the effect of VR on young people, to guarantee there are no unanticipated side effects.

Approximately 500,000 people visit the Tech Museum of Innovation every year, half of them on school trips. Highlights include a very interactive exhibit on cyber-security, an domed IMAX theatre, a earthquake simulator (one of their earliest exhibits, but still very popular), and "Anatomage" a 3D medical imaging table that allows viewers to strip away layers of bodies to reveal absolutely everything about the human anatomy.
During our visit to the Tech Museum, the Anatomage Table was operated by a very enthusiastic and informative volunteer – as was every exhibit and feature of the museum. Most of the volunteers are retirees from the tech industry, so they bring a tonne of expertise to the task.
There is no doubt that Waterloo Region has some excellent educational programs linked to its tech industry, from Hive Waterloo Region to the outreach programs of the Perimeter Institute and the collaborations between TheMuseum and tech companies. But there is nothing here like the very impressive Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose – and one cannot escape the feeling that this California museum is providing an incredible quantity of inspiration and information to tech-minded kids... and adults.

For more information, http://www.visitcalifornia.com, www.sanjose.org and www.thetech.org