We mean ‘hacker’ in the original sense, here, as more of a ‘self-taught programmer’. We aren’t talking about the crackers who bust through your firewall. Follow these principles, little grasshopper, and the secrets of technology shall be yours to hold.
(1.) Consuming curiosity.
Most people are content to find out what something does. A hacker will ask how and why, as in “How does it do that?”, and “Why is that the best way to do it?” If it isn’t the best way, count on the hacker to uncover the flaws and point out a better way. Curiosity itself isn’t much good, but it is an urge that drives you to explore and discover many useful things along the way.
(2.) A strong work ethic.
The media perception of the computer geek as a slacker in a T-shirt munching snack food is misleading. In fact, you’ll find that the best hackers have a discipline that borders on Puritanism. The trouble that management often has with hackers in a commercial environment is not in getting enough productivity out of them, but constraining them to normal hours. Left to their own devices, hackers will work around the clock.
(3.) A quiet lifestyle.
Hackers just don’t whoop it up as much. It is rare to find one at a rave party, for instance. They prefer more tranquil forms of recreation; board games, puzzles, and lots of reading. Even their parties tend to revolve around role-playing games and Renaissance costumes rather than beer bongs and loud music.
The part where managing hackers is “like herding cats”, as the metaphor goes, is in trying to take such a radical crew of individuals and getting them to conform to a schedule and a plan. The average hacker is just too impatient to rely on others to do something within the confines of bureaucracy when they’d rather get it done right now, by themselves.
(5.) A strong love of liberty.
It isn’t that hackers rebel against authority because they are rebellious, so much as they don’t like anything getting in the way of their work. The story that Richard Stallman, the hacker hero, tells is that he had a broken printer which drove him to seek the author of the printer’s software, only to discover that he couldn’t have a copy because it was copyrighted. That’s all it took to drive him to found the Free Software Foundation and devote his life to computing freedom: he wasn’t able to fix that damn printer!
(6.) Pride in craftmanship.
Inside very hacker is a small child proudly showing off something he made. Look what I did! Isn’t that clever? Hackers would rather create something profound and ingenious, rather than write boring software that prints paycheck or tracks customer accounts in a database. They may be bored at work, but will come home and stay up until 2 AM programming an artificial intelligence checkers game in Flash, just because it is an amazing thing to do.
It seems almost a paradox, because in chats and bulletin boards, they all sound so jaded and cynical. But every hacker actually believes that a better future for all of us is possible, if only they can wrangle it out of these machines. They may rant about how people in general are stupid and lazy, but will treat every individual with the belief that they are talking to the exception to the rules.
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