Why Hacker

Why “Hacker” ?

As a self-taught programmer, the most inspirational book for me in my early years, what really made me want to be a coder and never look back, was Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.

In it, Levy describes the early computer hackers, starting back at MIT in the 1950’s, and their insatiable thirst for knowledge that drove them to creating the technology that forms the basis for all we use today. The extraordinary lengths hackers would go to in order to learn more and how they’d find ways to apply that knowledge to make things do more then anyone ever imagined they could. If they hadn’t questioned, hadn’t tried; if they’d just been content with the status quo, how would we have all that we do today?

Bruce Schneier captures the hacker essence particularly well in What is a Hacker?:

A hacker is someone who thinks outside the box.
Someone who discards conventional wisdom and does something else instead.
Someone who looks at the edge and wonders what’s beyond.
Someone who sees a set of rules and wonders what happens if you don’t follow them…

“Hackers are as old as curiosity, although the term itself is modern. Galileo was a hacker. Mme. Curie was one, too…

Remember the phone phreaks of yesteryear, the ones who could whistle into payphones and make free phone calls. Sure, they stole phone service. But it wasn’t like they needed to make eight-hour calls to Manila or McMurdo. And their real work was secret knowledge: The phone network was a vast maze of information. They wanted to know the system better than the designers, and they wanted the ability to modify it to their will. Understanding how the phone system worked — that was the true prize.”

I’m not a security hacker. That’s not my thing. But in listening to Levy and Schneier and like minded folks, I can’t think of a single thing I identify with more strongly then this never ending thirst for knowledge, this continuous desire to always be on the lookout for better ways to do things. How can we take a thing and twist it to make it do things no one thought of before, things that merely require asking “why not?”


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