Over the years, the persona of hackers have been portrayed many different ways. Hacking culture started in 1961 at MIT, according to “A Brief History of Hackerdom” by Eric Raymond. The people from MIT were the original hackers, but that is not how hackers are perceived today. Today I consider the widespread definition of a hacker to be someone performing malicious acts to gain an advantage for themselves. An example of this would be all the different phishing scams that go around to people’s emails. If someone falls for this scam, the hacker has access to everything on that victim’s account. However, this is not the definition I would give MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club hackers. The hackers of this club were much different and did not have this intent of maliciousness. Mentioned in “A Brief History of Hackerdom” was how the first intentional artifacts of the hacker culture included “the first slang lists, the first satires, [and] the first self-conscious discussions of the hacker ethic.” All of these artifacts do not have harmful intent.
Following this explanation, I would say there are two groups of hackers. One group has the intent to perform malicious acts, and the second group would be the hackers that do not have this malicious intent. Among these two groups, there are several characteristics that overlap. The first characteristic is creativity or originality. Hackers have come up with some of the most creative ways to play jokes on people. Some MIT hackers once put a car on top of the Great Dome on their campus (More information: http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_year/1994/cp_car/). Another characteristic that is common amongst hackers is that they are makers or composers. This is Paul Graham’s idea from “Hackers and Painters,” and I fully agree with this. Hackers are always making programs, apps, etc. A great example of how hackers are making great things is GroupMe. GroupMe started at a hackathon and is a great alternative to use for group text messages (http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/26/inception-a-hackday-dream-the-story-of-groupme/).
It is important to distinguish between the two groups of hackers because I do consider myself a hacker, but not a malicious one. I would like to think that I am creative. Whether it is coming up with a simple solution to handyman work I at my house, fixing a jacket where the zipper broke, or within code that I write for an application these solutions are original. I would also like to think that I am maker or composer. When I was working this summer, I had to come up with an efficient way to test a call-center server. There is a call-flow that I had to follow, but I had to make several efficient queries that would execute at a certain time to test call-center servers. This was an original product that I made and was very excited about.
This characterization that I defined of a hacker is a fair one. It is encompasses everything. There is the group that composes and uses creativity for the malicious sense. Then there is the group that uses creativity and composes for benefit of humanity. This distinction between the two groups is important for many reasons. The first is that people today, meaning that the everyday person who does not read much about hackers, think of the first group as a hacker. The people that have more of an understanding what the hacking culture actually is would disagree. People that have more of an understanding would agree with my approach that hackers are composers and creative without the harmful intent.
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