While Paul Graham and Steven Levy’s definitions of a hacker share some similarities, there are a few key differences. Graham focuses on the idea of making something beautiful, normally related to software. This focus is very reliant on the idea that not all people who code are hackers, but that hackers are trying to do interesting things with code. In these components Graham and Levy have very similar definitions, however, there is a key difference. Graham’s hackers are trying to make something beautiful while Levy’s tend to write code simply for the sake of making code. Graham describes computers as simply the medium with which hackers work, while Levy talks about loving and totally understanding a computer. Graham describes the hacker as more of a maker or an artist, while Levy’s almost seem like mad scientists. I personally like the way Graham describes a hacker. I am much more interested in creating something with code, then in simply writing code. To make beautiful code is to make beautiful things with code. To stretch Graham’s analogy to painters, not only do painters care very little about the paint chemistry, they aren’t trying to make brush strokes for the sake of brush strokes, they are making something in the end. Making is central to Graham’s description of a hacker, as he likens them more toward writers and painters than mathematicians. This is also much more appealing to me than simply being a hacker for hackers sake. My favorite part of programming is having something interesting and beautiful that I have made at the end. I am extremely interested in using programming to create games and graphics and sounds and more. I like the idea of being a maker much more than being a hacker as Levy describes it. Another difference is that Levy focuses on money not being a part of hacking, but Graham embraces money. While he says that people should write beautiful code in their own time he also says that they should have a day job, similar to musicians. This is a very big divergence from Levy’s hackers who would hack all day everyday to the detriment of most other things. I feel like Graham speaks to me more in my love of making things, such as animations or games, more than to my making of things like web servers or search engines. The relentlessness he describes makes me excited to work on projects in animation, to put in long hours on little things that most people wouldn’t even notice, but I would know was right. While Levy’s hackers didn’t really appeal to me, I feel like Graham’s hackers are much more approachable and admirable. He puts an emphasis on being like artists, but also having a day job. Just because you are relentless in your chosen art doesn’t mean that you have to let your life fall to ruin around you. I also love the idea of making programming cool. Like the last line says we are the people who can make things that will convince the world that hacking is cool, like Da Vinci convinced the world that painting was cool.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am not a big supporter of the hacker ethic, I believe to be widely implemented it would need major overhaul. It would need to emphasize the people rather than the computers. That being said there are of course good components of the hacker ethic. The desire to strive for the best, to innovate, and to fail are all great components of the hacker ethic. Things that everyone can learn from and embrace to better themselves academically, professionally, and personally. For these reasons I feel that the hacker ethic should definitely be spread wider, but with an emphasis on improvement not on obsession. What the hardware hackers did well as they spread the hacker ethic to a wider audience was they provided an incentive. The hacker ethic was flawed in that it assumed everyone had the privilege of being able to program and hack all day every day with little consideration for the rest of their lives and for no compensation. What the hardware hackers did was show the world that you could adapt a version of the hacker ethic, a better version of the hacker ethic, and make a living doing it. While the “True Hackers” resented the hardware hackers, because they saw the hardware hackers as sellouts, this however to me is unfair. While some were disparaged for working for the department of defense or for simply making their own companies and trying to profit off of their understanding and knowledge, they were popularizing and improving computers and technology much faster than some people sitting in a room at MIT were able to do, no matter how highly they thought of themselves. With money earned by selling their computers or software or what have you, these hardware hackers and entrepreneurs were able to make money and using that money perform more better innovations than in the past. During Justin’s presentation on Thursday he talked about how there were many small boards available for cheap prices so that a person would be able to learn how to create hacks or discover things on their own. The use of these boards and their wide spread has given more people than ever access to the hardware necessary to learn and embrace parts of the hacker ethic. This was only possible because the company was able to make a profit off of these chips. They were able to research and develop cheap ways to make chips there by popularizing the ability to be “true hackers” even if it is merely a version of what it used to be.
As I said at the beginning, I have never been the biggest fan of the hacker ethic, because of its many failings in my opinion, but I still appreciate and am inspired by other parts of the ethic. It is these parts of the ethic, the hard work, innovation, and meritocracy that I think are more able to come through when hardware and software are monetized. They allow wider exposure and therefore more innovation. It also drops many of the less savory parts of the ethic. In other words, not only do I think it is worth it to compromise some of the ideals of the hacker ethic in order to spread, I think it is a good idea.
A “True Hacker” is someone who lives and breaths programming. They eat, sleep, and breath programming. At one point in the book a true hacker is described as someone who can ignore such minor conveniences as sleep. A true hacker is someone who does not have time for anything aside from programming, everything else is a distraction. To me this seems to be an extremely dangerous mindset. The idea that there should be thirty hour days, “days” (in quotations because it is more than an actual day) where a true programmer would code for the entire time and ignore everything else. To not get the proper amount of sleep has been shown to be very unhealthy both for the physical body as well as for a person’s mind. Personally I can not imagine there being anything that I would enjoy doing so much that I would ignore all other facets of my life in order to pursue. I believe in the idea of living a balanced life. This extends beyond just a good work life balance, though that is a part of it. I feel a well balanced life, while different for everyone, would include time spent socializing and time spend relaxing and time spent working. There should also be time to take care of yourself, whether that be eating or washing yourself or sleeping, we are not machines and we require rest. I believe that a person would get worn down extremely quickly if they spent no time taking care of themselves and relaxing. I also feel that to encourage this behavior through peer pressure, by calling everyone who was not a “true hacker” a loser, is also an extremely unhealthy environment.
As I said earlier I believe everyone’s balance is different. Some people need more time to themselves each day, while others are more social. In a similar way, some people can work for hours and hours while maintaining the same level of productiveness, while others are more like sprinters and have a periods of extreme productiveness with time when they are much less productive worked in. All of this depends on the individual, thus for someone to tell another, “if you aren’t spending all your waking time trying to program or make new things you’re a loser,” is both unfair and unhealthy. Everyone is different. Take Margaret Hamilton for example. She would never have been accepted by the “true hackers” for a number of reasons. She had a family that she cared for, she had a life outside of programming, etc. Yet her schedule and practice worked for her and she became the lead of the team that wrote the computer programs that put humans on the moon. No one could ever say that Margaret Hamilton was unsuccessful in her life, however, because she was not a “true hacker” the group at MIT would have looked down on her.
I realize how hypocritical it may sound that I begin this post by saying that I think the lifestyle of a “true hacker” is extremely unhealthy, then proceed to say that everyone should find their own limits and not try to tell others theirs. My point is that I believe for me and for most people the life of a “true hacker” is not only a poor goal, it is also an unhealthy lifestyle choice. The lifestyle may work for some but even then, I feel that these people may be missing important parts of life by trying to achieve some unreachable and really unnecessary pedestal of the “true hacker.”