Monday, February 9, 2009

You might be a great hacker if you...

A number of years ago I was doing some mentoring at a California state agency that shall remain nameless. I got my butt up in time to be into their office at 8am. (Ok, I'll be honest, usually I got up in time. I was late on a few occasions.) I led them down the path of learning ASP.NET from scratch. Together we built a great product that is still in use today on a highly trafficked web site. Some time late in the mentoring project a student came up to me and asked the strangest question. He wanted to know how I learned everything I was teaching them. He wanted to take the same classes.

The guy was an amazing engineer. He was methodical, had great documentation, dotted all his i's and crossed all this t's. But he wasn't a great hacker. He was a bit slow, and didn't have much creativity. It was around that time I started paying more attention to traits of great hackers, before Paul coined the term. The bastard! At that time I was really just looking for people that learned quickly and could get things done faster than the rest. Some day maybe I'll figure out how to be all witty and important and coin terms.

So, here we go, in no particular order – except the first one, which is the obvious transition from my enticing story above:

  • started off as a script kiddie

    A typical scenario looks something like the following, though could occur in any area (not just video games):

    1. Play Quake 2
    2. Get stupidly good at Quake 2
    3. Get bored with Quake 2
    4. Figure out how to cheat by writing scripts to rocket jump or speed hack
    5. Realize what you just did was coding, and it's fun and amazingly rewarding
    6. Change all direction in life (yes, even when you're 12 years old) so you can do more coding

  • often forget to shave

    "Wait a minute, you mean people do their own laundry?" Yes, you are exceptionally lazy. That's ok. You have more important things to do in life than worry about how you smell/look.

  • have ever worked on a project for 24 hours straight

    "Hold on! You don't work without sleep until a problem is solved?" And no, last minute procrastination doesn't count, and neither do production outages. Everyone's been there. I'm talking about all night sessions working to solve a problem that could have been done over a few normal working days

  • instantly quiet a room when you speak

    You don't talk much. You spend most of your time listening to others. You find idle chit chat to be boring and have quantitatively determined it's a waste of time. Maybe it's because you don't have much to say. But, what I think is more likely is that you only say things that are relevant and important. Thus, when you speak, the room listens. A room full of strangers doesn't count. They won't know you only say important things until you've trained them that way.

  • have ever gone to visit a friend and proceeded to ignore them because you must finish that stupid puzzle they had on their coffee table before putting it down

    See photo at top of post.

  • get asked to help debug other people's code

    There's a certain amount of pride a developer has over their code. No matter how logical it is to call someone in for help, it's always the last thing we do. If you're the guy people call for help, you're on the right track.

  • are naturally good at video games

    Ever pick up a game, and within minutes beat or come really close to beating, someone who's been playing it for months? This is a sure fire sign of your analytical and problem solving skills. Come to think of it, I think I'm going to start adding this to my interview process.

  • use every operating system in existence

    Sure, you think Windows sucks, but you use it because you play games on it and deep inside you know it doesn't really suck much worse than the competition. You know Linux is the best (DUH!) but you play with FreeBSD. You have OSX running on your laptop because those big icons and MacBooks are sexy. But really, it's more about curiosity than anything.

  • make a habit of picking up a new technology over the weekend

    Lego Mindstorms, anyone? Oooh, how about Adobe AIR or Microsoft Azure or iPhone development. You catch my drift.

  • are extremely critical of everything

    You find fault in everything from your takeout food to web sites to world economic systems. The world is an imperfect mess that needs to be cleaned up. And, of course, you could do it with a weekend and your new favorite development platform (that you haven't used yet)!

This is all I could come up with in the time I set aside for this blog post. So what do you all think? What am I missing? I'll update the post with your ideas as they come in, if they don't suck.

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About the Author

Wow, you made it to the bottom! That means we're destined to be life long friends. Follow Me on Twitter.

I am an entrepreneur and hacker. I'm a Cofounder at RealCrowd. Most recently I was CTO at Hive7, a social gaming startup that sold to Playdom and then Disney. These are my stories.

You can find far too much information about me on linkedin: No, I'm not interested in an amazing Paradox DBA role in the Antarctic with an excellent culture!