Hacker vs. Professional?

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Main Question or Discussion Point

Why calling hardware and software hobbyists hackers?
What makes someone a hacker?
How professional is a hacker?
What's a professional then?
Is calling someone a hacker instead of a professional a bad thing? lower level?
Who invented this word anyway?
 

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  • #2
Simon Bridge
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http://www.dourish.com/goodies/jargon.html

The word "hacker" appears in the MIT AI lab to refer to someone who is capable, and involved in actively understanding a subject or technology. Came to embody a spirit that includes a playful fun in relation to problem solving.

Came to be associated with circumventing security, and, later with an improvisational style of programming. A "hack" is, therefore, either a clever workaround or a hasty/unreliable fix depending on who you talk to.

A "professional" is anyone who gets paid for what they do.
Usually associated with people who make a living at what they do - hence the association with high skills and a "professional" attitude.

An amateur, does not get paid. May be a term of abuse - but note: Olympic atheletes are amateurs.

A hacker in any field is interested in how things work.

A "user" is someone who is only interested in the results. A luser is someone who makes a virtue out of not caring how things work.

It is possible to be a professional and also a hacker - you can even be a professional hacker.
 
  • #3
berkeman
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but note: Olympic atheletes are amateurs.
Shouldn't that be "used to be amateurs"? Some of them are pretty highly paid now...
 
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Then the word hacker depends somehow on the profession. For example we cannot call a doctor or teacher hackers, but we can call a genetic engineer a hacker. :)
 
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Simon Bridge
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@berkman: Was my meaning unclear? Apologies.
When they go professional they "were" Olympic atheletes, in that they have previously competed in the Olympic games. By the same token they remain Olympians ;)
Of course I mean that the word "amateur" need not be synonymous with poor performance or sloppy workmanship and I was using the example of atheletes competing, or training to compete, in the Olympic games to illustrate this. Talented amateurs may well go professional - that is only sensible. Untalented amateurs also go professional.

@dijkarte: there is some debate among the hacker community about this ... I think a word does not need to be restricted to it's early usage.

Those teachers who take trouble to find out what will help their student's learn are education hackers. Those who just deliver the same lessons by rote each year - deliver the curriculum and pick up the pay check types - would be teaching lusers. (Students can be education hackers too.)

You should be able to extend the concept into other disciplines as well.

The derogatory form also works - but is less used. You'd use "hack" (hack journalist, hack teacher) rather than "hacker" to describe someone who basically just "puts in their 20" and collects the pension.

Did you read the jargon file?
Here's the entry for "hacker"
http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/H/hacker.html
hacker: n.
[originally, someone who makes furniture with an axe]

1. A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the Internet Users' Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.

2. One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.

3. A person capable of appreciating hack value.

4. A person who is good at programming quickly.

5. An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in ‘a Unix hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)

6. An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.

7. One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.

8. [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. The correct term for this sense is cracker.

The term ‘hacker’ also tends to connote membership in the global community defined by the net (see the network. For discussion of some of the basics of this culture, see the How To Become A Hacker FAQ. It also implies that the person described is seen to subscribe to some version of the hacker ethic (see hacker ethic).

It is better to be described as a hacker by others than to describe oneself that way. Hackers consider themselves something of an elite (a meritocracy based on ability), though one to which new members are gladly welcome. There is thus a certain ego satisfaction to be had in identifying yourself as a hacker (but if you claim to be one and are not, you'll quickly be labeled bogus). See also geek, wannabee.

This term seems to have been first adopted as a badge in the 1960s by the hacker culture surrounding TMRC and the MIT AI Lab. We have a report that it was used in a sense close to this entry's by teenage radio hams and electronics tinkerers in the mid-1950s.
... when I was programming at High School, the people who populated the Computer Lab were divided into the hackers (these days you'd probably say "coders" - folk who wanted to program the computers beyond coursework requirements) and the "gamers" (identified by monopolizing the computers to play Donkey Kong etc - the jargon file would call these folk "lusers").

At University, the lecturers used the word "hacker" as a description for sloppy and undisciplined programmers ... later I learned that there was a conflict brewing at the time between proprietary and free/libre models of developing software: my college favored the proprietary model and hackers favor the free version, and top hackers tended to code off the tops of their heads. They had an education point though - new programmers trying to imitate the hackers, and code on the fly, tended to write pretty bad code.

You can see there is a whole can of worms under the label :)
 
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