Friday, August 28, 2009

Hacker and Pollyanna are not mutually exclusive

The last few weeks I've been neglecting everything -- just too busy, which is not a condition I prefer. I did manage to get moved into a new cubicle at work, which is already more homey than the old, thanks in part to the addition of my ishta devata (Rishi Kapoor). Seriously, this is how cults start: it's all a joke until it starts working for you. But I'm not (totally) crazy: I know that Rishi, as a person, isn't actually a god. However, the qualities he stands for as a screen personality (wearing ridiculous glittery pantsuits, throwing rose petals from helicopters, and singing bhajans until old ladies are cured of blindness) are all things in which I can believe!

So last night I was unwinding with a book called The Best Software Writing I (edited by Joel Spolsky), which I bought mainly because I enjoy the very idea of anyone anthologizing software writing like it's short stories. And, of course, I do have an interest in computers: there are stacks of 2600 magazines all over the house, even though I don't understand most of what they're saying. I've been reading a lot about linguistics recently, similarly: they start talking about the epiglottals and my eyes glaze over. I just try to focus on the broad strokes.

Anyway, there's an essay in the book called "Great Hackers," by Paul Graham. What he means is, of course, not hackers in the malicious sense, or even necessarily in the 2600 sense of curious people with a rebellious attitude toward technology, but more or less computer programmers who are great creative thinkers. He's identifying the qualities companies should look for in their tech people. And I came across this sentence: "This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something's broken, they need to fix it."

Here I've always thought that was just because I'm a Pollyanna goody-goody. But maybe I'm a hacker after all! Fortunately, because I am in fact a goody two shoes, I won't be using my powers for evil anytime soon...

1 comment:

sunil said...

This post illustrates one of my pet peeves with wannabe "real" hackers -these self-important anal-retentives will go to great length to tell you that hacking and cracking is not the same even though everyone uses the word hacking in the sense you use it. :)