Love the Hacker, Hate the Problem

Hackers have been receiving quite a bit of bad press recently. Cryptocurrency blackmail, planes flying sideways, and cars driving into ditches all help sell an image of hackers as mercenaries and anarchists, but it ignores the motivations of countless individuals tinkering with systems in positive ways. The drive to emphasize “malicious” hackers trivializes their real capability to solve problems which arise from society’s reliance on incredibly complex systems, which can fail at the speed of light.

Good employees need to be able to understand a system of processes, and then alter those processes to benefit their goals. However, great employees are the ones able to see through the sea of competing processes and identify the friction. This is a defining trait of a hacker, the ability to fall in love with this sea of unknowns, study it with devoted reverence, and perhaps even zealotry. Does this level of dedication make some people feel uncomfortable, despite the good works that are accomplished?

It appears to be perfectly acceptable for web articles on food hacks, management hacks, and dog care hacks, which give insight to really difficult problems. These are just hackers of a fleshier science. While the difficulty of these topics is equivalent to most technology topics, such as packet routing or database normalization, it appears the mere mention of technology taints the conversation. Technology forms a mythos where the hacker is regarded more like a wizard than an expert in their field. This completely skews the tone of public opinion, and suddenly technical problems center on either the incompetence of developers or the selfishness of hackers wishing to trade public safety for profit/fame.

While hackers are at best the anti-heroes of the news cycle, the real villains are the problems lurking in the dark. Technologies constantly change creating problems we have not yet begun to imagine, however if we appreciate the complexity of the situation perhaps we would be more inclined to celebrate a hacker mindset.