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I came across these essays the other day whilst dreaming of becoming a Lisp hacker:, and they crystallised for me that the reason for the unrelenting failure I'm seeing in so many software projects I find myself working on is that programming is seen as a low-end commodity resource that is an afterthought in comparison to the heavyweight layers of non-technical management that strategise above the code.

Given our commodity nature, what practical steps can we take to inspire hacker culture in our fellow commodities?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, GlenH7, Yusubov, user61852, Dan Pichelman Jul 18 '13 at 15:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I... really don't see the connection between commoditisation and hacking, I'm sorry. I doubt others will, either, because it's not clear what goal your question has. Why would you want to "inspire" hacker culture? Your tastes are your tastes, not all of us want to be hackers! – Arcane Engineer Jan 29 '12 at 11:15
Interesting question, but - from a pragmatic point of view - it has no answer unless you define what "we" actually refers to. – back2dos Jan 29 '12 at 11:47
What culture/country is this? – user1249 Jan 29 '12 at 11:50
Do you want to motivate/empower fellow "hackers" by creating better working conditions and reducing inequality at the workplace; do you want to improve company culture as a whole in the lower ranks of your organization; or do you want to make your company (or any company?) more effective by changing its "operating mode" (e.g. by becoming less "political") ? – knb Jan 29 '12 at 12:00
@NickWiggill - you're right, I can see most people aren't all that bothered and it is best not to try to change people. – user23157 Jan 29 '12 at 12:54

4 Answers 4

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This is more an answer to the underlying question "Why does management treat us coders so disrespectfully?" rather than to the question, say, "How can we increase nerd productivity?"

Students of management school today must learn very quickly, that in westernized countries most markets are mature and there is market saturation for most goods. Today's markets are hyper-competitive. Therefore, most innovations (for which the market is by definition not saturated) are driven to maturity and saturation very quickly.

Marketing management textbook say: For a company that wants to survive, marketing is central, selling is more important than producing things.

From a management perspective, production (or in-house software development with the goal to sell it as a good or service) is important but it is not mission critical.

The methods of factoring out production have been perfected over the years, and still are. Look at companies that do not produce anything themselves, but only do product design and product distribution. These companies include Apple and Nike for instance. They are considered leaders in their field, most admired.

Reducing production departments is more than a company tool, it is a decades-old megatrend.

I'm not saying that this is a good thing, it's just what people have been learning at business school.

Accounting and Corporate finance are also important. Many corporations can easily receive as much cash inflow from the capital marketsas they do by selling products goods and services. For Microsoft as an example, see this article from 2000. (It talks from the tax loopholes W.R.T. stock options and stocks which were higher than annual sales in 2000. MS can make a lot more money with other financial instruments such as bonds, loans, derivatives... I haven't looked)

So what can you do?

  • work at a company where there are fewer layers between coders and management.
  • work at a company which have technical people in top management
  • (co-)found a startup
  • use gut feeling to look for companies where the culture just seems to be right. No-one fully understands how to establish a good culture. Being profitable helps a lot.
  • work in IT infrastructure (which is mission critical for most companies these days). But here the "cloud trend" is about to change everything. I'm not saying that becoming a sysadmin is the way to go.
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You can't "inspire" a hacker culture. Hacker, in the context you are using it, is a personality type. You cannot convert a non-hacker to a hacker.

A hacker is fascinated by the way things work. A hacker took their first watch apart and put it back together again. A hacker got hold of their first computer and said "this is boring, what else can I make it do?" A hacker figured out how to bypass their parents' phone locks and make calls anyway.

You can, very slowly, replace non-hackers with hackers and managers with hackers, and so on, until your company is, by its very nature, a hacker culture. But, practically, this never happens. It is more expedient to move to a start-up, created by a hacker, and enjoy the hacker mentality there.

All that said, I disagree with your premise. Projects do not fail because of a dearth of hackers, they fail because of a plethora of bad programmers (which is usually a result of bad management). A non-hacker is not a bad programmer. They may be unlikely to create the next big technological advancement, but they are very capable of creating a system based on business requirements.

Non-hackers are more likely to change the system rather than buck it and, in a vast majority of companies, this is exactly what you want. I would suggest that, more often than not, the best combination is a large number of good developers who do as they're told, with a handful of talented rebels who keep management on their toes.

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You make a good point and I think I agree, you can't get people fascinated in something and it's better to gravitate towards people who already are, than try to change those who aren't. However, to clarify I'm not saying that software projects fail because they don't have enough hackers, I'm saying that software projects fail because they are run by non-software engineers who see "the writing the code bit" as an implementation detail and that to a greater or lesser extent software engineers are all interchangeable. – user23157 Jan 29 '12 at 12:49

Start by reading Steven Levy's book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. If you want to inspire a hacker culture, it'll help to understand what makes some of the most famous hackers (in the best sense of the word) tick.

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Support projects that inspire hacking (especially those targeted at kids/schools ie rasberry pi)

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would you mind explaining more on what it does and why do you recommend it as answering the question asked? "Link-only answers" are not quite welcome at Stack Exchange – gnat Oct 12 '13 at 20:15