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I've been of the mind that hacker is just another name for programmer. Not one that you'd use when someone asks you what you do but one that could be used between a brother/sisterhood of programmers.

Used like other epithets used between men and women of a common ilk, this is probably can have a positive connotation. Used by people outside our sphere to describe us, it would undoubtedly have a negative connotation - but not one to describe a bad programmer (most laymen don't think we exist), only an evil programmer.

I like the word, it reminds me of 21st century cobbler.

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closed as not constructive by Thomas Owens Jan 14 '13 at 19:04

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+1. There is also the "white-hat" and "black-hat" modifiers to the word. I have done both and been called a hacker in the negative meaning, and I just don't see it that way. Capabilities can always be used for good or bad, and I respect those with capabilities regardless of their use. –  Fosco Oct 6 '10 at 16:54
This is not a sensible question, as it presupposes that one objects to the term "hacker" which some here do not. –  HedgeMage Nov 9 '10 at 1:33

10 Answers 10

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both before and after Paul Graham tried to re-define the word, I always saw a hacker as being the same as a cowboy coder.

To me, a programmer works in an environment of collaboration and teamwork.

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In software development a "hacker" has a different meaning that the ones that break into the pentagon intranet.

A hacker is a developer that get things done.

It's not the technically supperior, it's not the one with the most diplomas, it's not the one that worked there, there and with him, her or them.

He does the necessary things to make things work.

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That's the definition I use. –  Peter Turner Oct 6 '10 at 17:45
Agreed and the media took our word and definition and hijacked it for their own purpose...IMO. –  Walter Oct 6 '10 at 23:08

Believe this was originally posted in phrack:

The Hacker Manifesto

by +++The Mentor+++ Written January 8, 1986 Another one got caught today, it's all over the papers. "Teenager Arrested in Computer >Crime Scandal", "Hacker Arrested after Bank Tampering"...

Damn kids. They're all alike.

But did you, in your three-piece psychology and 1950's technobrain, ever take a look behind >the eyes of the hacker? Did you ever wonder what made him tick, what forces shaped him, >what may have molded him?

I am a hacker, enter my world...

Mine is a world that begins with school... I'm smarter than most of the other kids, this >crap they teach us bores me...

Damn underachiever. They're all alike.

I'm in junior high or high school. I've listened to teachers explain for the fifteenth time >how to reduce a fraction. I understand it. "No, Ms. Smith, I didn't show my work. I did it >in my head..."

Damn kid. Probably copied it. They're all alike.

I made a discovery today. I found a computer. Wait a second, this is cool. It does what I >want it to. If it makes a mistake, it's because I screwed it up. Not because it doesn't >like me... Or feels threatened by me.. Or thinks I'm a smart ass.. Or doesn't like teaching >and shouldn't be here...

Damn kid. All he does is play games. They're all alike.

And then it happened... a door opened to a world... rushing through the phone line like >heroin through an addict's veins, an electronic pulse is sent out, a refuge from the day->to-day incompetencies is sought... a board is found. "This is it... this is where I >belong..." I know everyone here... even if I've never met them, never talked to them, may >never hear from them again... I know you all...

Damn kid. Tying up the phone line again. They're all alike...

You bet your ass we're all alike... we've been spoon-fed baby food at school when we >hungered for steak... the bits of meat that you did let slip through were pre-chewed and >tasteless. We've been dominated by sadists, or ignored by the apathetic. The few that had >something to teach found us willing pupils, but those few are like drops of water in the >desert.

This is our world now... the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud. >We make use of a service already existing without paying for what could be dirt-cheap if it >wasn't run by profiteering gluttons, and you call us criminals. We explore... and you call >us criminals. We seek after knowledge... and you call us criminals. We exist without skin >color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals. You build >atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe >it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals.

Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by >what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, >something that you will never forgive me for.

I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can't stop >us all... after all, we're all alike.

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Okeydokey, that's the "Hackers" hacker. I just think of it as a professional title. As cobbler is to shoe maker so hacker is to computer program maker. –  Peter Turner Oct 6 '10 at 17:58
I've always thought this "hacker manifesto" was a silly childish rant. "My crime is that of outsmarting you"? "You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, etc."? Really? I'm sure the actual people who helped build the atomic bomb are not likely to be "outsmarted" by "The Mentor". –  Charles Salvia Dec 31 '10 at 20:17
@Charles Its obvious even to a simpleton that he wasn't referring to the scientists that built the atom bomb, rather to the governments who directed those scientists / used the bomb –  Click Upvote Apr 29 '11 at 2:20
Is it just me or is "The Mentor" pretty anti-social. –  StuperUser Aug 18 '11 at 15:01

I view a Hacker as being different from a Programmer. To me, a Hacker is someone who works to either decompile or break into existing software and use it in a way its not meant to be used. I think it is viewed negatively because you are basically doing something that the original developers of the software didn't mean for you to do.

In constrast, a Programmer is someone who works to create, fix, or upgrade software. Sure our job might involve a little hacking, but for the most part we have permission to do whatever we are attempting to do with the software.

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+1 for "use it in a way its not meant to be used" –  Chris Oct 6 '10 at 16:25
+-0, I agree with the ethical considerations. But 'a little hacking' is the fun part of programming, so calling each other by the fun part of our job should accentuate the positive! –  Peter Turner Oct 6 '10 at 16:29
Sure its fun, but its not always ethical and quite often illegal. Because of this, people often assume a Hacker is someone involved in unethical/illegal activity. Since it has a negative impact, I do not call myself or others a Hacker unless I am sure they won't take it the wrong way. And just because someone is a programmer, or technically saavy, doesn't mean they won't take it the wrong way. –  Rachel Oct 6 '10 at 16:57
Yeah, I'd imagine hacker is often taken the wrong way, I didn't realize that it was taken the wrong way so often among programmers. –  Peter Turner Oct 6 '10 at 17:52
-1, simply because I disagree (nothing personal). I don't think it has anything to do with permission. Hacking is tinkering, learning, producing. You can do that with permission. Hacking around at the code inside a bit of GPLed software is perfectly legal, permitted and encouraged. It all depends on the circumstances. Walking across private land is illegal without permission, just liking hacking private software is, but that doesn't make all walking illegal. It's possible to hack with permission and within ethical and legal boundaries. –  Simon P Stevens Nov 4 '10 at 10:51

A Hacker is a programmer who sees what he does as an art and a craft.

A developer is someone who codes for food.

Hackers create things and share them. They find fascination

Developer follow a spec written by a "Product Manager" and deliver it to their boss, after if passes "Quality Assurance".

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There's a hacker definition, you should read it:

The Jargon File, having a long history as the accepted lexicon of hacker vocabulary and culture, is the most authoritative source on the subject.

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.

In case the definition from hackers themselves isn't "official" enough for you, there's always the definition from RFC 1392, an international standard published by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force):

A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.

Both definitions mention that pejorative uses of "hacker" to describe someone engaged in subverting technology for nefarious purposes is incorrect. The correct term for such a person is "cracker".

I am proud to be a hacker.

  • I have never been satisfied to accept technology as it exists. I've had a hand in improving dozens of open source software projects. When I have a problem, not only do I solve it, but I try to spread the solution to others.

  • I'm addicted to problems. I don't wait to be taught how to do something, if I need to understand a new technology, I do my own research then dive into the source code.

  • "Good enough" is not good enough. I approach everything I do with an eye to making it better, whether it's tweaking that new pork chop recipe, improving my son's school, or writing a patch to make ticgit branches version-aware.

  • I want the best code, the best answers, the best tech, no matter from whom they come. It's about an endless cycle of improving our craft, not about egos.

That is why I am a hacker.

Misuse of the term "hacker" by those who just don't grok it, and perpetuation of the idea that such misuse has depleted the value in identifying as a hacker, are dangerous trends in the computer world.

Hacker humor, and hacker culture in general play a vital role in making technology -- especially vital technologies rooted in open source -- work.

Before you blow it off, please do your research. There are nontrivial sociological and technological consequences to blowing off hackerdom in the way many answers here have.

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Good answer, but you assume too much. The defacto definition you give is close to the subjective definition that I gave programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/17632/… I did do my research, this question was meant to expose the assumptions that programmers hold toward the term. If you don't have any objections that's perfectly reasonable. I wouldn't ask a Java programmer how she'd do a quicksort in Delphi. –  Peter Turner Nov 9 '10 at 3:01

Am I the only person who thinks of a hacker as a cat throwing up a hairball?

Seriously though, I never use the term because it has such negative connotations now.

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My best example and It totally annoys me when people say "I hacked my iPhone". I view a hacker similarly to Rachel. But I feel they have a high level of computing knowledge mainly a strong grasp in Computer Science concepts and coding ability. Not this idea that everyone is a hacker because they jail-broke their iPhone.

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I think the people still carrying the banner for preserving the positive connotation of the term "hacker" to mean programmer just have to let it go. It is a lost cause when the common usage of the term indicates some kind of unethical behavior. It reminds me of the people who insist on holding on to the idea of using the increasingly archaic use of the word "gay" to mean joyful.

It's so over, we have a dozen new terms to replace it with that won't get confused from "Developer" to "Software Engineer", so why bother hanging on to that relic?

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Because the relic is a glorification of an ideal - and comes from within! Lots of professions and parts of society use what was once slander to mean something good amongst themselves. –  Peter Turner Oct 6 '10 at 17:48
You know, I'd feel awfully gay if "hacker" ever regained its original meaning for the general public. –  David Thornley Oct 6 '10 at 20:55

It's best to avoid the term completely since it doesn't have a consistent definition - everybody who sees it will come up with their own set of connotations.

Either way it's better than "code monkey".

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