Red Echo

December 14, 2016

Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic

The ‘hacker ethic’ has been a significant influence on my philosophy of life; I’d feel pretentious actually calling myself a “hacker”, but I certainly identify with the ethos. I was all primed to cringe and react when I started reading this transcript of a talk which takes a critical view on the subject, but it turned out to be thoughtful, clearly articulated, and… important.

Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic

I often try to pull a representative quote that gets at the gist of an article, but this time I’m just going to say: go read it.

I do want to quote one bit, though. I’m five years older than the author, and my references are slightly different, but this is my story too:

Hackers the book relates most­ly events from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. I was born in 1981, and as a young com­put­er enthu­si­ast I quick­ly became aware of my unfor­tu­nate place in the his­to­ry of com­put­ing. I thought I was born in the wrong time. I would think to myself I was born long after the glo­ry days of hack­ing and the com­put­er rev­o­lu­tion. So when I was grow­ing up I wished I’d been there dur­ing the events that Levy relates. Like I wish that I’d been been able to play Spacewar! in the MIT AI lab. I wished that I could’ve attend­ed the meet­ings of the Homebrew Computer Club with the Steves, Wozniak and Jobs. Or work at Bell Labs with Kernighan and Ritchie hack­ing on C in Unix. I remem­ber read­ing and reread­ing Eric S. Raymond’s Jargon File (Many of you have prob­a­bly seen this. I hope some of you have seen that list.) on the Web as a teenager and con­scious­ly adopt­ing it as my own cul­ture and tak­ing the lan­guage from the Jargon File and includ­ing it in my own lan­guage.

This feeling, this perception of myself as having just missed the part of the computing revolution I really admired and wished I could have participated in, has shaped the broad structure of my career. Up and up, the towers of abstraction have gone, while I have furiously dug deeper downward, trying to master these machines at the level my childhood heroes did. Well… I’ve gotten there, I suppose, but in the meantime the industry has gone elsewhere; the problem is that I have a hard time caring about most of what it’s busy doing. My basic model for the kind of computing work that is most important and most worthy of attention continues to be shaped by the example set in the ’70s and early ’80s.

1 Comment

  1. Wow. Very powerful discussion indeed.

    Comment by Micah Cowan — December 15, 2016 @ 1:11 pm