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The new 'hacker' word?

by BUU (Prior)
on Nov 07, 2002 at 01:55 UTC ( #210978=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I'm sure most(99%) of you out there are aware of the long and varied history of the word hacker. The problem of course that it has now become synonymous with cracker, and anyone who wishes to call himself a 'hacker' would have to explain to more or less everyone what he meant by that. My proposal here is to come up with a word that can be used to describe more or less the same thing as hacker used to/does. Thus i invoke two virtues of perl, namely: laziness: I don't want to explain in what sense i use 'hacker', and hubris: i can invent a better 'hacker' :).

Possibly if we come up with several decent suggestions, one of the gods could create a poll on those words..

(note: even if we don't revolutionize the usage of hacker, or vocabulary of real hackers or what not, coming up with amusing names is always fun. So have at it!)

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Nov 07, 2002 at 04:12 UTC

    The term I've always used to describe myself is (like myself) rather boring: coder.

    This, to me at least, describes someone who enjoys, and has at least some level of expertise in, constructing programs and algorithms.

    I originally adopted the term as an antithisis of the increasingly prevelent use of terms like "computer scientist" and "software engineer" to describe (often self-describe) people that had previously been called programmers.

    Both terms have their place, but usually not outside academic circles, or research labs.

    I've had some pretty fancy titles in my time, including "Senior Systems Architecture Consultant (external)" which looked great on a business card, and I can't deny having enjoyed on occasion. Whilst I take great interest in both the science and the art of programming and given the chance will debate endlessly (though not necessarially knowledgably) on the the pro's and con's of either, at the end of the day what I enjoy is writing code, so I'm a coder.

    Nah! You're thinking of Simon Templar, originally played (on UKTV) by Roger Moore and later by Ian Ogilvy

      I like coder too, although non-techies often require further clarification. I prefer the more accessible (computer) programmer among those folks. As for hacker, I have to admit that I generally don't like how it's used. To me, hacking is utilizing a system or product in a manner unintended by its author, or tweaking a bit of code in order to serve a particular purpose of my own. I prefer the narrower definition over many other variations used to cover everything from ordinary computer geek to professional software developer. It think it also fits better definitionally with cracker as "one who hacks with criminal intent".

      I've been called a Perl hacker several times, however writing, say, an OO layer over an RDBMS is not hacking in my book. Quite the opposite really. Now, tinkering with the innards of the DB module is hacking, but since by and large I'm more interested in playing nicely and by the rules, I don't feel compelled to call myself a hacker. I am a programmer/coder who sometimes has no choice but to hack ; )

      Update: minor formatting changes.

        I agree to an extent, but I have a few points which I'd like to add. First, the term hacker means different things to many different people, so I guess I'll give my definition. After reading Richard Stallman's biography (sort of), Free As In Freedom, I got a new (gnu? :P) perspective on the term. For one, I like your use saying that a hacker utilizes a systme or product, but I would replace 'unimplemented' for 'unintended'. There could be a number of reasons why functionality isn't in a software system, and unintended to me seems a bit restrictive. Also, RMS always (at least in the book) categorized himself as a hacker, but writing an OO layer over and RDBMS doesn't seem to be quite as complex as rolling your own C compiler suite (or say, writing your own language interpreter for a your new language based on C, sed, can see where I'm going), so complexity, scale and planning really wouldn't seem to be an issue either. The OO layer might be more structured, but really, writing a compiler and linker for a language that you didn't develop for a platform you didn't develop has its own inherent structure too. Again, that's just my recently-propagandized-by-his-book opinion, and I'll probably calm down about the subject in a few weeks.

        That being said though, I'll leave the semantics to someone else and just stick with Perl hacker.
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Daruma (Curate) on Nov 07, 2002 at 05:49 UTC

    At some times I will refer to myself as a hacker, although typically not when faced with a crowd or audience that might not quite understand the true meaning of the term. Often, I prefer the term coder. It is short and simple, although not necessarily understood by those outside of the coder realm. For my work, coding is only a small part of my duties.

    Most of my hacking or coding is done for fun and learning. When I'm in a fun mood, I might describe myself as a bit twiddler, but that has caused more than a few occasions of explanation and curious glances...

    I've not relegated myself to the simplistic scripter moniker in any situation. I rarely use the term programmer, because I personally feel that is reserved (reverently) for those that actually get paid to do that sort of work full time...

    As a consultant (ick!!), I do many things. Unfortunately, coding is only a fraction of my duties.

      Caveat scriptor ;-)

      Daruma I concur with your sentiments on this. I too am a consultant - with little I do actually designated as programming.

      I have found the general purpose moniker techie useful, as it includes the other aspects of the job, like support, systems analysis, sysadmining etc.

      A lot depends on the audience - if some stranger is asking me what I do for a living, assuning that the stranger is not an IT person, I usually include 'programmer' in the description.

      Thank you BUU, this is a good thread.

        The problem with techie is that it already has a history and meaning outside of computerdom, and a strong history at that. I would actually get more misconceptions if I told people I was a techie than if I told them I was a hacker (partially because I am a techie in the theatrical sense of the word). At work we all call ourselves techs but that is a word with a more specific conotation and another set of meanings specific to the tech support community

        Hacker wins because it's a deep seated part of our culture. I call myself a hacker (merlyn's regretable situation not withstanding) because it ties into a history which I am proud to at least pretend to be a part of. And I think that explicitly or implicitly the same is true of most people who call themselves hackers. Even the l33t script kiddiez who don't know what they are talking about are trying to buy into a some modern myth about who and what hackers are and what to takes to be one.


        Light a man a fire, he's warm for a day. Catch a man on fire, and he's warm for the rest of his life. - Terry Pratchet

•Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by merlyn (Sage) on Nov 07, 2002 at 16:41 UTC
Re: (nrd) The new 'hacker' word?
by newrisedesigns (Curate) on Nov 07, 2002 at 02:20 UTC

    How about "non-AOL user" and "warm body"?

    Just slightly cynical about the swarms of internet "hackers" out there...

    John J Reiser

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Callum (Chaplain) on Nov 07, 2002 at 12:47 UTC
    Context, as with use of any jargon, will always be critical when using the word 'hacker'.

    Essentially the word exists in two languages -- one, a technical jargon spoken by people who mean ~ 'technical expert' (or something) when they say 'hacker'; the other is common english, spoken by people who mean 'computer criminal' (or whatever) when they use the word.

    We speak both languages, but most people only speak common English -- it's up to us to ensure that we speak the right language for the people we are talking to, as they may not even be aware that 'hacker' means different things in different languages, and using the wrong language will convey at best less information than we intend, at worse false information.

    Similarly, when my aunt asks me what I do I tell her I work in IT for a telecoms company, as talking about Unix sysadmin and software loadbuilds for VOIP switches would convey less information to her.

    Do we need a term to mean techie-hacker in common english? Are most people able to draw any distinction between a techie-hacker and and other 'IT' person? Should we simply accept that in common english the word hacker means computer criminal, and that there is not enough awareness of what we do to draw finer distinctions than 'IT' or 'computer programmer'?

      Do we need a term to mean techie-hacker in common english? Are most people able to draw any distinction between a techie-hacker and and other 'IT' person?
      Nope. In the end, it won't do any good. Soon enough, the meaning of this new word would change, and gravitate once again towards the meaning that the word "hacker" is establishing for itself for the common people. It's this meaning that tickles people's fantasy the most, and that is the cause of the accent shift. Inventing yet another new word won't change this.
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by CubicSpline (Friar) on Nov 07, 2002 at 13:21 UTC
    I must commend the author on his approach to this age-old (and overdiscussed issue). Of course we're not going to be able to teach people what 'hacker' really means. Instead, it's time for the old hackers to evolve.

    Some ideas:

    • Key Masher
    • Camel Coder
    • Monk (aren't we all?)
    • Munger
    Old stand-bys that seem to get the idea across:
    • Geek
    • Code-head
    • Stack smasher

    My advice, pick one and try it out in normal conversation. If anyone laughs hysterically or looks at you askance, chances are it's not gonna fly.


Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by ichimunki (Priest) on Nov 07, 2002 at 13:21 UTC
    I don't call myself anything. Other people, however, have informed me that I am a "geek". So, if I had to call myself something, it would be "geek". Sometimes I do something geeky called "programming computers". I hate the word "cracker" since it already has a mundane meaning and a pejorative meaning (small biscuit and poor white Southerner, respectively). I think using the word "hacker" to refer to oneself is a bit haughty. Generally the people I see using it deserve to do so, so I can't complain, but I wouldn't use it myself. If you do find a new word for "hacker", I'll still be a "geek". But good luck. :)
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by l2kashe (Deacon) on Nov 07, 2002 at 19:07 UTC
    Hmmm... Hacker...
    Someone who is willing to and does frequently think outside the box.
    Someone who is inquisitive by nature or external influences
    Someone who is knowledgable enough about a given topic or theory to implement something completely different given the same set of tools
    Someone who will try something simply for the sake of trying , and to see what happens
    Someone who is willing to get down and dirty, as well as pull a rain-dance out of the toolkit just for good measure

    All of that to me denotes a hacker, but none of those are in and of themselves directly related to computing. Each of those terms on their own does not denote a hacker. It's the culmination of all those in one individual which begets a hacker. I know the root of hacker came from the computers, but for a lot of people its a mindset. Hacking the garage door and hacking the compiler are the same, though the toolset and methodology are different. Both can lead to kludges or elegant innovative solutions.

    Guru is a good term, but feels slightly off. Its a little too passive. I see hackers as slightly more energetic than meditative, though that isn't set in stone. Guru also give a lofty connotation, and most hackers I know, once they get over the initital introversion, are anything but lofty. The more tech oriented labels on the other hand, (I.e coder, code slinger, munger) leave out the other aspects which when combined together produce a hacker.

    Update: Geek is also good, but again doesn't in mind give quite the right feel. Geek == inquisitiveness/knowledge acculmulation. It's not quite as "active" a word as hacker. Feels passive. They are a geek (label). They are a hacker (past time/job/activity).

    The word hacker has a very broad connotation, and to attempt to find a new term without respecting the broad nature of what it encompasses is tough to say the least. Maybe we need 2 terms. 1 for the technical individual, and 1 for the more generic individual. But what those terms maybe I know not.

    ++$thread_starter; great thought, hopefully we can figure something out

    /* And the Creator, against his better judgement, wrote man.c */
      "I know the root of hacker came from the computers,"
      Actually, the term hacker first was used to refer to those who built furniture with an axe (in the Middle Ages, I think). In carpentry it's a derogative term for people who don't know what they're doing. In computing it really shouldn't be a title to be proud of. Programmer, although boring, is probably the most accurate term.

        A lot of words don't have very nice orgins, but we use them regularly with high regard. "Geek" used to meen "Someone who bites the heads off chickens". Later it was used as an insult to high-acheivers on school grounds. Later still, those same high-acheivers took the word as a badge of pride.

        As was stated in one of the parent nodes, "Hacker" is a broad term that isn't neccessarily specific to computers. "Programmer" is specific to computers, and it can be applied to anyone who spews out code for a living (including the VB monkey who just learned how to right-click). "Hacker" always refers to people who strive to learn. "Hacker" might include that VB coder (if that coder has the right mind set), but usually wouldn't.

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by jdporter (Canon) on Nov 07, 2002 at 14:12 UTC
    code slinger.
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by gjb (Vicar) on Nov 07, 2002 at 19:11 UTC

    How about

    • code smith
    • code mason

    Both have a strong positive connotation and emphasizes that coding is a craft.

    Just my 2 cents, -gjb-

      Where I'm from, you wouldn't want to use the term mason in certain company …

      $,="\n";foreach(split('',"\3\3\3c>\0>c\177cc\0~c~``\0cc\177cc")) {$a++;$_=unpack('B8',$_);tr,01,\40#,;$b[$a%6].=$_};print@b,"\n"

      I'll add a similar one to your list gjb.
      • code artist

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Mr. Muskrat (Canon) on Nov 07, 2002 at 15:01 UTC

    Camel Herder

      Camel Herder

      I actually meant that as a joke reply...
      I generally refer to myself as a computer geek or guru...

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by insensate (Hermit) on Nov 07, 2002 at 19:24 UTC
    Around my workplace, if an invidual demonstrates inordinate technical skill and savvy coupled with tendency to impress clients therewith, management affectionatly terms him/her a "rockstar".
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Bird (Pilgrim) on Nov 07, 2002 at 19:50 UTC

    While I'm not sure how accepting the non-perl community would be, I'd be proud to bear the title japh. We just don't tell the rest of the world that it actually stands for hacker. ;)

    On the other hand, geek seems to work fine for me. *shrug*

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Anonymous Monk on Nov 07, 2002 at 17:17 UTC
    I find guru works fairly well. Guru or the more specific computer guru is all most always understood by non-technical types.
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by toma (Vicar) on Nov 08, 2002 at 04:34 UTC
    It depends on why you hack. If you hack for fun perhaps you are a computer hobbyist. If you hack at school you are a computer science student. If you hack for work you may be a computer scientist, a software scientist, or just 'scientist'.

    Scientist has the proper connotation, because a hacker doesn't just implement the PHB's requirements. A hacker studies, discovers, invents, and teaches. merlyn is an excellent example of this, and so are many other monks.

    It should work perfectly the first time! - toma

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by artist (Parson) on Nov 07, 2002 at 03:10 UTC
    EXTER => EXpert in CompuTER
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by derby (Abbot) on Nov 07, 2002 at 18:11 UTC
    I'm partial to 'software developer' or just 'developer' when context warrants.


Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by webfiend (Vicar) on Nov 08, 2002 at 07:51 UTC

    I'm a geek. I've always been a geek. I will always be a geek. Occasionally I'll look a bit like a freak, dweeb, nerd, or nitwit, but I am a geek at heart. Sadly, I have not yet figured out whether I'm a computer geek or a guy who bites the head off live chickens. Either might apply, despite the fact that chickens have nothing to fear from me. Really.

    "All you need is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure."-- Mark Twain
      I like the word "hoss". When the chips are down my boss always calls in the "hosses" to save the day.

      "Its not how hard you work, its how much you get done"
Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Acolyte (Hermit) on Nov 08, 2002 at 23:05 UTC

    Isn't one of the core values "laziness"? How can we hold true to that value if the term "hacker" gets written out of the picture?! Just think of all the JAPH code out there that will need to be rewritten!!!

    If it must change though, my first vote would be for "Geek". My friends and family often get that glassy-eyed look when I attempt to explain the details of what I do for a living. When I simply tell them I'm a "computer geek" I get instant recognition and nothing more needs to be said.

    Of course there are those that would suggest that "Geek" is tired and played out. To those individuals I offer the other job description I give to folks that ask what I do for a living:

    • Keyboard Jockey.

    Sure, it's vague and prompts questions that sometimes have painfully detailed answers, but those that I'm close to know better than to ask.

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Nov 09, 2002 at 20:20 UTC

    How about (and I know this has been done before) "sourcerer"? :)

    I occasionally use "wizard" as well, simply because I enjoy casting deep magic on complex problems. (Note that deep magic is strictly not a hack - the latter implies (ab)using side- or undocumented effects, whereas the former means assembling a very concise and involved but robust construct from the explicit effects of several operations).

    And of course, I find myself mumbling incantations at the computer quite often.

    Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by John M. Dlugosz (Monsignor) on Nov 08, 2002 at 20:30 UTC
    The common word that means what Hacker used to mean is "geek". As in "news for geeks", "geek chic", "geek speak", etc.

    In retrobution to the misuse of "hacker", let's start using "sawbones" to mean "quack" and "bean counter" to mean "embezzler", etc.

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by Notromda (Pilgrim) on Nov 08, 2002 at 17:41 UTC
    How about:

  • Code Monk
  • Code Guru
  • Code Mechanic
  • Actually, all three of those have different connotations, which might be applicable to different people. I think I fit under Code Monk myself.

Re: The new 'hacker' word?
by jacques (Priest) on Jan 05, 2003 at 18:29 UTC
    Console Cowboy


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