The new era of “hackers” doesn’t consist of short white males sitting in their dark basement typing away in front of a thick white monitor. Although to the popular press, the word still means someone who breaks into your computer and steals your credit card information (because, you know, all hackers want credit cards), for those who are a part of this new hacker community, it means something different.

While scouring the deep, dark and dangerous side of the web tonight (read: Facebook), I came across this discussion.

Let me post the most-liked comment (meaning most people relate to and agree with that):

I am someone who likes to look for creative ways to solve problems, typically using code but by generally being resourceful.

A very well crafted, understandable sentence that makes sense. But, I think this definition is incomplete. Solving a problem is important and often impressive, but not always very useful. What is useful, and what is core to the identity of a hacker, I think, is putting in extra effort to make sure the solution she came up with impacts most, if not all, those who experience that problem.

This is where startups excel and hackathons, sadly, don’t. Startups’ mission and their lifeline is to innovate and then get it out in the market. The more lives they impact, the more successful they can be. Code written at hackathons, however, is unusable in the real world, the problems are not well-researched and the solutions aren’t tested. Like I said in my last post,

When you put a homogenous group of students who have similar backgrounds, the solutions they make hardly ever touch the lives of those in need.

More to the point of this post, Eric Raymond wrote a piece called “How to Become a Hacker” that has been widely circulated amongst the modern “hacker” community and appreciated by most of them. A large subset of this community skipped the section What Is a Hacker?. It’s obvious why. If you are a plumber, reading how to be a plumber, you wouldn’t want to know what a plumber is. That would be a waste of your time.

In that small section of his FAQ, Eric says:

Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the Unix operating system what it is today. Hackers make the World Wide Web work.

Yes, hackers made the Internet and hackers made Unix. But they didn’t just stop there. Those hackers made sure that their “hacks” became a mass market solution and became helpful to as many people as possible. And see where we are now!

PS: Here’s an earlier post on how to reach a critical mass for your projects.

Cover image: flickr