The Hacker Ethos

The old way of building a business is no longer working. Mad-Men-esque business fantasies of magical billboards and the ilk are disappearing like the smoke from Don’s cigarette. Methodologies are popping all over like mushrooms from the corpse of traditional methods. Frameworks like ‘Growth Hacker’ and ‘Agile development’ are reaching the most ancient echelons of corporate establishments. Why? The reason is simple. Time is valuable, and failing fast is a heck of a lot cheaper than waiting an entire cycle to watch your product (whatever it is) sputter and die.

I’m going to coin a term: Hackerthos. A single word summarizing the powerful persona of the hacker’s ethos. When I say ‘hacker’, I don’t mean the pop culture nerd-who-lives-in-a-basement stereotypical computer magician, I mean the girls/guys who go to hackathons; competitions where teams gather to rapidly design, develop, and deliver a product. Teams at these events forego sleep for a couple days and work hard to give life to an idea. At its core, hackerthos is about building things fast. It’s about finding the fastest path from A to B, “hacking” components together and moving around roadblocks as fast as possible.

I believe this ethos can apply to much more than hackathons. To better explain what I’m on about, I’ll outline the key steps of a successful hack:

Step 1: Start with an idea

Everyone in the team is involved here, analyzing the different facets of this possible gem. If on closeup it looks more a turd than a diamond, find a better idea. Having a good idea is crucial, you won’t win over the judges without it*. Always keep your user in mind. Build from your end-user back.

*From a more conceptual standpoint, you won’t win over your user base with a shitty idea. You won’t win one over with a shitty implementation either but that is more easily remedied than having a shaky foundation from the start. Remember, your goal is to deliver something useful for your users.

Step 2: Break it down

Break down the problem into subproblems, break those down further, and keep doing that recursively until you have a clear idea of how the whole thing clicks*. Analyze every step of the process, from design to delivery.

*Hackathons usually focus on delivering just a single feature to demonstrate the overall idea, kinda like an Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Think of this step as breaking down your MVP.

Step 3: Build it back up

Build out your design. If you get into problems, don’t worry, roadblocks are a part of the struggle. Hit them hard and get over them fast. If you start to get bogged down with problems, you may need to refocus and go back to the drawing board*.

*In the pursuit of product market fit, you may need to pivot and redesign. Even if this mean scratching out everything you have so far and starting all over again.

There it is, three simple steps. Well, kind of. Steps 2 and 3 are done as many times as needed, not necessarily in conjunction but often executed in parallel after the first pass through the hackerthos cycle. Think of it as a constant jumbling of blocks, putting them together and taking them apart again as many times until it all comes together. You may need to replace a few pieces or start over from scratch, but its worth it in the end.

Well thats about it folks. Thanks for reading and Happy Hacking!