The Ten Commandments of Hacker Culture

According to Team Dev.F.

Manuel Morato
Feb 1, 2015 · 8 min read

The philosophical core of Dev.F. is hacker culture. This sounds logical, considering that Dev.F. is Latin America’s first hacker school and a place where intellectually curious people can learn how to build stuff using software and technology. However, what exactly is this thing called hacker culture?

The origins of hacker culture.

Hacker culture has its roots in MIT, within a group of aficionado engineering students called the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC). Members of this club would gather to obsessively put together model trains and tracks using a wide array of electronic components and switches; all for the mere pleasure of building things.

Tech Model Railroad Club at MIT.

That’s the original meaning of the word hacker: “it connoted both technical virtuosity and playfulness” (Walter Isaacson, The Innovators, pg. 202).

In the words of the members of TMRC, “we use the term ‘hacker’ only in its original meaning, someone who applies ingenuity to create a clever result, called a ‘hack’.” Some of hese hacks included elaborate pranks carried out by these hackers, like “putting a live cow on the roof of a dorm or causing a huge balloon to emerge midfield during the Harvard-Yale football game”.

At some point during the digital and computer revolution, big media outlets distorted the meaning of the word hacker, associating it cyber-criminals and the act of illegally breaking into sensible information. This is why we have strived in the past few years to redeem the word’s true significance.

Explaining hacker culture.

Once the first computers were made accesible to students at MIT, the TMRC’s nerds and geeks started becoming interested in playing around with them. This led to the development of the first videogames, to pioneer research work on artificial intelligence and to the creation of novel programming languages (such as LISP).

The first videogame run in a computer: Spacewar.

Nowadays, the heirs of this culture are the kind of people who have a keen interest for constantly learning how to build new things and who intensely enjoy feeding their voracious curiosity. These are not necessarily people who know computer programming or who develop software or hardware, but rather the kind of person who see the world differently and who go ahead and do something to bring that vision to reality.

It’s important to also note that these people don’t normally work individually or in solo mode. Hackers are usually inclined to forming communities with other people who share their interests and passions. These communities work as a medium for sharing knowledge, tools and ideas, thus generating a constant flow of new projects and initiatives to be carried out as a group, wherein the pleasure and love for building stuff is paramount and perpetuated.

Hacker: A person who enjoys exploring the limits of what’s possible, just out of intellectual curiosity.

It might prove difficult to encompass the whole definition of hacker culture in a single sentence or paragraph, which is why we came up with the 10 commandments or fundamental principles that we consider to be the backbone or essence of it.

The 10 principles of hacker culture

< 1 > Give before you get. We mentioned before how hackers share a strong inclination for gathering together in communities. These communities are usually horizontal groups where hierarchichal structures rarely exist and where individuals are judged based on their contributions. Thus, respect and leadership are earned through an attitude of always wanting to give something to others before expecting anything.

Vic Borja (Sensei at Dev.F.) sharing his knowledge with the new generation of hackers.

< 2 > Don’t ask for permission. Our modern world is ruled by a plethora of norms, rules, hierarchies, and structures of a social and moral nature. This can potentially lead to such an intense fear of being judged or not being accepted within these norms that it could cause us to become paralyzed and unable to fulfill the goals that are truly meaningful to us. Nevertheless, a good hacker will not wait to find out whether society will or will not grant him or her permission to do things; he or she will simply do them and then evaluate the outcome.

< 3 > Doing > Talking. Due to the fear mentioned in the previous principle, it’s not unusual to yield to the temptation of talking more than doing. The problem with just talking is that it doesn’t lead to any concrete results, whereas doing does take us to the creation of new things, projects, solutions, etc. Moreover, the most genuine kind of respect in a community goes to those people who spend most of their time doing instead of just talking.

< 4 > No excuses. When we don’t reach a desired outcome, it is not other people’s fault, or the weather’s, or traffic’s, or our family’s, or our bosses’ our our colleagues’. The culprit is always and inevitably, me. As a hacker (and as a person), I am responsible of my own actions. If I fail to do something, it is because I wasn’t interested enough, because I wasn’t well organized, or maybe because of habits with room for improvement. Blaming others for not getting my own shit done is seriously irresponsible and will hold me back from making progress in my own life.

< 5 > Solve problems. A good hacker always uses his or her creativity and cleverness for solving problems in new and interesting ways. This is one of the reasons why hackers love technology, because it is a useful tool for creating really smart solutions to annoying problems. What’s interesting in this point is that frequently these clever solutions end up splashing other people in positive ways. A very illustrative example of solving problems in ingenious ways is A Liter of Light.

A Liter of Light — a simple solution to a painful problem.

< 6 > Follow your curiosity. Within you lives a ferocious hunger of learning and knowing more about certain arts and topics. Always allow yourself to follow that curiosity, wherever it may lead you. When successful people talk about what lead them to reach their goals, they almost always talk about how they were faithful to what their heart asked of them through this subtle sense of curiosity. What you will find on the other side of the chasm will most probably be a treasure that will fill you with deep satisfaction and personal growth.

< 6.2 > Failing == Growing. This a sub-section of number 6, because following your curiosity will more often than not be extremely frightening. This fear stems from the possibility of failure, of being wrong, or from the uncertainty that comes with following a less conventional path. Just remember that “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. From this perspective, adversity becomes your ally. The biggest growth and lessons almost always come from beating obstacles and adversity. Don’t settle with fear paralysis; instead face adversity and find ways to overcome it. Real failure is never trying or taking a risk because of fear.

Follow your curiosity, wherever it may lead you.

< 7 > Know your tools / communities. Re-inventing the wheel is not the hacker way. For every task you wish to accomplish, there are tools and knowledge out there that others who have already walked the path have created. Knowing how to use these existing tools will allow you to get work done with greater agility and speed. There’s also always the option of joining a community or of creating a new one so that you can tap into the collective knowledge and motivation that comes from a group of people with similar interests.

< 8 > Always be learning. If there is one thing that sets hackers apart, it is that they are always learning new things. The world is too big and diverse to settle with just knowing one or just a few things. There is always something new to be learned: cooking an exotic meal, creating a work of art, a new programming language, mountain climbing, public speaking, developing videogames, learning Japanese, Mandarin or French, etc.

There is always something new to be learned.

< 9 > Get involved. The world as we know it has many things that are currently wrong with it and that are in urgent need of hands and brains to address them. Global warming, gender equality, social injustice, corruption, poverty, lack of access to education, among many others. What is your cause? What are you certain that needs to be improved in the world? A good hacker steps forward and gets involved in the causes that matter to him or her.

Harper Reed (Obama campaign CTO) showing what he stands for.

< 10 > Have fun. As with the hacker pioneers at MIT’s TMRC, nothing that we have mentioned so far makes any sense if we do not have fun and enjoy ourselves in the process. Life is too short to spend it in suffering or being unhappy. Therefore, it’s important to always keep in mind that we should be working on projects for the mere love of the craft or for the satisfaction we experience during the process of creation and of building new things. “There is no finish line. So love the journey”.

Classic wisdom from David Weekly.

Hacker Culture: building better individuals

Everything we have discussed thus far in these 10 commandments seeks to illustrate how hacker culture is a way of living, of thinking, of carrying oneself and of viewing the world. We believe strongly that taking these commandments into consideration and into action can potentially lead to building better individuals, and therefore better societies.

Let’s take hacker culture beyond software and programming. If you take a minute to carefully re-read each of the 10 principles, you will observe that these are not technology principles, but rather human principles. Any person can adopt hacker culture for his or her own life and we dare say that we’re willing to bet on immediate benefits and improvements.

Rather than producing technology geniuses or people who know it all, hacker culture seeks to produce better people who will generate positive impact through their actions in this country (Mexico) that so desperately needs it.

Apply now to Dev.F., the first hacker school in Latin America.

Manuel Morato

Written by

Tarahumara wanna-be. @ememorato

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