You Say ‘Hacker’ Like It’s a Bad Thing…

Hackers have had quite a year. From WikiLeaks and LulzSec to Anonymous to the guy who tapped into Scarlett Johansson’s cellphone, they’ve been cast as the villain du jour by the mainstream media.

But what about the good things hackers have done?  Like the light bulb?

“Hackers are NOT what the mainstream media portrays as people who break into networks, computers, and do bad things,” says Larry Maloney, a volunteer with the Hacker Dojo, a community center for those good tinkerers in Mountain View, California.  It’s a “misnomer for a Cracker or a Black Hat. A hacker is someone who takes things apart to learn and see how they work and then puts them back together.”

Some examples of great hackers in history (both past and present)?  Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve “Woz” Wozniak.

Those people out there who break things or create viruses to be destructive? They’re crackers, Black Hats, and anarchists.

“Hackers build things; crackers break them,” Maloney said. He says the Hacker Dojo does not condone or provide tools that might be used to compromise or hack into other websites.  “A hacker is anyone that is skilled at what he or she does; an artisan.


  1. BY A Hacker is not an "Artisan" says:

    A hack is someone who does not know what they were doing – an “un” professional. Why anyone would want to use this term to apply to themselves is beyond me. None of the people you identify would have called themselves “hackers”. A hacker is the very opposite of what you claim.

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      Fascinating opinion. When next I see the Woz or Mark Zuckerberg, I will have to mention this. I think they will find it all quite amusing.

      I think I better mention to Mark to stop holding the hack-a-thons at the Facebook facilities in Palo Alto. After all, it may give the impression that he is a… hacker.

      • BY Grayson Soldahl says:

        I know this is two years old but I have to tell you that I just bust a gut laughing. It’s hilarious and rather sad how people defer to their own “expertise” rather than looking to those who have produced results. Your use of humor to expose ego was very effective, good sir.

  2. BY Why non-IT? Why just males? says:

    Ada Lovelace? Grace Hopper?

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      My humblest apologies… those mentioned are but examples. Ada Byron King (the Countess of Lovelace or Ada Lovelace), Grace Hopper, Marie Curie, Kim Polese, George Washington Carver, and Lonnie Johnson are all great examples of hackers.

      I would even mention my current lead software engineer as she is also someone I greatly respect for her hacking skills and her creative and innovative talent. As she is quite humble, I am sure I would never hear the end of it if I mentioned her by name.

  3. BY askewplanet says:

    Your definition of the “good” hacker was valid until the mid 80s. Thereafter, not.

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      Isn’t it nice for those of us who live is the US that we are allowed to hold our own opinions. So, in your opinion… which I respect… but completely disagree with.

      In the opinions of many in Silicon Valley and at other technology centers, I think you would be in the minority. There is a difference between a Hacker and a Cracker and I think Larry did a good job explaining what that difference is.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>