A special guest blog post by Volkan Özçelik
I’m tired of the mainstream media, movies, and everyone else depicting the term “hacker” as a jackass script kiddie, hijacking into highly-secured mainframes, screwing up secret files, and financial records.
This biased representation in the media leads many people think of the word “hacker” in a pejorative sense: a fringe-type individual with highly specialized programming skills, who does what she does out of greed, malice, and ill intentions.
And to so many people around the world, the concept of “hacking for good” may seem like an oxymoron: The dark image of a hacker shadows the fact that people can work together, in a collective effort, to make things better for themselves, and for others around them.
I can proudly confess that I’m a hacker, and I am proud to be a geek too; and my friends and colleagues consider I’m damn good at it. Yet I have not done anything illegal so far. I sure can exploit quite a few security holes to gather information. But why would I?
But… Isn’t “Hacking” An Illegal Crime?
Saying “hackers are evil, because they can screw your online identity” is as equally ridiculous as saying “car mechanics are crooks, because they can install a time bomb in your engine”.
Hacking, in an of itself, is not illegal. It is as legal as throwing a dart. It all boils down to your intent:
If you are throwing the dart at the bull’s eye of a dart board, then it’s fair game; but if you are poking the dart into the eye of someone, then I’m sorry my friend, you are going to jail.
As in everything, you are responsible, and you will be kept accountable for anything you do. Once this distinction is clear, then hacking is no more dangerous than wood painting.
As a matter of fact, a hacker is none but an insanely creative person; and as with anything out-of-the-ordinary, creativity can be used for good purposes, as well as for evil purposes.
Hacking Is Misunderstood
A hacker is a person who makes things work beyond perceived limits, or beyond their common use.
Hackers enjoy exploring the details of systems, and are curious about how they can stretch the system’s capabilities; as opposed to many who only prefer to learn the minimum necessary skill set to get the stuff done.
Hacking is all about learning, empowerment, and sharing knowledge. – Hacking is not a goal, it is a means to do good.
Hacking is an “attitude”. There’s a community, a shared culture, and an accumulated wisdom behind it.
And you don’t necessarily have to confine yourself to hacking software: The hacker nature is totally independent of the particular medium that the hacker works in.
No matter what you do, and no matter where you are; if you have the hacker spirit, you will reflect it in every action you take. And that’s something to be proud of.
We solve problems; we build things, and we believe in collaboration, meritocracy, and mutual help. That’s the gist of being a hacker.
If we do something really, really well, then it is discovering:
We are motivated, curious, and creative. – We get so deep into how things work, that we acquire the knowledge to control them and change them to something else.
From the eyes of a hacker, failure is not a mistake. It is something to be taken a lesson from. Every failure means, something new has got to be learned. Moreover, making the same mistake twice is not that bad; because out of scientific curiosity that same mistake might lead to different results to explore.
This exploratory mindset is what society needs to make progress. That’s why hacking should be taught at schools.
There Is a Way To Fix the Misunderstanding
After a hard day at work, I don’t want to see an arse-twerking, tongue-wagging dumbass on the TV, bitching about her recent (quote-unquote) “album”. Instead, I would love to see how HIV can been fully deleted from the human cells for the first time, or what the best way of learning a new language is, or now nano flakes provide a greater solar efficiency, and may solve the energy needs of the next generations.
This constant and ever-growing thirst for knowledge is a major personality
trait disorder of a hacker:
Hackers have an irrecoverable malfunction in their brains called “curiosity”:
We want to learn anything, and everything; regardless of whether it will be useful at work, or in our daily life. It’s this “curiosity” that makes us look at things from diagonally different angles; and it’s this curiosity that makes a hacker figure out unconventional solutions to seemingly-hard problems in ways that no one else can imagine.
Not only do we want to acquire knowledge about everything but the kitchen sink, but also we want to share the knowledge, and help others who want to walk the walk.
And I bet you, if there was a way to inject this mentality to the rest of the world, then the world would become an exponentially better place.
Yet still people want to see us as skinny, black-coffee-chugging nerds who sit in their garages 24/7, with their $50,000 computer set-up, using nicknames like “M4fi4 B0y” as an alias to talk to other fellow hackers, while plotting on how to take down the government.
Hey, wake up Trinity… Wake… Up! –
That $#!% only happens in Hollywood movies!
Everything the majority of the world knows about hackers are completely and utterly wrong. And there’s a way to fix this through showing, to the rest of the world, that we, hackers, can hack the world, and make it a better place to live!
Read on, if you wonder how…
Hacking is Evolution
Our disobedience is to the status quo.
Whatever we hack, be it a programming language, a poem, a math formula, a new color and shape for our yard fence, a new melody for a song… we create a possibility of new stuff entering our world. Not always great stuff, not even stuff that works, or has a particular purpose; but new stuff.
It’s the information that matters. It’s in that information where new possibilities for a new world emerge.
Hacking, is the change in the inherited characteristics of a system, over successive iterations.
This rapid iterative change gives rise to diversity, and diversity helps us create better solutions.
Hacking is not a result; it is a movement towards a future higher state: It is a continuous improvement; it is a curious exploration that least to massive change.
By this token, hacking is evolution.
You Are Born To Be A Hacker
- Haven’t you ever tried to do something over and over again, in different ways, to make it do what you wanted?
- Haven’t you ever disassembled a toy, to see how it works, while you were a child?
- Haven’t you ever ended your almost finished jar of Nutella with an ice cream? (if not, try it; seriously!)
That exactly is what hacking is. You hack stuff when you deeply examine how things work, in order to change it creatively into doing what you want.
Diving right into the problem, and following a feeling rather than a formal methodology; that’s the hacker way of doing things.
And it is not necessarily a bad thing. Many great inventions have spawned out of genius minds who have not followed the conventions of what had been believed to be true at their time.
Every society needs their mad scientists ;).
Hackers, are pioneers. They constantly discover new and unusual ways of doing things; they constantly learn, research, and explore. It’s about discovering, and finding extraordinary solutions, to seemingly-ordinary problems. It’s about doing things differently, in a hope to create better outcomes.
Every child is a natural hacker; therefore you are born to be a hacker.
It’s time, society, the system, whatever you name it… makes you grind this innate ability to a halt.
Pardon Me, So What Is a Hack Again?
A “hack” is trying to do something differently.
It’s possible that what you create can turn out to be a solution that’s better than similar ones that have ever been done before, or it can be some crazy shit that no one else but you will use ever.
The essence of hacking is not the final outcome. Per contra, the essence of hacking is the road you are willing to walk.
What Makes a Hacker?
If everybody is born to be a hacker, then so are you. And there are certain characteristics that make hackers stand out.
Wanna be a better hacker? Then just sharpen the following habits of yours:
- Be self-directed: We value in inner motivation, and self-direction. They believe that people learn best when they are free to explore their passions.
- Be accessible: We know that no matter how much karate you know, there’s someone better than you somewhere. We share knowledge, we share wisdom, we try to build thing on top of the shoulders of giants, and we openly share what we’ve learned on the way. Hackers are connected, thoughtful, and supportive.
- Be curious: That’s the most important part of it. Just observe a three year old, interacting with the environment; how curious she is, how she questions even the most basic facts. A hacker is that three year old kiddo, grown up, without having lost her attention, intention, and curiosity.
Contrary to popular myth, you don’t have to be a nerd to be a hacker. It does help, however ;).
Have you read anything to coding, computers, or programming in the above list? – Read once more, if you are not sure.
It’s a preconceived notion that to be a hacker, you need to be good at math, or you need to be good at cracking some code. – To be a hacker, all you need to do is to be curious, and to be able to question everything.
You don’t need to be a programming prodigy to achieve that. You just need to be willing.
You Can Hack For Good
Hacking, in a sense, is the ability to connect the dots to create desirable outcomes. When this ability is used to promote ecology, sustainability, civic life… to improve the state of the world around us, then wonderful things happen.
There are enough of insurmountable issues that need to be tackled in the world today. Take for example the climate crisis, gender inequality, war and hunger, need for clean air, underrepresented groups, discrimination, increased crime rates, torture…
Hacking is evolution; it is the only way to create better alternatives to our current way of living.
Sometimes you want to flip things around, and want to convince people of actually wanting to live in a better world, in a sustainable way. And that’s when the hackers come into play. It’s as simple as that.
Hacking is Not Only For the Elite
Hacking is not something exclusive to a limited sub-community of geeks. It is something that everyone does. It is something that everyone can do.
One of the core values of the hacker ethic is that hackers are not judged by bogus criteria like their degrees, their education, whether they have a CS major, or a Ph.D., or an MBA, or their race, or their position, or how long they have been into hacking. In contrast, the hacker culture is extremely open and meritocratic.
The best idea and the best implementation always wins – not the person who’s best at lobbying for an idea, or the person who has bigger role power.
Which makes us do more, talk less, and get the $#!% done. That’s the “hands on imperative”.
You can learn a lot from the world, or from a system, by taking it apart into pieces, seeing how stuff works. This micro-level knowledge that you acquire helps you create new and more interesting things.
Seeing the internals of the system will help you understand how the system is broken, and what can be done to fix it.
And the system to fix need not be a computer program:
- It can be the day-long waiting lines in government agencies;
- It can we the ridiculous thing called “war”;
- It can be a preventing a disease from killing millions;
- It can be child abuse;
- Or it can gender inequality…
The matter of fact is, something can always be better.
Nothing is ever complete. You just have to go fix it.
This Is Not a Cake Walk
I will be up front, though. This is not an easy task, because human beings have an astonishing capacity to disregard all kinds of noise. And, again, human beings, have a monumental resistance to change.
So it’s not just a matter of coming up with an ingenious solution, supported by a strong argument; to make people care, you have to make your solution so desirable that people cannot resist it.
You have to translate an idea into something tangible that can blend into the everyday lives of people. And this leap can only be done with a hacker mindset.
You do have this mindset; it’s just “maybe” you haven’t taken the red pill “yet”.
Get Your Hands Dirty
If the system is not working for you, go out there and make it better! JFDI.
In the end of the day, this is not about thinking who we are, or what hacking is.
This is about getting your hands dirty and getting $#!% done; because, once your hands are dirty, miracles can happen.
So if you are unhappy with the status quo, instead of mourning about it, go and make a change.
Hacking is good, and you are born to be a hacker.
So there’s only one question that remains…
Are you ready to hack?
I will be at #hack4good 0.6 to make a change.
Hope to see you there too.