descriptors / geeks / research

What is a ‘Hacker’

hackingI mean from a writer’s perspective. If you had a character who was a hacker (or a cracker), how would you make him convincing. To be  believable, you have to enter their mindset. Here are some ideas I’ve gotten from my computer friends and The New Hacker’s Dictionary:

  • Though it’s a common stereotype that programmers can’t write, a surprising number of hackers are very able writers.
  • They read science fiction and go to science fiction conventions (try it; it’s a good way to meet hackers and proto-hackers).
  • They know a martial-arts form (Does this surprise you? Me too). The kind of mental discipline required for martial arts seems to be similar in important ways to what hackers do. The most popular forms are Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Aikido, or Ju Jitsu. The most hackerly martial arts are those which emphasize mental discipline, relaxed awareness, and control, rather than raw strength, athleticism, or physical toughness.
  • They study a meditation discipline. The perennial favorite among hackers is Zen. Other styles may work well, but choose one that doesn’t require you to believe crazy things.
  • They have an analytical ear for music, might appreciate peculiar kinds of music, might play some musical instrument well, or even sing.
  • They appreciate puns and wordplay. Very neologistic. They nounize verbs and verbize nouns.
  • The boundaries between “play”, “work”, “science” and “art” tend to disappear.

If you want to show a fake ‘hacker’, include these traits:

  • A silly or grandiose user ID or screen name.
  • Have them get in flame wars in their online communications
  • Have them self-describe as a ‘cyberpunk’
  • Have lots of spelling errors and bad grammar in their posts

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

Photo credit: Pugg71

More on geeks (from my tech blog–these are all humorous):

You’re a Geek Now

You Know You’re a Geek When…

10 Steps to Become a Better Geek

15 Ways to Get Your Geek On

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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29 thoughts on “What is a ‘Hacker’

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  7. Once again, I enjoyed reading this post. I like the elements used. Still, I often get confused who a geek is and who a nerd is? Yeah hackers, or simply put – programmers are not as stereotyped as people make us to be. We can write (I guess I can) and we have other hobbies/interests.


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  9. I’d also include on this list of Hacker traits someone that talks in techno-speak way over your head giving lengthy explanations you never really wanted to begin with when you asked your innocent question. (I know because I have a relative whose like this:) It’s dangerous to ask him any questions. You might be there all afternoon.


  10. It takes a certain kind of passion and determination to live and breath computers but I think I am nurturing one, at the age of two he knew how to turn the computer on. Also goes into setups and changes things in his computer and wants to be a game designer when he grows up……hacker very possible…..


    • That’s interesting. I’ve never considered that. Anything that starts ‘self-‘ or ‘my’ tends to throw me off. I don’t even know what a self-actualized character would be like. I’d have to know someone as a model.


      • When I look at the self-actualized pyramid I can’t even imagine getting there–it’s impossible, I think. Every time I try to write her she develops little flaws (flaws I like) so I guess she won’t be completely there 🙂 She doesn’t realize she almost perfect because she’s humble. This person is totally fictional–haha. I just wonder if she’ll be likeable. Flaws make us lovable–my opinion.


    • They are great fun. I love seeing people passionate about an interest and there is no lack of that at places like ComiCon and Defcon. It’s in Vegas this year, in August. I’m there in July for a teacher conference–darn.


  11. For a moment I thought you have got the title wrong and that it should have been “Who is a hacker”. But, on reading, I think “what” fits better than “who”. Reminds me of a movie I saw recently, “Girl with the dragon tattoo”. Does an unhappy childhood and continued abuse fit into the mix? Perhaps making a person who likes to work alone.


    • Actually, ‘who’ could have worked just as well. It personalizes it in a way writers want to do.

      I don’t think a challenging childhood indicates hackers, though I can see your point. They do love computers more than people. But so do animal lovers! I’d love for a hacker to weigh in on this article, provide his profile.


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