Scratchbook

Das Leben ist immer anders als die Realität.

The Jargon File: A Portrait of J. Random Hacker

Claude, 14. September 2010, 17:03 Uhr

Ich mag das Jargon File. Da wird die Persönlichkeit des durchschnittlichen Hackers beschrieben. Also “Hacker” ist nicht etwas, das man werden kann, und hat auch nicht ausschliesslich mit Computertricks zu tun. Es ist eine Art zu sein, eine Lebenseinstellung; etwas, was man ist.

Hier ein paar Auszüge:

General Appearance

Intelligent. Scruffy. Intense. Abstracted. Surprisingly for a sedentary profession, more hackers run to skinny than fat; both extremes are more common than elsewhere. Tans are rare.

Dress

Casual, vaguely post-hippie; T-shirts, jeans, running shoes, Birk-enstocks (or bare feet). Long hair, beards, and moustaches are common. High incidence of tie-dye and intellectual or humorous ‘slogan’ T-shirts. Until the mid-1990s such T-shirts were seldom computer-related, as that would have been too obvious — but the hacker culture has since developed its own icons, and J. Random Hacker now often wears a Linux penguin or BSD daemon or a DeCSS protest shirt.

A substantial minority prefers ‘outdoorsy’ clothing — hiking boots (“in case a mountain should suddenly spring up in the machine room”, as one famous parody put it), khakis, lumberjack or chamois shirts, and the like.

After about 1995 hacker dress styles assimilated some influence from punk, gothic, and rave subcultures. This was relatively mild and has manifested mostly as a tendency to wear a lot of black, especially when ‘dressed up’ to the limit of formality. Other markers of those subcultures such as piercings, chains, and dyed hair remain relatively uncommon. Hackers appear to wear black more because it goes with everything and hides dirt than because they want to look like goths.

Very few hackers actually fit the National Lampoon Nerd stereotype, though it lingers on at MIT and may have been more common before 1975. At least since the late Seventies backpacks have been more common than briefcases, and the hacker ‘look’ has been more whole-earth than whole-polyester.

Hackers dress for comfort, function, and minimal maintenance hassles rather than for appearance (some, perhaps unfortunately, take this to extremes and neglect personal hygiene). They have a very low tolerance of suits and other ‘business’ attire; in fact, it is not uncommon for hackers to quit a job rather than conform to a dress code. When they are somehow backed into conforming to a dress code, they will find ways to subvert it, for example by wearing absurd novelty ties.

Female hackers almost never wear visible makeup, and many use none at all.

Physical Activity and Sports

Many (perhaps even most) hackers don’t follow or do sports at all and are determinedly anti-physical. Among those who do, interest in spectator sports is low to non-existent; sports are something one does, not something one watches on TV.

Further, hackers avoid most team sports like the plague. Volleyball was long a notable exception, perhaps because it’s non-contact and relatively friendly; Ultimate Frisbee has become quite popular for similar reasons. Hacker sports are almost always primarily self-competitive ones involving concentration, stamina, and micromotor skills: martial arts, bicycling, auto racing, kite flying, hiking, rock climbing, aviation, paragliding, target-shooting, sailing, caving, juggling, skiing, skating, skydiving, scuba diving. Hackers’ delight in techno-toys also tends to draw them towards hobbies with nifty complicated equipment that they can tinker with.

Things Hackers Detest and Avoid

All the works of Microsoft. Smurfs, Ewoks, and other forms of offensive cuteness. Bureaucracies. Stupid people. Easy listening music. Television (with occasional exceptions for cartoons, movies, and good SF like Star Trek classic or Babylon 5). Business suits. Dishonesty. Incompetence. Boredom. COBOL. BASIC. JAVA. Character-based menu interfaces.

Politics

Formerly vaguely liberal-moderate, more recently moderate-to-neoconservative (hackers too were affected by the collapse of socialism). There is a strong libertarian contingent which rejects conventional left-right politics entirely. The only safe generalization is that hackers tend to be rather anti-authoritarian; thus, both paleoconservatism and ‘hard’ leftism are rare. Hackers are far more likely than most non-hackers to either (a) be aggressively apolitical or (b) entertain peculiar or idiosyncratic political ideas and actually try to live by them day-to-day.

Ceremonial Chemicals

Most hackers don’t smoke tobacco, and use alcohol in moderation if at all. However, there has been something of a trend towards exotic beers since about 1995, especially among younger Linux hackers apparently influenced by Linus Torvalds’s fondness for Guinness.

Limited use of non-addictive psychedelic drugs, such as cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, nitrous oxide, etc., used to be relatively common and is still regarded with more tolerance than in the mainstream culture. Use of ‘downers’ and opiates, on the other hand, appears to be particularly rare; hackers seem in general to dislike drugs that make them stupid. But on the gripping hand, many hackers regularly wire up on caffeine and/or sugar for all-night hacking runs.

Communication Style

See the discussions of speech and writing styles near the beginning of this File. Though hackers often have poor person-to-person communication skills, they are as a rule quite sensitive to nuances of language and very precise in their use of it. They are often better at writing than at speaking.

Personality Characteristics

The most obvious common ‘personality’ characteristics of hackers are high intelligence, consuming curiosity, and facility with intellectual abstractions. Also, most hackers are ‘neophiles’, stimulated by and appreciative of novelty (especially intellectual novelty). Most are also relatively individualistic and anti-conformist.

Although high general intelligence is common among hackers, it is not the sine qua non one might expect. Another trait is probably even more important: the ability to mentally absorb, retain, and reference large amounts of ‘meaningless’ detail, trusting to later experience to give it context and meaning. A person of merely average analytical intelligence who has this trait can become an effective hacker, but a creative genius who lacks it will swiftly find himself outdistanced by people who routinely upload the contents of thick reference manuals into their brains. [During the production of the first book version of this document, for example, I learned most of the rather complex typesetting language TeX over about four working days, mainly by inhaling Knuth's 477-page manual. My editor's flabbergasted reaction to this genuinely surprised me, because years of associating with hackers have conditioned me to consider such performances routine and to be expected. —ESR]

Contrary to stereotype, hackers are not usually intellectually narrow; they tend to be interested in any subject that can provide mental stimulation, and can often discourse knowledgeably and even interestingly on any number of obscure subjects — if you can get them to talk at all, as opposed to, say, going back to their hacking.

It is noticeable (and contrary to many outsiders’ expectations) that the better a hacker is at hacking, the more likely he or she is to have outside interests at which he or she is more than merely competent.

Hackers are ‘control freaks’ in a way that has nothing to do with the usual coercive or authoritarian connotations of the term. In the same way that children delight in making model trains go forward and back by moving a switch, hackers love making complicated things like computers do nifty stuff for them. But it has to be their nifty stuff. They don’t like tedium, nondeterminism, or most of the fussy, boring, ill-defined little tasks that go with maintaining a normal existence. Accordingly, they tend to be careful and orderly in their intellectual lives and chaotic elsewhere. Their code will be beautiful, even if their desks are buried in 3 feet of crap.

Hackers are generally only very weakly motivated by conventional rewards such as social approval or money. They tend to be attracted by challenges and excited by interesting toys, and to judge the interest of work or other activities in terms of the challenges offered and the toys they get to play with.

In terms of Myers-Briggs and equivalent psychometric systems, hackerdom appears to concentrate the relatively rare INTJ and INTP types; that is, introverted, intuitive, and thinker types (as opposed to the extroverted-sensate personalities that predominate in the mainstream culture). ENT[JP] types are also concentrated among hackers but are in a minority.

Ah, moment – das mit den Persönlichkeitstypen kommt mir bekannt vor. Stimmt – hatten wir schon mal. Ich bin der INFJ:

creative, smart, focus on fantasy more than reality, attracted to sad things, fears doing the wrong thing, observer, avoidant, fears drawing attention to self, anxious, cautious, somewhat easily frightened, easily offended, private, easily hurt, socially uncomfortable, emotionally moody, does not like to be looked at, fearful, perfectionist, can sabotage self, can be wounded at the core, values solitude, guarded, does not like crowds, organized, second guesses self, more likely to support marijuana legalization, focuses on peoples hidden motives, prone to crying, not competitive, prone to feelings of loneliness, not spontaneous, prone to sadness, longs for a stabilizing relationship, fears rejection in relationships, frequently worried, can feel victimized, prone to intimidation, lower energy, strict with self

Weaknesses of the Hacker Personality

Hackers have relatively little ability to identify emotionally with other people. This may be because hackers generally aren’t much like ‘other people’. Unsurprisingly, hackers also tend towards self-absorption, intellectual arrogance, and impatience with people and tasks perceived to be wasting their time.

As cynical as hackers sometimes wax about the amount of idiocy in the world, they tend by reflex to assume that everyone is as rational, ‘cool’, and imaginative as they consider themselves. This bias often contributes to weakness in communication skills. Hackers tend to be especially poor at confrontation and negotiation.

Another weakness of the hacker personality is a perverse tendancy to attack all problems from the most technically complicated angle, just because it may mean more interesting problems to solve, or cooler toys to play with. Hackers sometimes have trouble grokking that the bubble gum and paperclip hardware fix is actually the way to go, and that they really don’t need to convince the client to buy that shiny new tool they’ve had your eye on for two months.

Because of their passionate embrace of (what they consider to be) the Right Thing, hackers can be unfortunately intolerant and bigoted on technical issues, in marked contrast to their general spirit of camaraderie and tolerance of alternative viewpoints otherwise. Old-time ITS partisans look down on the ever-growing hordes of Unix and Linux hackers; Unix aficionados despise VMS and Windows; and hackers who are used to conventional command-line user interfaces loudly loathe mouse-and-menu based systems such as the Macintosh. Hackers who don’t indulge in Usenet consider it a huge waste of time and bandwidth; fans of old adventure games such as ADVENT and Zork consider MUDs to be glorified chat systems devoid of atmosphere or interesting puzzles; hackers who are willing to devote endless hours to Usenet or MUDs consider IRC to be a real waste of time; IRCies think MUDs might be okay if there weren’t all those silly puzzles in the way. And, of course, there are the perennial holy wars — EMACS vs. vi, big-endian vs. little-endian, RISC vs. CISC, etc., etc., etc. As in society at large, the intensity and duration of these debates is usually inversely proportional to the number of objective, factual arguments available to buttress any position.

As a result of all the above traits, many hackers have difficulty maintaining stable relationships. At worst, they can produce the classic geek: withdrawn, relationally incompetent, sexually frustrated, and desperately unhappy when not submerged in his or her craft. Fortunately, this extreme is far less common than mainstream folklore paints it — but almost all hackers will recognize something of themselves in the unflattering paragraphs above.

Hackers are often monumentally disorganized and sloppy about dealing with the physical world. Bills don’t get paid on time, clutter piles up to incredible heights in homes and offices, and minor maintenance tasks get deferred indefinitely.

1994-95′s fad behavioral disease was a syndrome called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), supposedly characterized by (among other things) a combination of short attention span with an ability to ‘hyperfocus’ imaginatively on interesting tasks. In 1998-1999 another syndrome that is said to overlap with many hacker traits entered popular awareness: Asperger’s syndrome (AS). This disorder is also sometimes called ‘high-function autism’, though researchers are divided on whether AS is in fact a mild form of autism or a distinct syndrome with a different etiology. AS patients exhibit mild to severe deficits in interpreting facial and body-language cues and in modeling or empathizing with others’ emotions. Though some AS patients exhibit mild retardation, others compensate for their deficits with high intelligence and analytical ability, and frequently seek out technical fields where problem-solving abilities are at a premium and people skills are relatively unimportant. Both syndromes are thought to relate to abnormalities in neurotransmitter chemistry, especially the brain’s processing of serotonin.

Many hackers have noticed that mainstream culture has shown a tendency to pathologize and medicalize normal variations in personality, especially those variations that make life more complicated for authority figures and conformists. Thus, hackers aware of the issue tend to be among those questioning whether ADD and AS actually exist; and if so whether they are really ‘diseases’ rather than extremes of a normal genetic variation like having freckles or being able to taste DPT. In either case, they have a sneaking tendency to wonder if these syndromes are over-diagnosed and over-treated. After all, people in authority will always be inconvenienced by schoolchildren or workers or citizens who are prickly, intelligent individualists — thus, any social system that depends on authority relationships will tend to helpfully ostracize and therapize and drug such ‘abnormal’ people until they are properly docile and stupid and ‘well-socialized’.

So hackers tend to believe they have good reason for skepticism about clinical explanations of the hacker personality. That being said, most would also concede that some hacker traits coincide with indicators for non-hyperactive ADD and AS — the status of caffeine as a hacker beverage of choice may be connected to the fact that it bonds to the same neural receptors as Ritalin, the drug most commonly prescribed for ADD. It is probably true that boosters of both would find a rather higher rate of clinical ADD among hackers than the supposedly mainstream-normal 3-5% (AS is rarer at 0.4-0.5%).

Miscellaneous

Hackers are more likely to have cats than dogs (in fact, it is widely grokked that cats have the hacker nature). Many drive incredibly decrepit heaps and forget to wash them; richer ones drive spiffy Porsches and RX-7s and then forget to have them washed. Almost all hackers have terribly bad handwriting, and often fall into the habit of block-printing everything like junior draftsmen.

Komplette Beschreibung “A Portrait of J. Random Hacker”

So. Genug Introspektion für heute.
Das schöne daran: Es gibt noch mehr von meiner Sorte.
Zwar werde ich jetzt in eine Schublade gesteckt. Aber diese Schublade ist mit ‘Hacker’ angeschrieben. Passt. Gefällt. I like.

Daniel

Ja, Hacker kann man nicht werden. Entweder man hat den Geist eines Hackers oder nicht ;)

Hmmm… noch nie etwas von diesem Jargon File gehört!
Das ist ja ein riesen Roman!
Unsympatisch an der Website ist mir, dass sie als Favicon eine “Pyramide mit Auge” verwendet….

Also mal unabhängig von dem Text. Den beiden sieht man auf den ersten Blick an, dass sie “Hacker sind”: :D
http://citp.princeton.edu/memory-content/memory_9.jpg

Longneck

offensichtlicher geht’s wirklich nicht! :D

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