[FoRK] great hackers

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Thu Aug 5 18:01:25 PDT 2004

Eugen Leitl wrote:

>Great Hackers
>July 2004
>(This essay is derived from a keynote talk at Oscon 2004.)
>A few months ago I finished a new book, and in reviews I keep noticing words
>like "provocative'' and "controversial.'' To say nothing of "idiotic.''
>I didn't mean to make the book controversial. I was trying to make it
>efficient. I didn't want to waste people's time telling them things they
>already knew. It's more efficient just to give them the diffs. But I suppose
>that's bound to yield an alarming book.

After hearing this stuff for years - and watching many, many companies 
go bankrupt by hiring "great hackers" - I would like
some empirical proof. As an alternative conjecture I would like to 
suggest that great hackers are like great CEOs - an entirely
 self-defined club - they go to the same schools, they read the same 
books, hang out in the same places, and spend lots of effort inflating 
each other's egos.
This little essay supports that conjecture - the only way to recognize a 
great hacker is to be one yourself.

There are bad programmers, but I think that at the top end there are 
simply limits to productivity - how fast you type, how fast you
read, how much time you spend reading FoRK or slashdot. How 
well-motivated (i.e. well-paid) you are.

Hard problems sometimes just mean that people don't have the appropriate 
background. Take a person who can write an differential equation solver  
and ask him to write an  accounting program - oh lets  say it has to be 
in COBOL - and I guarantee you - he will

Prove to me that great hackers aren't just a club like CEOs - self 
defined and self measured - largely so they can demand and get 
exorbitant salaries. Or show me some empirical measure - people have 
been writing code for 40 years now - that can be used to demonstrate 
these order-of-magnitude differences in productivity.


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