What is a hacker next to a hacker thinker statue

What is a Hacker?


Published on January 31, 2023

small cartoon of Alex Chaveriat
TL;DR I've redefined 'hacker' as someone driven by passion and a thirst for understanding computer systems & networks. They have innovative spirit, pursue knowledge & mastery, embrace failure for improvement, and are inspired by the hacker community where ideas & knowledge are freely shared. Being a hacker is not a title, but a mindset and unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

The term 'hacker' has been stretched and distorted beyond recognition. From kitchen shortcuts to devastating breaches, technical prowess to wonky engineering with chicken wire. The term ranges all over the place in search of a definition. Hacker is a squish term and I am going to try to hack together a better definition.

We could argue the term back to its origin, a hacker is one that hacks, where hacks are applied ingenuity to create clever results. Personally, I like the RFC definition though only as a starting point. Keep in mind this was written in 1993:


A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular. The term is often misused in a pejorative context, where "cracker" would be the correct term. See also: cracker.

-- https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1392#appendix-H

I believe the core of the RFC is, "A person who delights in having an intimate understanding." Though the definition is unclear if you need to have versus the pursuit of having said understanding. Here is the secret, there are no experts in systems, networks, or computers; the field is too broad and goes too deep. With no experts, the definition changes. I believe I have come up with a better one - though welcome feedback.

A hacker embodies a boundless passion and insatiable thirst for understanding the complexities of a system, computers and networks in particular. They revel in the pursuit of knowledge and mastery, constantly seeking new solutions and opportunities for growth. Their drive and innovative spirit inspire and are inspired by the hacker community, where ideas and knowledge are freely shared and valued regardless of their origin.

-- Silk

I think it is important to recognize and affirm that the term hacker is not a title bequeathed upon you. It is who you are down to the marrow of your bones, your mindset and the driving force with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, to gather others around yourself to inspire and be inspired by, to value the ideas of hackers without prejudice, to embrace and pursue failure as a means of improvement, and to take joy and delight in whatever you set your mind to. I hope you embrace this, and hack on!