Definition: Hacker



Another software developer question:

I’m wondering if the term Hacker means different things to different people. When most people hear the word hacker what are the first things that come to mind?

Hacker, back in the early days of PCs, originally meant someone who climbed into the internals of technology to make it do more stuff. In hardware, we would take an IBM diskette drive, test what happened with every jumper setting, maybe add a DIPP switch to make testing easier, and then hook up the result to a Texas Instruments 99/4a computer, where it was never designed to go. Or read program files from diskettes in pure binary format and match up numbered commands with programming symbols to make programs that could modify programs, usually to add formatting and fix line numbering. Then, it was all positive, and “no reverse engineering allowed” statements hadn’t evolved yet.

NOW, hacker is used more in the negative sense, like cracker, which generally includes creation of cheat codes, bypassing sections of code for various reasons, and so on.

The way technology words enter the mainstream vocabulary is mostly through television and movies, and Hollywood is nearly as sloppy with tech words as the evening news, so ‘hacker’ is mostly used in the negative sense by most of the mainstream media. But a hacker isn’t inherently evil.

Jerry Stern
Chief Technology Officer, PC410.com

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