Hackers tend to get a bad rap. When I find myself talking to people outside of the coding community and mention the word hacker, I invariably get the same response.
People think I mean cyber criminals.
This is an unfortunate result of the misappropriation of the word in the media. Too often, we see cyber criminals being referred to as hackers. This description is accurate to a point, but the word hacker encompasses so much more than just the way it is currently viewed.
AngelHack vice president of marketing, Brian Collins, is on a quest to take the word back. He is part of a community of programmers, coders, and entrepreneurs determined to redefine hacking in the terms it was originally intended.
Speaking at the recent Masters of Code heat in Sydney, Collins explained the definition of the term the community is most comfortable with. “There are hackers and there are hackers. We prefer the MIT definition,” he said.
In the 1960s, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology came up with a simple explanation that bears little resemblance to the current understanding of the term in popular culture.
"[A] person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular."
Cyber criminals certainly fit this definition. However, thinking of hackers only in this sense is reductive. The community is so much more than a group of ostracised degenerates seeking personal gain from the misfortune of others.
AngelHack, is just one example of the positive movement in the community to improve understanding amongst the wider public.
“It’s one of the things we have worked really hard at in the last two years is to show that hackers and that hacking mentality is really at the end of the day about coming together, brainstorming and collaborating on ideas.”
“The other definition of the word, we are not big fans of,” he said.
The world’s largest "hackathon" company came from humble beginnings. Starting with a single event in San Francisco and growing to community of 50,000 developers worldwide, the firm has been approached by some of the largest organisations to run events based upon once secretive API’s.
“We started putting on events for hackers then we were approached by companies such as MasterCard to do events like this for them.”
AngelHack is currently running the MasterCard Masters of Code competition worldwide, including heats in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, New York, London, Istanbul and, most recently, Sydney.
You can see our coverage of the Sydney event attended by over 70 people here.
Collins said the Sydney community is a little different than the one he came up through in Silicon Valley.
“It’s a little scrappier, a little scruffier, but in a good way.”
He went on to outline the potential of the local scene.
“People are seeing not just early stage accomplishments in the community but great accomplishments in the community. Now people are saying, we can do this, I think we will start to see Australia as one of the major tech hubs. It will be ranked up there with Silicone Valley, New York and London.”
“You’ve got all the right components you have companies like Blue Chillies, collaborative spaces like Fishburners. Even the academic institutions are starting to jump on this innovation concept.”
While we may still be a long way from a universal understanding of the term, the more positive initiatives we see that encourage the community to grow productively, the better placed we will ultimately be to tackle the seedy underbelly of the industry as it continually rears its head.