You know what a hacker is? In computer lingo, it is someone who is capable of programming quickly and efficiently, but usually with little planning or regard for established rules. A hacker is often a solitary, creative genius. A hacker is the antithesis to the software engineer, who is someone who works methodically and systematically. To say it boldly: Hackers are cool, engineers are boring. If hacking was like Rock’n’Roll, engineering would be singing in the gospel choir.
This entry is about the problems with the hacker’s approach. It is about why, at the end of the day, you’d rather have your car built by boring people.
Hackers are obsessed with performance. Take this article
, for example, in which self proclaimed hacker Paul Graham
tells us why the desgin of the Porsche 911 is superior to that of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. He thinks it’s because the Porsche is built for performance, while the Cadillac is not. That’s rubbish, of course: A car’s appearance is determined by the designer, not by the technicians. The Volkswagen Beetle, a car of moderate performance, is as timeless as the 911.
But let’s stay with the example. Take a formula one car. Performance wise it’s the best you can get: 900 horsepowers, speed exceeding 300 kph, carbon fiber construction and you can change the wheels in under ten seconds. You can almost smell this thing has been built by top hackers. Would you like those people to build the car you drive to work with? Your own vehicle may have been built by boring engineers in lab coats, and only goes as fast as it has to. But it doesn’t break down every third race, it goes quite far with little petrol, you don’t have to wear a helmet and it’s actually safe to take it out on the streets. All of this because those boring engineers spent a lot of time planning, testing, taking notes, and testing again. Instead of hacking.
Another problem with hackers is that they like technology more than people. So they create things like the Emacs editor
, which have unlimited possibilities and are as easy to use as a nuclear reactor on manual control. Hackers don’t care, because people who don’t understand their stuff aren’t really worth the effort anyway. While this attitude works when you’re only dealing with other hackers, it fails miserably when you’re shipping products that your grandmother will use. She needs
something that is technologically inferior, but easy to use.
Hackers know they’re doing things right. More specifically: Every hacker will tell you that his way of doing things is the only possible way. Unfortunately, there are no two hackers who do things the same way. This not only causes holy wars, but is also a real problem if you want to make a bunch of hackers do something in an organized fashion. In that situation, you’re lucky if you’re in a position to order those hackers around. They will complain loudly about those “point-haired-boss” types who don’t know the first thing about technology, but at least you’ll get the job done.
Sometimes it rocks to be the pointy-haired boss.