Binary Redneck

Learn this--hacker culture is not optional

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much conflict younger open source projects I’m involved in have compared to more mature projects and projects run by folks with an extreme number of years in open source.

Then I had to explain to my housemate who Donald Knuth is… …and tell a fellow Drupalista what the Jargon File is… …and define “grok” for a colleague from the XMPP community… …and stifle a laugh while my 7-year-old tried to describe the wumpus to someone who should know better… …after which I read Eric Raymond’s recent post on the social utility of hacker humor.

Then I grokked.

In the projects that have been around for a dozen or more years, or those run by hackers who have been, there is a common culture and identity shared by all: we’re hackers. Whatever else we are – country bumpkins, urbanites, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender, a particular religion or nationality, old or young, single or married, parent or not, rich or poor – we are hackers, and all we need to know to work together is that we share that cultural bond of hackerdom.

In the younger open source projects, people are expected to recognize that we all come from different cultures. Not only are we to recognize it, but we are supposed to keep track of these cultural differences and be sensitive to them, which of course means being constantly aware of them. It’s all about differences, and “what do people think because I’m a $whatever?”

Meanwhile, I’ve worked with old-school hackers who were evangelical Christians – the kind that are as certain of the corruptive nature and future damnation of pagans as they are of the sun rising – and never had an issue. To those of us immersed in hacker culture, a hacker is a hacker; hackerdom provides enough common ground for us to work together and enjoy it. Without that, people end up bailing out of development discussion because of cultural claptrap.

Successful open source draws on talented people regardless of their religions, sexual identities and preferences, nationalities, disabilities, ages, and other differences. A couple of decades have shown that an extremely successful way to do that is to have – regardless of whatever else we are part of – a common hacker culture.

So for the sake of harmony and productivity, PLEASE:

  • Grok some Heinlein.
  • Hunt a Wumpus or two.
  • Remember to bring your towel.
  • If you have trouble remembering your towel, consider investing in sapient pearwood luggage.
  • Read The Art of Computer Programming (yes, the entire series).
  • Read RFC 1149
  • Play Adventure and/or Nethack.
  • Try to “man woman”
  • Keep in mind that Tux is not randy (that would be impolitic!) he’s full of fish.
  • And see what Alice and Bob are up to now. …because failure to look up any of the above via the Jargon File or a search engine kills kittens.

Also, to those of you already indoctrinated in the ways of the hacker, help the newbies around you get some culture. Trust me, it makes us all less isolated from one another, less at odds with one another, and more able to focus on the code.