Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hacking, Defined

There’s sadly a lot of confusion amongst a lot of people as to what a hackathon and hacktivist community is. It’s not so much about the definition of what should someone be doing to call it a hackathon but more about the fact that the media’s sensationalization has simply degraded this term to create a mental picture of some greasy hair kid seated in the darkness banging out commands into a shell command prompt in an attempt to gain access to the NSA’s database. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.

I finally stumbled upon something that could put a definition to the word ‘Hacking’ and here it is. Short, and sweet.


Hacking is the process of writing code for, or contributing code to, a piece of software.

There is some controversy surrounding the meaning of this term. It began as a benign term meaning "to exercise proficiency" or "to alter or improve," but the popular media have since construed it to mean "to break into a computer system, usually with malicious intent."”

- From the WordPress Glossary page

The piece goes on to direct one’s attention towards Wikipedia for further disambiguation but honestly, for a term this misconstrued I really wouldn’t recommend that. Just take this definition above and keep it at that.

At hackathons we gather to hack upon a common purpose. And that purpose in our SL Hackathon is to hack on our ideas over a short period of time, usually a weekend. Be it individual or group.

What’s the point?


Hack = "to exercise proficiency" or "to alter or improve,"

Hackathon = to hack with a common goal in mind

SL Hackathon = The common goal to hack on is an idea where at the end of a weekend/Hackathon’s duration you have a tangible product.

Edits – Some awesome links (content is verbose) provided by @nazly and @laktek in response to this post. – This is like the mother of all guides to becoming a hacker – Paul Graham’s essay. “The Word “Hacker” – Another one of Paul’s essays. Related and very much worth a read.

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