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This article was posted to the Usenet group alt.hackers in 1995; any technical information is probably outdated.

Hacker FAQ (revision 0.01) - RFC.

Article: 7673 of alt.hackers
Newsgroups: alt.hackers
From: seebs@mangrove.Intran.Xerox.COM (Peter Seebach)
Subject: Hacker FAQ (revision 0.01) - RFC.
Message-ID: 3mm2qd$cg@mangrove.Intran.Xerox.COM
Lines: 319
Organization: Xerox Intran Operations
Date: Fri, 14 Apr 1995 15:02:37 GMT
Status: RO

This is an actuall request for comments.  It is not intended to become
a definition of the Net.

Please, no gripes about obhacks; if you notice, this group is for discussing
hacker issues, and what we're hacking on.  Discussion of the hacker culture
is a part of this, with or without specific accomplishments.

Please, if you have questions you'd like to see added, comments, etc., submit
them to any of my addresses.


---cut here---
So You Have Yourself a Hacker, or, _The Hacker FAQ_

The following list is an attempt to cover some of the issues that will
invariably come up when people without previous experience of the hacker
community try to hire a hacker.  This FAQ is intended for free distribution,
and may be copied as desired.  It is in an early revision.  If you wish
to modify the FAQ, or distribute it for publication, please contact the

DISCLAIMER:  The author is a hacker.  Bias is inevitable.

This document is copyright 1995 Peter Seebach.  Unaltered distribution
is permitted.

Revision 0.01

Questions and Answers:

Section 0: Basic understanding.

0.0:	Won't my hacker break into my computer and steal my trade secrets?

A:	No.  Hackers aren't, contrary to media reporting, the people who
	break into computers.  Those are crackers.  Hackers are people who
	enjoy playing with computers.  Your hacker may occasionally
	circumvent security measures, but this is not malicious; they just
	do it when the security is in their way, or because they're curious.

0.1:	Was it a good idea to hire a hacker?

A:	It depends on the job.	A hacker can be dramatically more effective
	than a non-hacker at a job, or dramatically less effective.  Jobs
	where hackers are particularly good are:
		Systems administration
	Jobs where hackers are particularly bad are:
		Data entry

	More generally, a job that requires fast and unexpected changes,
	signifigant skill, and is not very repetitive will be one a
	hacker will excell at.	Repetitive, simple jobs are a waste of
	a good hacker, and will make your hacker bored and frustrated.
	No one works well bored and frustrated.

	The good news is, if you get a hacker on something he particularly
	likes, you will freqently see performance on the order of five
	to ten times what a "normal" worker would produce.
	This is not
	consistant, and you shouldn't expect to see it all the time, but
	it will happen.  This is most visible on particularly difficult

0.2:	How should I manage my hacker?

A:	The same way you herd cats.  It can be a bit confusing; they're
	not like most other workers.  Don't worry!  Your hacker is likely
	to be willing to suggest answers to problems, if asked.  Most
	hackers are nearly self-managing.

0.3:	Wait, you just said "10 times", didn't you?  You're not

A:	Actually, I said "ten times".  And yes, I am serious;
a hacker on
	a roll may be able to produce, in a period of a few months, something
	that a small development group (say, 7-8 people) would have a hard
	time getting together over a year.  They also may not.	Your milage
	will vary.

0.4:	I don't understand this at all.  This is confusing.  Is there a
	book on this?

A:	Not yet.  In the mean time, check out _The New Hacker's Dictionary_
	(references below; also known as "the jargon file"),
	in particular
	some of the appendicies.  The entire work is full of clarifications
	and details of how hackers think.

Section 1: Social issues

1.0:	My hacker doesn't fit in well with our corporate society.  She
	seems to do her work well, but she's not really making many friends.

A:	This is common.  Your hacker may not have found any people around
	who get along with hackers.  You may wish to consider offering her
	a position telecommuting, or flexible hours (read: night shift),
	which may actually improve her productivity.  Or hire another one.

1.1:	My hacker seems to dress funny.  Is there any way to impress upon
	him the importance of corporate appearance?

A:	Your hacker has a very good understanding of the importance of
	corporate appearence.  It doesn't help you get your job done.
	IBM, Ford, and MicroSoft have all realized that people work better
	when they can dress however they want.	Your hacker is dressed
	comfortably.  A polite request to dress up some for special
	occasions may well be honored, and most hackers will cheerfully
	wear clothes without holes in them if specifically asked.

1.2:	My hacker won't call me by my title, and doesn't seem to respect
	me at all.

A:	Your hacker doesn't respect your title.  Hackers don't believe that
	management is "above" engineering; they believe that
	is doing one job, and engineering is doing another.  They may well
	frequently talk as if management are beneath them, but this is
	really quite fair; your question implies that you talk as if
	engineering is beneath you.  Treat your hacker as an equal, and
	she will probably treat you as an equal - quite a compliment!

1.3:	My hacker constantly insults the work of my other workers.

A:	Take your hacker aside, and ask for details of what's wrong with
	the existing work.  It may be that there's something wrong with it.
	Don't let the fact that it runs most of the time fool you; your
	hacker is probably bothered by the fact that it crashes at all.
	He may be able to suggest improvements which could dramatically
	improve performance, reliablity, or other features.  It's worth
	looking into.

	You may be able to convince your hacker to be more polite, but
	if there appear to be major differences, it's quite possible that
	one or more of your existing staff are incompetent.  Note that
	hackers, of course, have different standards of competence than
	many other people.  (Read "different" as "much

Section 2: Productivity.

2.0:	My hacker plays video games on company time.

A:	Hackers, writers, and painters all need some amount of time to
	spend "percolating" - doing something else to let their
	subconscious work on a problem.  Your hacker is probably
	stuck on something difficult.  Don't worry about it.

2.1:	But it's been two weeks since I saw anything!

A:	Your hacker is working, alone probably, on a big project, and just
	started, right?  She's probably trying to figure it all out in
	advance.  Ask her how it's going; if she starts a lot of sentences,
	but interrupts them all with "no, wait..." or "drat,
	that won't
	work", it's going well.

2.2:	Isn't this damaging to productivity?

A:	No.  Your hacker needs to recreate and think about things in
	many ways.  He will be more productive with this recreation than
	without it.  Your hacker enjoys working; don't worry about things
	getting done reasonably well and quickly.

2.3:	My hacker is constantly doing things unrelated to her job

A:	Do they need to be done?  Very few hackers can resist solving a
	problem when they can solve it, and no one else is solving it.
	For that matter, is your hacker getting her job done?  If so,
	consider it a freebie or perk.	Although it may not be
	conventional, it's probably helping out rather a lot.

2.4:	My hacker is writing a book, reading USENET news, playing video
	games, talking with friends on the phone, and building sculptures
	out of paperclips.  On company time!

A:	He sounds happy.  The chances are he's in one of three states:

		1.  Basic job responsibilities are periodic (phone support,
		    documentation, et al.) and there's a lull in incoming
		    work.  Don't worry about it!
		2.  Your hacker is stuck on a difficult problem.
		3.  Your hacker is bored silly and is trying to find
		    amusement.	Perhaps you should find him more challenging

	Any of these factors may be involved.  All of them may be involved.
	In general, if the work is challenging, and is getting done, don't
	worry too much about the process.  You might ask for your corporation
	to be given credit in the book.

2.5:	But my other workers are offended by my hacker's success, and it
	hurts their productivity.

A:	Do you really need to have workers around who would rather be
	the person getting something done, than have it done already?
	Ego has very little place in the workplace.  If they can't do
	it well, assign them to something they can do.

Section 3: Stimulus and response

3.0:	My hacker did something good, and I want to reward him.

A:	Good!  Here are some of the things most hackers would like to
	receive in exchange for their work:

		1.  Respect.
		2.  Admiration.
		3.  Compliments.
		4.  Understanding.
		5.  Discounts on expensive toys.
		6.  Money.

	These are not necessarily in order.  The 4th item (understanding)
	is the most difficult.	Try to remember this good thing your hacker
	just did the next time you discover he just spent a day playing
	xtrek.	Rather than complaining about getting work done, write it
	off as "a perk" that was granted (informally) as a bonus
	for a
	job well done.	Don't worry; hackers get bored quickly when they
	aren't doing their work.

3.1:	My hacker did something bad, and I want to punish him.

A:	Don't.	30 years of psychological research has shown that
	punishment has no desirable long-term effects.	Your hacker
	is not a lab rat.  If you don't like something your hacker is
	doing, express your concerns.  Explain what it is that bothers
	you about the behavior.

	Be prepared for an argument; your hacker is a rational entity,
	and presumably had reasons.  Don't jump on them too quickly;
	they may turn out to be good reasons.

	Don't be afraid to apologize if you're wrong.  If your hacker
	admits to having been wrong, don't demand an apology; so far
	as the hacker is concerned, admitting to being wrong *is* an
	apology, most likely.

3.2:	I don't get it.  I offered my hacker a signifigant promotion,
	and she turned it down and acted offended.

A:	A promotion frequently involves spending more time listening to
	people describing what they're doing, and less time playing with
	computers.  Your hacker is enjoying her work; if you want to
	offer a reward, consider an improvement in title, a possible
	raise, and some compliments.  Make sure your hacker knows you
	are pleased with her *accomplishments* - that's what she's there

3.3:	My company policy won't let me give my hacker any more raises
	until he's in management.

A:	Your company policy is broken.	A hacker can earn as much as
	$150 an hour (sometimes more) doing freelance consulting.  You
	may wish to offer your hacker a contracted permanent consulting
	position with benefits, or otherwise find loopholes.  Or, find
	perks to offer - many hackers will cheerfully accept a discount
	on hardware from their favorite manufacturer as an effective

3.4:	I can't believe the hacker on my staff is worth as much as we're

A:	Ask the other staff in the department what the hacker does, and
	what they think of it.	The chances are that your hacker is
	spending a few hours a week answering arcane questions that would
	otherwise require an expensive external consultant.  Your hacker
	may be fulfilling another jobs' worth of responsibilities in
	his spare time around the office.  Very few hackers aren't worth
	what they're getting paid; they enjoy accomplishing difficult
	tasks, and improving worker efficiency.

Section 4:  What does _that_ mean?

4.0:	My hacker doesn't speak English.  At least, I don't *think* so.

A:	Your hacker is a techie.  Your best bet is to pick up a copy
	of TNHD (The New Hacker's Dictionary).	It can be found as (last I checked)
	or from a good bookstore.  If you have trouble understanding
	that reference, ask your hacker if she has a copy, or would
	be willing to explain her terms.  Most hackers are willing to
	explain terms.	Be ready for condescension; it's not intended
	as an insult, but if you don't know the words, she probably
	*has* to talk down to you at first to explain them.

	It's a reasonably difficult set of words; there are a lot of
	them, and their usage is much more precise than it sounds.
	Hackers love word games.

	[It is also possible that English is not your hacker's native
	 language, and that it's not yours either.  Feel free to
	 substitute with a more appropriate language.]

4.1:	I can't get an estimate out of my hacker.

A:	Your hacker hasn't figured out how hard the problem is yet.
	Unlike most workers, hackers will try very hard to refuse to
	give an estimate until they know for sure that they understand
	the problem.  This may include solving it.

	No good engineer goes beyond 95% certainty.  Most hackers are
	good engineers.  If you say you will not try to hold him to
	the estimate (and mean it!) you are much more likely to get
	an approximate estimate.  The estimate may sound very high
	or very low; it may be very high or very low.  Still, it's
	an estimate, and you get what you ask for.

4.2:	My hacker makes obscure, meaningless jokes.

A:	If you feel brave, ask for an explanation.  Most of them can be
	explained.  It may take a while, but it may prove interesting.

4.3:	My hacker counts from zero.

A:	So does the computer.  You can hide it, but computers count from
	zero.  Most hackers do by habit, also.

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