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The Hacker attitude

For many years, the following has been part of my LinkedIn profile:

I subscribe to the Hacker attitude:
1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved.
2. No problem should ever have to be solved twice.
3. Boredom and drudgery are evil.
4. Freedom is good.
5. Attitude is no substitute for competence.

Eric S. Raymond

A recruiter once said “you do realise that this will be off-putting to some prospective employers?” When asked to specify what he meant, he said “well, the fact that it says “hacker” right there across the top.” To that my response was – and remains to this day – that if you can’t be bothered to read the text I provide to tell you something about who I am and what drives me, working for you is probably not going to work all that well. Let’s look at them one at a time:

1. The world is full of fascinating problems waiting to be solved

Ever since joining the workforce, part and parcel of my day to day job has been to solve problems, big and small, fascinating or not, for my clients. Finding and deploying solutions to problems is a key part of who I am. While I might not be able to solve all problems, finding them, documenting the steps to reproduce them, and sending them on to other personnel for them to attempt solution is something I find highly enjoyable.

2. No problem should ever have to be solved twice

If you find a problem, it should be documented. If you don’t, then people have to find it time and time again. This is essentially re-work, one of the wastes defined in Lean and DevOps, and one which is core to how I view myself and my goals as a worker. While I wouldn’t mind being indispensible, I want that to come as a result of my competency and capability, rather than because I am a gate-keeper of knowledge.

3. Boredom and drudgery are evil

Being bored at work inevitably results in poor results. Whether your tasks are fulfilling in and of themselves, or you need to find fulfilment in them in some other way, the onus is on the worker to counteract boredom when it arises. This can be done in many ways; one of these ways is to identify repetitive, manual tasks as candidates for automation, and pursue said automation.

4. Freedom is good

Freedom comes with no small amount of responsibility. I enjoy the freedom to prioritise my tasks as I see fit (based on a pre-defined prioritisation matrix). Having the freedom to do so, also means that I am able to control and apply boredom to a productive end. The result, for me, is that I tend to work in many different views, displaying differing subsets of the available information.

5. Attitude is no substitute for competence

Though the least well-defined entry in the list, this just might be the most important one. Like many people, I have had the displeasure of serving under bosses who had little actual experience with the work I did, yet instituted a number of poorly explained rules to follow to a T. One such example was the call center boss who – quite literally – shouted at me in front of my peers for telling a user I didn’t know. Compare and contrast that with the boot camp training officer who wouldn’t raise his voice unless it was actually necessary, counselling in quiet, and praising out loud. My takeaway from this is that if you need to lead through attitude, you’re most likely not competent.

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