The hacking subculture evolved almost alongside the rise of computing machines in the 60s and 70s. “Hacking” as is popularly defined, is the clever use of technology and programing to solve what seem to be hard problems (not to be confused with what the popular media calls hackers – People who break into computer systems for evil). The emphasis of the hacker culture is on cleverness and excellence. Along with the social good of doing something meaningful and exciting, hacking has risen to prominence in the mainstream culture.
The “hacker culture” is quite popular in silicon valley, which has a rich history of producing technology geniuses. From Bill Gates who started hacking away at Basic at a very young age to Mark Zuckerberg, who’s letter to the shareholders at Facebook’s IPO was called The Hacker Way, lots of technology pioneers who’ve changed the world have come from this culture.
The hacking culture has strong network effects. With its emphasis on excellence, and more importantly, sharing knowledge and ideas, expertise quickly spreads benefiting everyone in the ecosystem. This creates a virtuous spiral where knowledge is gained and shared, new techniques are invented and discussed, eventually leading to new products, technology and techniques to be invented.
And those that succeed because of this hacking culture are very generous when giving back to the community. Google and Facebook have open-sourced tons and tons of their inventions. From the Google File System (GFS), which Google published as a white paper, to Facebook’s Inbox search which was open-sourced as Apache Cassandra. This culture of paying-it-forward generates massive returns for the whole eco-system.
Closer home, we unfortunately don’t seem to have that strong a tradition of the hacker culture in India. I find it particularly disappointing that we don’t have a culture of sharing. I remember in my college days, “lecture notes” were a prized commodity, and people would refuse to share what they learnt or discovered, for fear that I may get “more marks” than them. Colleges and Universities are the custodians of the hacking culture, but most Indian universities don’t place any emphasis on sharing and learning from your peers. Quite the contrary, most colleges have a strong culture of getting students to compete with each other for grades, which discourages sharing even more! This results in students spending most of their college days in pursuit of meaningless grades and entering programing contests for the sole purpose of padding their CVs.
The whole ethos of learning, sharing and hacking is completely lost.
Even today, I find that several entrepreneurs are scared of sharing their ideas, for fear that someone might copy them. This kind of hoarding of knowledge and expertise is benefiting no one and is actually holding back our startup ecosystem. We should all be open and be willing to share and learn from each other, that’s the only way we all move forward. We need to imbibe ourselves with the rich culture of sharing and learning from our peers. We need to focus on cleverness and excellence. We need to focus on paying it forward and helping other people succeed. We need the hacker way.
What do you think? Are there examples where the hacking culture has really taken off in India?
On a related note, YourStory is conducting a nation-wide Hacking contest for students: India Hacks 2013.