I'm a hacker and proud of it. What I know about programming is mostly self-taught. Back in the 1980s, I cut my teeth on Basic before moving on to Pascal, machine language, C, and even such obscure languages as Forth. For me, the joy of programming was in exploration and experimentation. The computer was a world where I was free to tinker to my heart's content, and the knowledge I gained was its own reward.
[ Dive into the perils of the "hacker ethic" in InfoWorld's "stupid hacker tricks" stories. ]
Still, I have to ask: Is that really a good thing? If every modern American schoolchild knows more about PCs and computing than their parents ever could, why does Vineet Nayar, CEO of the Indian IT outsourcing vendor HTC Technologies, claim that most U.S. college grads are "unemployable"? Are Americans really falling behind in technical know-how? Or could it be that in our willingness to embrace the hacker ideal, we're producing programmers who are unprepared for real-world work?
How America fell in love with hackers
By and large, the founders of the PC revolution are all hackers. Neither Steve Jobs nor Steve Wozniak was a college graduate when the pair co-founded Apple. Bill Gates didn't graduate until 2007.
It's easy to see why these figures, among others, captured the American public imagination. Americans love a rags-to-riches story; they love to hear about plucky outsiders who rise up from insignificance to become great leaders and captains of industry. The story of the early days of the personal computer age read like a capsule summary of the American Dream.