People often ask me, “what’s up with your tagline, life hacker?”
It has to do somewhat with my personal philosophy as well as Paul Graham‘s (my idol) definition.
Paul Graham said in his essay about Hackers and Painters,
What hackers and painters have in common is that they’re both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things. They’re not doing research per se, though if in the course of trying to make good things they discover some new technique, so much the better.
Over the course of my career, I have realized that I really enjoy building and tinkering with things. I should have realized this much earlier, but my desire to go back to programming and actually enjoying building web applications made me realize it. Ever since I was young, I really enjoyed building different things like AM/FM radio from a kit, model airplane, propeller-rubber airplane, etc. I think that’s why I also enjoyed being a product manager, building a product someone actually finds useful. I think one of the highlights of my career was when we delivered a product as promised and more on time, the customer was actually surprised. It’s so prevalent in high tech industry for a product to be shipped late, being on time is a surprise.
I also have a sort of utilitarian approach to life, where I hate extra things that just get in the way of achieving a goal such as stupid, bureaucratic processes big companies put in place. This is why I love open source. If I need to get something done, the chances are I can find a tool to do it in open source. Like at my previous company, which was quite small, when we wanted a way to communicate with everyone and also have repository of information such as customer requirements and feedback, I just installed Drupal CMS on a unused PC and configured in a day or two. It actually came about because I wanted a simpler way of sharing training video with everyone. I certainly didn’t want to put it on share drive and have people download the huge file so that they could watch it. The best way was streaming, even internally, and converting to and uploading a flash version of the file on to Drupal seemed to be a good answer at the time. And we just started using it for internal communications portal. It is unthinkable at a company like Samsung or AT&T (I used to work at both companies).
My definition of hacking is not hacking in Hollywood‘s or security term, but just making things work and getting things done. I tell people I hack codes. I look at examples, see how they work, and make my own changes to fit my own needs. This is again why open source is so beautiful. I am not at the point of being able to contribute to open source world, but I hope I can some day. Internet is a wonderful place for hackers (this time it means for both my kind of hackers and also Hollywood’s hackers). My definition of hacking also aligns with utilitarian approach. Taken to extreme, it could mean that you can whatever you can, ethical or unethical, to reach a goal. But, I think majority of people including me have good sense of morals that prevent them from hurting or stealing from others. I think and I hope.
At any rate, I feel like I am going back to my root by hacking and building web applications that I think would be useful, not just to me but hopefully to many others, too.