Hear, O Nobly Born: The Way of the Hacker

I get several requests in an average week from people who want me to teach them the way of hacking. Yesterday I got an unusually witty one in the form of a mystical poem, imploring me to accept the author as a disciple. I replied that I don’t know how to do what he seems to want, which is to pour the essence of hacking in through his ears or something. He replied that he was pretty sure I’d say that, but had been hoping for a reply in the manner of The Loginataka.

I told him “Sorry, I was distracted.” Then I wrote this:

Hear, O nobly born: Techniques can be taught, but the Way of the
Hacker cannot be taught. Skills can be acquired, but the Way of the
Hacker is not a checklist of skills. Programming can be accomplished,
but the Way of the Hacker is not a place at which you can stop and say
“I have arrived!”

Hear, O nobly born: The Way of the Hacker is a posture of mind; he who
seeks a teacher of the Way knows it not, but he is only looking for a
mirror. All those competent to teach the Way know that it cannot
be taught, only pursued with joyous labor and by emulation of the
great hackers of the past.

Hear, O nobly born: Great were the hackers of the past! Subtle and
deep in their thinking, shaggy-bearded and with thunder on their
brows! You may seek to become as them, but it will not suffice you to
grow a beard.

Hear, O Nobly Born: The center of the mystery is the act of coding. You
have a keyboard before you; pursue the Way through work.

54 thoughts on “Hear, O Nobly Born: The Way of the Hacker

  1. Not northern China, Tibet. The Loginataka emulates the form and language of some early translations of the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

    (The name, however, is a reference to a classic collection of Buddhist scripture called the Tripitaka.)

  2. Jake Sully:

    If I’m like a child, then, huh, look, maybe you should teach me.

    Neytiri:

    Sky people cannot learn, you do not see.

    Jake Sully:

    Then teach me to see.

    Neytiri:

    No one can teach you to see.

  3. And with that thoughtfulness and insight – a new generation of Hacker is born. Of course having a high level of Midi-chlorians in ones blood doesn’t hurt either.. :)

  4. > shaggy-bearded and with thunder on their brows!

    I was about to object to your sexist exclusion of women hackers with this statement. Then I realized that your statement was correct. How come there are so very few women hackers? Perhaps we are repulsed by the shaggy beards? Or perhaps there is a set of genes on the Y chromosome necessary to have the appropriate attitude? Of course there are lots of good women programmers, but there is no Rachel Stallman, Lucy Torvalds or Erica Raymond. How come?

  5. While I completely agree that you become a hacker by hacking (and that definition isn’t limited to code), I gotta wonder, can you teach somebody the hacker ethos?

    After being in these circles for most of my life (although admittedly on the fringes), I’ve had some success in “teaching” the ethos to a few who were willing to learn and didn’t have their psyches set in a particularly Cathedral pattern. More a mentoring, as I was mentored when I was a kid.

    I think that’s the real value of Eric’s writings WRT becoming a hacker, is that it speaks to the ethos, not the “How To” stuff. There will never be a “Hacking for Dummies”.

    It also explains why it’s a lost cause trying to get lay people to understand the difference between Hackers and Crackers. They see both as being driven by an internal desire to “beat” the system, but they don’t see the ethos as being significantly different (builders vs. destroyers).

    After some previous discussions on the plateau of abilities based on IQ, I’m wondering if Hacking isn’t one of those plateaus. Perhaps you have to have an IQ of 120+ to be a hacker because of the requirement for self study and education, much like advanced degrees.

  6. >Of course there are lots of good women programmers, but there is no Rachel Stallman, Lucy Torvalds or Erica Raymond. How come?

    I’m not certain of the answer, but my best guess is that to become a great hacker, a woman has to pass three filters that all put her at a statistical disadvantage:

    1. The capacity for monomaniacal task focus is less common in women (probably related to their lower rate of autism-spectrum disorders).

    2. The dispersion of female IQ around the mean is slightly less. This means there are fewer female idiots, but also fewer female geniuses.

    3. Most women do not mix well with asocial, nerdy, hyper-focused, quasi-autistic men. I think this is a major reason they tend to select themselves out of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors in college.

  7. Jessica:

    I know that my personal motivation for hacking is an almost feral need NOT to be beaten by a machine. I WILL bend it to my will. Most women do not have that need to conquer, and I think it puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to certain activities, hacking being one such. I think math and hard sciences are another area where this NEED to conquer lends a significant advantage. Possibly engineering as well.

    As with anything in humans, there are always exceptions to the rule, and I couldn’t tell you (and won’t guess) how much of this is nature vs. nurture.

  8. ESR:

    Holy Crap! You mean I’m autistic, as well as a nerd??!!! Good thing I’m already married or my life would be over ;^).

  9. Of course there are lots of good women programmers, but there is no Rachel Stallman, Lucy Torvalds or Erica Raymond. How come?

    Because the standard deviation for such traits is far smaller in women than in men. The difference in mean IQ is small enough that for any arbitrary man and woman, there’s a 45% chance the woman is more intelligent, but when you set the bar for entry out at 120 IQ, only 37% of the people who qualify will be women. The higher that limit is set, the smaller the percentage of women qualifiers will be. The fact is that gender role differences over millenia have produced different optimizations for men and women, and no amount of wishful thinking otherwise can change that fact.

    The kind of IQ it takes to be one of those people is sufficiently high that a woman like Admiral Hopper can accurately be described as “Amazing”.

  10. Along these same lines, I’m wondering if perhaps you shouldn’t add entrepreneurship to the lists Eric and I created above? I know women start businesses, but I’m thinking of the high-risk/high-reward type businesses. How many can you think of that were started by women? Is that a consequence of the low level of female participation in engineering, science, math, and technical fields, or is it a consequence of the same issue(s) that cause these limitations?

  11. >More a mentoring, as I was mentored when I was a kid.

    Yes. I’m pretty sure what you did involved a lot of showing and not so much teaching that is, you succeeded not by telling them things but by being an object of emulation.

  12. >Holy Crap! You mean I’m autistic, as well as a nerd??!!!

    Not all hackers are. I’m more a shadow Tourette’s case than a shadow autist, myself. But there’s no denying that as we look around us at our peers we do see a whole lotta shadow autism.

  13. >The kind of IQ it takes to be one of those people is sufficiently high that a woman like Admiral Hopper can accurately be described as “Amazing”.

    La Griffe du Lion predicts that there will be a female Fields medalist approximately once in 103 years. This seems about right to me. There have only been one, maybe two, female mathematicians of the first rank in the history of the field: Emily Noether and maybe Sophie St. Germain. I would expect female hackers at the level of Stallman or Torvalds (or Ken Thompson) at approximately the same frequency.

  14. > I would expect female hackers at the level of Stallman or Torvalds (or Ken Thompson) at approximately the same frequency.

    If we believe this model, then my guess is that the frequency ought to be slightly higher for hackers than for mathematicians. I think mathematics is a little more demanding of raw intellectual horsepower than hacking is.

    ESR says: Agreed. I thought about uttering that qualification in my previous, but didn’t quite.

  15. @Jessica Boxer

    Of course there are lots of good women programmers, but there is no Rachel Stallman, Lucy Torvalds or Erica Raymond. How come?

    Well, there’s Jessica Livingston, who, while not a programmer herself (AFAIK) does work with Paul Graham on Y Combinator, which is sort of a startup incubator for hackers. And Mitchell Baker, chief lizard wrangler over at Mozilla, but these are executive types who hack the world of business, not computers.

    On the technical side, there’s Urusula Braun who is the official maintainer of the S/390 network drivers in the Linux kernel and the IBM network stack associated with that. Angela Byron is a contributor to the Drupal project. (Angela’s blog is kinda cool, too.) I think one of the maintainers of the Red Hat Clustering suite is a woman as well. (There’s a bunch more….there’s a list somewhere on wikia, I think.

  16. Addendum: While I implied it, but didn’t say it outright, I think that there lots of hackers who do lots of important work that do not get as widely recognized as Linus, ESR or RMS simply because of the visibility of the work they do. A lot of people, for example, haven’t heard of Daniel Veillard, but probably use his work all the time (he’s the author of libxml2 and libvirt, among other things)

  17. @Jessica Boxer

    >very few women hackers?

    I would include Cheryl Watson in the list of notable female hackers – for her work on system performance and author of the Cheryl Watson Tunning letters covering performance data and Linux and z/OS on the zSeries platform.

  18. jb> Or perhaps there is a set of genes on the Y chromosome necessary to have the appropriate attitude?

    No. The Y chromosome is a stunted little thing (compared to the X) that only contains enough information to switch a developing fetus over to the dark side. If anything, we males probably *lack* something that women have that would prevent us from indulging in such single-minded behaviors as hacking.

  19. Cheryl Watson Tunning letters

    She also writes letters on storing beer and wine, in addition to the mainframe performance data? Wow. o_O

  20. Re Cheryl Watson: You just gotta respect a lady whose always-packed sessions at SHARE on performance tuning IBM mainframe operating systems are titled Cheryl Watson’s Hot Flashes… She’s quite technically brilliant, and probably knows more about how to squeeze every last drop of performance out of z/OS than anyone else outside or inside IBM, but I’m not sure she’s got the hacker mindset.

    Cathy: are you sure that’s not more wisdom of the kind displayed by a certain other Calvin?

    Don: Agreed 100%. My standard answer to “why are you beating on that?” is “I refuse to let a computer tell me I can’t do something”.

  21. Jay: Thanks! It’s good to know I’m not alone in my neo-troglodyte approach to problem solving. :^)

  22. ESR> Yes. I’m pretty sure what you did involved a lot of showing and not so much teaching that is, you succeeded not by telling them things but by being an object of emulation.

    Actually, I don’t usually even go that far. My rule is “know where/how to find information is more important than know the information itself”, so I usually will show people who want to do something really complex (like hacking) how to _study_ that subject, where to find the information on what they want to do, work through some examples with them.

    Once they know how to do that, if they’re too damned lazy to RTFM, then I probably can’t help them (although I would be available for consulting gigs :^).

  23. On female hackers: maybe I’m oversimplifying but I think the female mind could be compared to a radar – a wide sort of awareness – while the male mind could be compared to a laser beam: focusing on one thing. For example men search for their clothes in the shelves by scanning the shelves one by one, from left to right, while women just look at at it and find what they want instantly. This is also why women are slightly worse in parking the car at a tight place, they find it hard to exclude everything else from their awareness and focus on just one thing.

    (To be doubly ontopic: actually this example of finding clothes on shelves and parking the car was told to me by my Buddhist teacher.)

    This basically means that women in IT are probably better in the analyst kind of work than in the programming kind of work. Such as in ERP: gaining a overview of a whole organization, of a large system, always keeping the big picture in the mind and not getting lost in the details is a very female thing, a “radar” thing. Focusing on hacking the code is rather a “laser” thing, a male thing. At least 60-70% of the best ERP analysts I know are women. The programmers are almost exlusively men. (I try to do both and frankly as a man I enjoy the programming side more, but that’s a career dead end and would result in joblessness at 45 or so, therefore I’m trying to force myself into the analyst role, even though as a typical man I just don’t have the “radar” for it.)

    Now the interesting part is that that sort of “hacker” subset of IT ESR is in doesn’t really seem to have analysts, because almost all of their projects are very technical, in the sense that it is all about computers, other devices, protocols and suchlike. The ability to see a big picture and not get lost in the details is of little use in this subset of IT, and probably this is why it is mostly a male playground.

  24. Female brains also appear to be more suited to fine-grained multitasking than male brains. I grokked process scheduling as a teenager when I observed an attractive girl interacting with several boys: she distributed her attention amongst them, one at a time, for a few seconds at a time, and had subtle gestural signals and shifts in attention which served to indicate when one boy’s timeslice was up.

    We guys tend to have the “iPhone OS 4″ version of multitasking: one task is “active” and the others, with all their state, are hibernated in long-term storage. With HUGE swapping overhead when a task switch occurs. I think that’s more conducive to things like hacking and less conducive to things like, say, running a business, which requires coordination of many people’s effort and attention to many things at once.

  25. FWIW, I am dubious about the IQ explanation. I don’t doubt the evidence that the female curve is narrower (God, even in population demographics we are supposed to be skinny!!!) but the difference is too slight to matter. We are talking about way on the edge outliers here where randomness has more effect. From what I see “hacking” is more an attitude and social condition than an IQ thing, though there is surely a barrier to entry. If IQ has to hit 120, then males probably have about 1-2% in that range, and females 0.8-1.8% (based on the graph in one of the links.) That doesn’t amount to much of a population difference, especially when you consider there are more women than men in the world. When you are talking about just a few people total then the percentage distribution has to be balanced with the raw quantization of the population. One cannot have 0.8 female hackers for every 1.0 male hackers when you are only talking about 2 or 3 people in a decade.

    I think it comes from both nature and nurture. I think women are indeed programmed genetically to be more multi-task, big picture people. This is a necessity from their traditional role of performing multiple low attention tasks. Whereas males are more programmed to single attention tasks, like hunting, winning wars, building shelter etc. I think also women are more attuned to sensitivity of language, though I am not sure the exact genetic basis of this. I am of the opinion that this is why there are a lot more women lawyers than women programmers. (Though the demands of the legal career in conflict with the desire and demands of parenting asymmetrically falling on women tends to offset that.)

    I also think that there is a strong cultural thing in play. Women are taught from very early on to value surface and appearance over substance. This is a terrible thing, but it seems to be the case. The exception to that, btw, is that women seem much more sensitive to language, verbal and physical, and its subtleties than men are. Don’t quite know why that is.

    Of course the other thing is that it is generally easier for women to get dates than men, and we like porn a lot less. So perhaps we have less time and reason to spend in the arms of our computers than the guys. But that is just speculative. :-)

  26. On female hackers: maybe I’m oversimplifying but I think the female mind could be compared to a radar – a wide sort of awareness – while the male mind could be compared to a laser beam: focusing on one thing.

    If you are oversimplifying, it isn’t by much.

    Women often complain about men having one-track minds. It’s true. Given the simple fact that premenopausal women are the limiting factor on population growth for primitive humans, tribes that failed to protect them would lose out to those that did. So the division of male hunters and female gatherers came to be. Hunters, who contend with mighty beasts that can just as well kill as be killed, do not have the luxury of being able to cast that wide cognitive net. If they are not 100% focused on the task at hand, not only will they not come back with game to feed the tribe, they may not come back at all.

    Women are able to integrate bits of information that men typically find to be unrelated to each other, leading to the notion of “women’s intuition” as if it were some kind of psychic phenomenon. Some of the big problems between the genders come from women who think men can think like they do or vice versa. You think we’re insensitive jerks, but a lot of times we have no way to know what you expect us to know. Just remember, ladies, our balls aren’t made of crystal. If you want to communicate something to us, you have to S P E L L it out in what seems to you like blindingly simple terms. Think “short bus” here.

  27. Shenpen: Gotta take an exception here. Your assertion that projects that interest the “hacker” subset are all focused and highly technical in aspect is just plain wrong. The most glaring example is the OS Kernel projects. While it IS highly technical, there are LOTS of technical details in there and it is anything but FOCUSED, and if Linus or RMS had gotten bogged down in details, it’s not likely that either Linux of Herd would exist. Well, ok maybe Herd isn’t such a good example ;^).

    Same goes for Abi Word (I won’t say Open Office, because that was a commercial product prior to FOSSing), Apache, Sugar, etc. Analysis and integration is DEFINITELY a hacker thing, although most hackers don’t approach it in anything like what you’d read in a Yourdan book.

    I also kinda dislike the idea that HACKER==PROGRAMMER as it’s frequently used around here. We all understand that Programmers are not necessarily Hackers, but remember the term HACKER comes from engineering, not Computer Science, and 50 years ago a “hacker” was pretty much synonymous with a HAM (amateur radio operator). There are also hackers in Aviation (Burt Rutan), automotive engineering (Shelby), and many other technical disciplines. Hacking is as much art as science and engineering.

    I’ve always considered hacking to be more a mental approach to problem solving that allows one to mix a vast collection of non-specific or theoretical knowledge and apply it to a problem. Some of us are lucky enough to get paid to do that :^), but you can’t achieve “hackerness” as part of a persuit of financial gain alone. If you do, you’ll never be committed enough to study all the various things you have to know to hack. Further more, you have to be dedicated to solving the problem to an almost fanatical state.

    Our own ESR is what I’d consider a good example of this idea in practice. He not only “hacks” code, but also society, and even his on consciousness with a broad mix of tools from philosophy, politics, religion, computer science, engineering, and art. He transitions easily among theses topics and his essays are an outlet for his almost compulsive need to problem solve (“Hack”) when he sees something wrong (global warming, politics, religious extremism, racism, programming, and general forms of stupidity in our world).

    YMMV

  28. >Now the interesting part is that that sort of “hacker” subset of IT ESR is in doesn’t really seem to have analysts

    Oh, we have them all. right. We just don’t think of them as “analysts” – we type them as “system architects”. I’m one myself. The thing is, in my world system architects still have to be able to write code. Otherwise they don’t keep their cred.

  29. Jessica Boxer> women seem much more sensitive to language, verbal and physical, and its subtleties than men are. Don’t quite know why that is.

    Historically, I think this is a protective adaptation. If a man is making certain verbal and physical queues, women picking them up could escape harm for themselves and their offspring by reading those queues and reacting appropriately. Since men historically have been better able to protect themselves, that ability isn’t as necessary for men, hence our complete obtuseness to “signals” that aren’t blatantly obvious (e.g. porn :^).

  30. Hmmm… looks like PORN is a filter word. Both Jessica’s post and mine were moderated. Guess Jessica and I are being naughty. ;^)

  31. >Our own ESR is what I’d consider a good example of this idea in practice.

    We need to be a little careful about keeping the arrows of causality straight here. I think you’re, generally speaking, right that I’m a good example of this idea in practice. But…

    The idea of ‘hacker’ shifts in in subtle ways over time. We are not the polyester-shirt-wearing nerds of that National Lampoon poster from 1975 any more, though Guy Steele tells me he did look like that back then. “Shaggy-bearded” would not be as true or as funny if not for RMS, then and now. The personalities and quirks of the best-known hackers exert gravity on the idea of hacker over time. And that goes for me, too, whether or not I actually will it.

    So in posing me as a “good example” you need at least to consider that some of the causation goes in the other direction and ask how much my hacking of society has influenced your and everybody else’s archetype of “hacker”. I’ve been doing the society-hacking thing for a long time, now, and some shift in the idea of hacker would be a nearly unavoidable side effect of that. Another way to ask the question is: to what extent has the influence of my public persona as “ESR” reinforced or emphasized traits that may have been less central or more latent before?

    I’m bringing this up now because there are a couple of traits that I think I have increased the centrality of, and you mentioned one: polymath. Another one is “martial artist”. Twenty years ago hackers admired martial arts a lot but had more tendency to do so from a distance; I think it’s significantly down to me that more of us step up and actually do them these days.

  32. > 2. The dispersion of female IQ around the mean is slightly less. This means there are fewer female idiots, but also fewer female geniuses.

    Strangely enough, I attended a charter school where the barrier to admission was having an IQ 2SD > average. There were more female students than males. Make what you will of that.

    The relative absence of female hackers I think is more due to the effect of what I’d call a “molasses ceiling”. Even when the actual firm barriers to entry are absent, the proportional size of a minority group intimidates potential newcomers away from the field.

    The annoying part is that impatience for the high level of viscosity in getting minority groups into a certain field is the motivation for many counterproductive regulatory measures.

  33. ERS: Actually, my above differentiation of Hacker predates my finding out anything about you. You’re fame isn’t omnitemporal in nature ;^).

    When in college I noticed a marked difference in my abilities and the abilities of other students (or even profs) and after a few years of wondering why, I came to realize that there was a profound difference in how I approached problems. I used analogies that made it much easier for me to SEE the problem in an almost mechanical nature, I probed deeper into WHY something was happening, not just being content with the fact that it WAS happening. That frequently left people scratching their heads, but by my 3rd year, everyone in the CS and EE department (and in fact the entire engineering college) knew that if they had a programming related problem they couldn’t crack, they brought it to me. That included several profs (the ones that could swallow their pride enough to ask and undergrad anyway :^).

    I think I was in my 4th year when I began to realize I solved problems DIFFERENTLY than the average person, and that those solutions relied on my acquisition of knowledge outside of CS as much as they did on my “education”.

    I felt a significant attraction to personalities with similar traits, but they were extremely few and far between (3 I think, maybe 4 in 7 years at a college with a population of 5500 souls).

    I’d say your writing has helped give me the words to express what I knew then (as many here did, when I read the Hacker related essays, I had the experience that you were inside my head :^).

    While the caricature of the shaggy-bearded nerd is fun, it has nothing to do with BEING a hacker, and I think you’re wrong about polymathism being a recent hacker trait. I think it’s more likely that it’s recent to our generation, because until the last decade or so being a computer nerd was enough for us. Now, we realize that we can do so much more with our hard-won problem solving skills, and there are (figuratively, in deference to our hosts’ predisposition), many more cats to be skinned :^).

    As always, YMMV!

  34. Dallas J. Haugh Says:
    > The relative absence of female hackers I think is more
    > due to the effect … the proportional size of a minority
    > group intimidates potential newcomers

    I am sure that has a part, though I think in areas where there is a strong sense of self, and a strong sense of being out of the box, the need to be with “your own kind”, where kind is defined by some physical characteristic (race or sex) is much smaller, if non existent. In fact I think there is also a reverse effect where being unusual in the group is attractive. (This is common for women, certainly, where the fact that you are female generates a lot of attention in a primarily male group. Sometimes the attention is not the kind you want, but everyone likes to be the star of the show. I went to school with a guy who specifically joined the dance squad for this reasons. Despite all his friends taunting him that he was “gay” he was the star of the show because he was unusual in such a largely female environment.

    Nonetheless, I don’t much care for this sort of argument — the critical mass argument — since it is at the root of all sorts of government intervention. The fact is that the physical differences are manifested on the inside as well as the outside. Black males tend to have particular muscular structures, and tend to be taller, so they tend to be better at specific types of sports. (Moreover the culture they often grow up in is even more relevant here.) Women tend, in general, for good genetic reasons , to be interested in children, and so tend to end up on child oriented professions such as teaching. The lack of Y chromosomes in the faculty of elementary schools, or the lack of pale skin in the NBA is not an indication of discrimination against males and white boys. It is a consequence of genetics and culture, not something that needs fixed by bumbling bureaucrats. So too when results point otherwise with white males and other unpopular groups.

  35. >I think you’re wrong about polymathism being a recent hacker trait.

    You misunderstand my claim, then. I think it’s always been there, but I think its weight in the vector sum that points to hacker is increasing. Partly due to my example.

    >You’re fame isn’t omnitemporal in nature ;^).

    And a good thing, too. What years were you in college?

    If it was after about 1996, you were probably influenced by people who were influenced by my writings from 1992 onwards. It is not necessary, or even particularly likely, that you would be aware of this.

  36. Since I”m a Calvinist, I can say that a Calvinist way of stating it would be, “My son if you are predestined according to the process of election, you shall be a hacker.”

  37. ESR: ’96-93. Trust me, I was several years removed from being corrup^H^H^H^H^H^Htouched by your influence. Didn’t know anything about hackers outside of the collection of loaners that I knew in high school and college. The only examples I had was Waz, Gates, etc. and other stereotypes, and even they were pretty removed from my little South Texas life.

    I’m kinda the hacker’s country cousin :^).

    Considering I grew up on a farm, and surrounded by rednecks, it’s pretty damned amazing I’ve gotten as far as I have. Of course, it helps knowing that I’m pretty much the smartest guy in the room at any given time :^).

  38. Not northern China, Tibet.

    I accept that as a friendly correction, and an observation on my relative ignorance of Asian geography. :-)

  39. From Jay Maynard:

    Cathy: are you sure that’s not more wisdom of the kind displayed by a certain other Calvin?

    Yes, actually. The Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes doesn’t need to know the Way; he’s found it, or at least he’f found his own path to it. More importantly, he doesn’t expect to become a Hacker, or anything else, overnight.

  40. The original querent just responded as follows:

    >And thus, the young one was enlightened…

  41. > 2. The dispersion of female IQ around the mean is slightly less. This means there are fewer female idiots, but also fewer female geniuses.

    Strangely enough, I attended a charter school where the barrier to admission was having an IQ 2SD > average. There were more female students than males. Make what you will of that.

    The relative absence of female hackers I think is more due to the effect of what I’d call a “molasses ceiling”. Even when the actual firm barriers to entry are absent, the proportional size of a minority group intimidates potential newcomers away from the field.

    The annoying part is that impatience for the high level of viscosity in getting minority groups into a certain field is the motivation for many counterproductive regulatory measures.

  42. Strangely enough, I attended a charter school where the barrier to admission was having an IQ 2SD > average. There were more female students than males. Make what you will of that.

    That’s not surprising at all, actually. Girls mature — mentally and physically — more quickly than boys. As such, given any boy and girl of equal age, it is statistically more likely that the girl will have a higher IQ.

    The relative absence of female hackers I think is more due to the effect of what I’d call a “molasses ceiling”. Even when the actual firm barriers to entry are absent, the proportional size of a minority group intimidates potential newcomers away from the field.

    It’s been shown that girls tend to lack interest, and as such lag behind boys in mathematics and science. Some say this is due to teaching methods, but I think it’s just the difference between the way males and females think. Males tend think more linearly, while girls tend to think in more of a circular nature.

  43. > Males tend think more linearly, while girls tend to think in more of a circular nature.

    Can someone please explain to me, though examples, what the hell this means? I’m not sure whether it’s a terrible metaphor or whether I’m just so far toward one end of the spectrum that I’m incapable of conceiving of the other.

  44. # Daniel Franke Says:
    > Can someone please explain to me, though
    > examples, what the hell this means?

    Yes, compare breadth first search against depth first search.

  45. > 3. Most women do not mix well with asocial, nerdy, hyper-focused, quasi-autistic men. I think this is a major reason they tend to select themselves out of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors in college.

    Interestingly, my experience in this hasn’t been that girls have a hard time fitting in with the “introverts” in my major (remember, there are female introverts too!). Rather, they are forced out by obnoxious cavemen who view Engineering and Science as a “man’s field”. There was in guy in my CS class who, when a girl raised her hand to ask a valid question about C++’s handling of Unicode characters, blurted out to a full ~250 person lecture hall, “She can’t do Computer Science, because she’s a woman!” I was shocked when he said this, but I was even more shocked when the insult was met with widespread laughter in the room. I wanted to tell her after class that her question was actually a good one, but I also didn’t want to sound patronizing or sleazy, so I didn’t.

    Note: In the interest of scientific accuracy, it is important to understand that it is quite possible that my campus is full of evolutionary dead-ends from the last major leap that the rest of mankind made, a thought which I myself have given serious consideration. The technical term for these odd creatures is “frat boy”.

    I am starting to learn that I seem to be an oddity in the STEM majors – I have no problem socializing with people who aren’t totally obnoxious (and find that it can be enjoyable), but I am an “introvert at heart”, so I can only do it for so long. It seems to me that a lot of the people in my department not only prefer to be alone, but will become violent if not given the opportunity to do so. My roommate, for example, sits inside all day and curses the outside world, which is considered normal behavior.

    Wow, that was a long-winded comment.

  46. Jessica & Jay – Thanks so much for the kind words. (And no, I don’t write articles on beer and wine, but I do grow orchids, play bridge & tennis, and am very excited to be getting my iPad 3G on Friday). I found this discussion interesting, but only lightly touching on what I think is far more important than mind sets. I think there are simply different mindsets, unrelated to gender. For example, in this quote:

    “1. The capacity for monomaniacal task focus is less common in women (probably related to their lower rate of autism-spectrum disorders).
    2. The dispersion of female IQ around the mean is slightly less. This means there are fewer female idiots, but also fewer female geniuses.
    3. Most women do not mix well with asocial, nerdy, hyper-focused, quasi-autistic men. I think this is a major reason they tend to select themselves out of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors in college.”

    Did you know that when engineers marry, there is a higher degree of autistic children from those unions? Autism & Asperger rates tend to be higher in Washington near Microsoft, near UCLA, and near MIT. I think many of us share some of those same traits. I certainly do. I took math and physics classes because they dealt in hard facts, and had conclusions, rather than have multiple interpretations such as in lit classes. I’m an introvert, but love to simplify what I see as an amazing array of data, so I’ve ended up teaching. I get sick to my stomach before standing up to speak because I’m so ill at ease around strangers, but my love of the art of computers gets me past it. It’s not hard for me to socialize with asocial, nerdy, hyper-focused, quasi-autistic men, because that pretty well describes me (except for the gender).

    Fortunately, I married (on the third try) a social, wonderful, supportive man who helps me make my way through this world. Without him, I would probably stay at home on my computer because that’s where I’m more secure. I didn’t go the hacking route, but did spend some time trying to identify and defeat hackers. There’s something in me that sees that as just one more problem that needs a solution. I’ve been very fortunate to have found a life doing what I love to do. After 45 years, I still get excited when I see new technology that I can’t wait to get my hands on (hence my excitement about the iPad). For a frame of reference, my first program was to write an entire payroll system on a 4K IBM 1401 that took up half a room. My second program was to hard-wire a 60x to sort some cards. This was in 1965, when most of you weren’t yet a gleam in your parents’ eyes.

  47. esr just pointed out that I might be offending many people here when I used the term ‘defeat hackers’ rather than ‘crackers’. I was using the term as it was defined in the past – before ‘crackers’ was used. It’s a matter of age, but in the current definition, I’m a hacker through and through. My apologies to all.

  48. >I was using the term as it was defined in the past – before ‘crackers’ was used.

    Actually, you’re missing some history. Around here, we use the term “hacker” in its correct and original meaning, which has never changed. The term “cracker” was promulgated after idiot journalists got the meaning of “hacker” wrong, as an attempt to get them to stop the abuse. Your phrasing suggests you are from outside the culture and got taken in by the journalists. Sadly, this is not uncommon.

    If you wonder about my grounds to make such an assertion, see this. There are not very many topics on which I can claim to be the world’s authority, but this is one of them.

  49. j Says:
    > “She can’t do Computer Science, because she’s a woman!”

    I hadn’t read this thread for a while, but I find this comment amazing. I would never have guessed that a comment like that would not be shouted down in the PC world of college campuses. FWIW, if it had been me I would have appreciated it if you had come up to me afterward and said that you appreciated my question, and that you wanted me to know that not all the guys in there were neanderthals.

    I will tell you women do deal with this sort of thing, I am just shocked that it would happen in a place like a college lecture.

  50. Regarding women entrepreneurs — women tend to be entrepreneurs who do their own risk aggregation. They run smaller scale businesses that rarely rely on much angel funding far less VC. My experience is that women are very cautious about giving away equity, or committing to an exit strategy early in the process.

    If you examine what a VC does (even a decent VC group), they aggregate twenty one-trick ponies anticipating that one pony will live through the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

    Men seem to be very confident that they are the 1:20.

    Women tend to like to create businesses that have more than one idea, and hedge their bets for a lower possible gain, but a more secure prognosis.

    This is just observational over years of geekery and general experience with women in management (superset of entrepreneurs).

    Now, I do believe that the VC model is broken because it insists on each company having just one idea, because that fits their model of risk aggregation. And, they tend to find young men who will forgo bathing and eat cold pizza and live in code shacks for two years like slaves in order to have a 1:20 chance of making something of their idea. Personally I think this is HUGELY exploitative of young mens’ lack of clue — they spend two years playing executive but rarely having the time to explore anything of managing the business other than the product launch, and then when they can’t maintain the business, they’re replaced as CEO, and *decide* to be serial entrepreneurs, which allows the same VCs to rinse and repeat.

    Yes, young men may enjoy this kind of obsessive monastic hacking, but they might enjoy crack too. I often wonder what they’d grow up like if they were allowed to at least go into triathalons, instead of being only allowed in as sprinters.

    I consider myself to be competing mostly against myself and entropy. I am not competing against every other entrepreneur out there, and that also seems to be a big part of high profile entrepreneur culture.

    So, speaking for myself (and gods help me, I am now the CEO of my own startup for the first time at 50), I find my desire to create and build a good company is incompatible with the modern requirements of the VC and most angel funded models. We’re working to launch by gentle steps, lean, with minimal funding, with the understanding that that’s the default case, even if something else comes up we can accept.

  51. >(The name, however, is a reference to a classic collection of Buddhist scripture called the Tripitaka.)

    i know the baskets reference (“Monkey!”), but prefer in this context:

    “Tripithacker”

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