Copyright © 1998-2011,2013 by Thomas E. Dickey

I do not consider myself a hacker, though inevitably there are people who will use the term. You may be amused by this.

When I first encountered the term, in 1973, it was brought out in the negative sense: a person who lacks the discipline to carry out a structured approach to a problem, but has enough insight to accomplish a "good enough" (albeit incomplete) solution.

I responded that it sounded much like the computerniks that one of my instructors had ranted about during my undergraduate years. The person who was describing hackers did not feel this was a fair comparison, since the self-designated hackers thought they were doing something good. But I said that I did not care to be a hacker.

A few years later (1975), the wife of one of my associates breezed into the lab, announcing "Tom Dickey, top hacker on the East Coast". Not sure if I was being complimented, I asked what the "East Coast" had to do with that. Her response, "All of the really top hackers are on the West Coast" appealed to my sense of irony, and I was amused.

About ten years after that, one of my managers said that he had heard that I was a "hacker of the very finest sort". By then it had acquired the additional sense of someone who breaks into computers, and I pointed that out. His intent, however, was to satisfy his curiosity regarding how I thought I ranked compared to other people in my field. Perhaps he thought that I would say that I was better than all the rest, at any rate he appeared unsatisfied.

Rather than being a hacker, I am an engineer. At one point (long ago), I thought the term "systems analyst" sounded more appropriate, until I found that it had acquired the connotation of a person who knows how to program in Cobol. So I dropped that notion.


computerniks, described as "people who will get on your computer, and you won't be able to get them off".

East Coast, in the United States any state which borders on the Atlantic Ocean, as well as a few that do not.

West Coast: during most of the 70's, popular myth to the contrary, Stanford and Berkeley dominated the computer science community; once I asked about MIT and was told that "they don't produce anything".

crackers is an alternate term preferred by soi disant hackers, although there is some evidence that one of the latter attempted to break into more than one of my computer accounts. So perhaps there is no real distinction to be made here.