Say the word "hacker" and images of malicious criminals furiously typing in a dark room come to mind.
But that connotation belies the original meaning of the word, which was a term of respect for an ace coder. Now, a new web site is aiming to dispel any and all negative stereotypes of "hackers," be they of the cybercriminal, energy-drink-swilling geek, or any other variety.
Inspired by the popular "Humans of New York" photoblog, NYU graduate Dani Grant founded Hackers of New York, a site that aims to reveal the people who do most of the work that drives most of the achievement in high tech. Launched in February, the Hackers Of community has now expanded to include Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, London, Chicago, and Seattle.
Since 2010, demand for tech workers in New York has grown at a rate more than four times higher than that for jobs in the city's other industries. But as tech companies expand, they often find that the image of the successful tech titan, from Mark Zuckerberg to Marissa Mayer, doesn't provide a true picture of the diversity, or the realities of the daily lives, of typical employees at tech companies.
Films reinforce (and exaggerate) this difference: the heads of technology companies are portrayed as cool (think Tony Stark), while the people actually sitting at computers are portrayed more negatively, often as anti-social (think Lisbeth Salander). When startups begin to take off what they need most aren't more rock-stars, but rather developers who can turn companies' dreams into reality.
That's where the Hackers Of movement steps in. The site's profiles are more about giving genuine insight into what life is like for most of the men and women do in the tech sector, rather than glamorizing them. Each post includes a picture and a quote from the featured "hacker" on anything from their motivations for entering the field to their backgrounds or passions.
The idea for Hackers of New York first came to Grant as a computer science student, when she wanted to find the best way to share her love for technology with others. "When I first started studying computer science, it fundamentally changed the way I looked at the world," Grant says.
For Grant, hackers are "people who have crafty solutions, who build things," rather than people who break through firewalls. She also cited her desire to dispel the many traits lumped together as representative of all tech workers--that they are predominately male, loners, or introverts--as her motivation for creating a platform to display the diversity of tech workers.
With many companies experiencing a technical skills gap when filling jobs, and the Obama administration still experimenting with ways to promote STEM careers, the tech industry could benefit from a successful public relations campaign. In the age of social media, hearing about tech careers from the people just starting out on them may provide others with a great window into what to expect.