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In praise of hackers

The word ‘hacker’ still has, in this day and age, a number of negative connotations, from the politically motivated workings of groups like Anonymous and the Syrian Electronic Army to security breaches such as the recent Snapchat scandal. But ‘hacker’ may soon become shorthand for someone who is creative and collaborative, with sophisticated technical skills.

In her article #Hackademics: How Hacker Culture Is Changing Recruitment, Siya Raj Purohit differentiates the hackers of today from widespread anarchic assumptions; “Hacking in the tech community refers to rapid prototyping and quick learning and iteration from failures. It emphasizes the sense of creativity in solving problems in unconventional ways.” Hackathons, says Purohit, are “breeding grounds for cultivating such a mindset.”

Hackathons are highly collaborative events which originated at Facebook before becoming a global phenomenon, and are helping to reshape the traditional career trajectory of developers and creators. According to Purohit, universities and tech companies across the United States have opened their doors to hackers, providing food and drink to fuel productivity. “These hackathons are producing extraordinary products,” says Purohit, “and give students the support to develop personal projects, interact with others in the tech community and get recruited by companies seeking to hire from a limited talent pool.”

Start-ups such as Techruit (the creation of three Pennsylvania students) are helping students to make connections in the tech industry, by assessing the individual’s programming skills and enabling companies to make the decision as to whether or not to extend an invitation to interview. “These recent educational trends are highlighting a cultural shift in society,” says Purohit.

Last year we profiled just a few of the bright young kids who have built media and technology empires in their teens, without any formal training, just self-taught skills and gumption. Purohit believes that this trend will continue to grow in the future, and as such, conventional grading models no longer apply to individuals seeking to make it big in the tech world: “The future lies in the person, not the number, and rightly so.”

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