Who Wants To Be A Hacker?

April 16th, 2010 |

Over the last year or so a few various people have asked me about how I got into hacking on and writing code. I’d love to get a bunch of people together at various levels of experience and interest in writing code — from never having written a single line on up — to talk about the hows and whys. Could be a workshop, could be a general discussion, could be anything. Maybe even a live-coding session (which I think would be super-fun)

I think that something around getting started writing code could be really interesting, especially in terms of teasing out ideas of what, with apologies to @digitalhumanist, a “Digital Humanist” is. Does a digital humanist need to write code? Work closely with someone who writes code? Is the coder also a digital humanist? Know enough not to panic when they see code?

That’d be an approach more toward discussion. Something more workshoppy  could look at code basics, or could have a series of etudes in developing code that solves particular problems. Sort of a hacking basic training.

Thanks…can’t wait to hear about all the ideas from you all!

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19 Responses to “Who Wants To Be A Hacker?”

  1. Alan Levine Says:

    “I can still remember that first line…” 🙂

    Love the idea but would be wary if overloading the people at one end of the instruction with the other.

    Maybe you could pair a “non-techie” with a techie and have them work together to conceptualize some idea (would need some parameters to keep it simple), like a version of Seven on Seven www.rhizome.org/sevenonseven/

    If it were me, I would set it up to use an “accesible” coding platform like JavaScript.

    Fun, fun, THAT fun.

  2. patrickmj Says:


    Good call–I figured javascript would be a good starting place, especially since all you need is a browser. I also like the idea of ditching what usually the first steps (here’s a loop, here’s a branch), and dive right in to objects. It’s a lot of conceptual leaps, but I often like to push the big conceptual leaps early and often!


  3. Amanda French Says:

    I’ve meant for years to learn to code — even started a JavaScript class — and haven’t been able to make a breakthrough. The whole logic thing escapes me; it’s so very very abstract. I don’t understand when to set a variable, for instance. If that helps.

    I *want* to be a hacker. Please help me!

  4. patrickmj Says:


    Ooh! Interesting! But you are good at logic, and abstraction. Ya can’t be a humanist without that. I wonder if it’s just an odd / awkward format or notation? Dunno. I’d love to figure out what that barrier actually is.

    Here’s a possibility about variables. Think of them like bookmarks in your browser or delicious. They’re just a piece of info that you know you want to come back to at some point.

    The difference is that, unlike bookmarks, you get to name them yourself.

    It sounds like there might be interesting interest. And even better, much more for coders to learn about what the obstacles are to getting more hackers in the world.


  5. Alex Says:


    I would absolutely love this. I’ve wanted to know my way around a script for years now, just never finding the appropriate time to plant the seed. Python, Javascript, and Java have all caught my eye – I am looking forward to this panel!

  6. Amanda French Says:

    Yeah, except that not only do you get to *name* that “piece” of info, you apparently get to / have to define what constitutes a “piece” of info in the first place. That’s where I got lost in my JavaScript class. (And I do name my bookmarks — right click, Properties. 🙂 )

    See, what I’m arguing here is that it’s impossible for human beings to learn to code. Which is unassailable, right?

  7. Digital Humanities Is a Spectrum; or, We’re All Digital Humanists Now | The Backward Glance Says:

    […] ethos of inclusion. It’s the ethos that says, I’m a coder and you’re not, so let me teach you, or let me build the tools you need. It’s the ethos that says texts and tools should be […]

  8. patrickmj Says:


    Absolutely unassailable reasoning on any front!

    Interesting points about needing to define what constitutes a piece of info….I think I see what you mean. We can attack that and get a handle on it. Easy!

  9. Patrick Murray-John Says:

    It sounds so far like the responses tend toward wanting to see code and how to put it together?

    If that’s accurate, I’m thinking of maybe a mini-live-hacking session. Would it be useful to put together in the session a wee javascript app that’d take a set of data about people, and turn it into a web page? It’d be a good fire-hose of components of coding and hacking, we could meander in whatever directions interest people as the code comes together, etc. If that sounds happy, I’d think about how to do it so that everyone who wants to could live-hack the app as it is being built.

    Is that a direction that’d be interesting/useful?

  10. JM Says:

    Patrick, I’d be happy to be your TA.

  11. Chad Black Says:

    I’d be totally interested in this as well. I’ve wanted to learn to code something, anything for a while, but I keep finding myself in Amanda’s unassailable camp. I think it’s more a limitation of DIY, than a limitation of capacity– ie, a little in-person instruction can go a long way.

  12. cjceglio Says:

    I like the direction this has moved in because I’m presently in the “you’re not” camp. And, like Chad, I’ve wanted to learn for awhile but for reasons I won’t bother with here it just hasn’t happened. Count me in.

  13. Kata Says:

    Hello, i am busy in surfing with net for my blog. I want to keep all ideas for my website. Thanks for the useful information on that. I will come here to check out the development.

  14. Bethany Nowviskie Says:

    Patrick, you might think about doing a “public reading” of a piece of simple code — kind of in the @sramsay mode — as a way of demonstrating how unscary and even humanistic it can be…

  15. karindalziel Says:

    Patrick, I love the idea of a live hacking session. Maybe right before lunch so we can stick with it if it takes too long. 😉

    I’ve moved from “non-coder” to “awkward-coder”. I’m still not ready to call myself a programmer. Whenever I have to go back to code I’ve written to fix/modify it, I feel like I have forgotten everything I knew and have to learn it again. Part of this is because I’m not a full time coder, but another part, I think, is getting the programming precepts to stick in my brain.

  16. Patrick Murray-John Says:

    Here’s a link to a starter html file. You might want to download your own copy to hack on.


  17. Frank Bennett Says:

    Great to see this. While it may not be appropriate to integrate into the demo/dev materials for the session, you should give a good solid plug for the importance of testing frameworks, for anything larger than a hundred code lines or so.

    Tests are liberating. Code is like any other form of writing; it may need heavy revision after the first draft. Solid tests makes that revision work easier and more certain, and they allow you to work more quickly. Tests are actually more important, in the long run, than the actual application; as a general rule they far outlast the code that they support.

    Wish I could be there with you guys — but on the other hand, I’d probably bore everyone in earshot to tears with talk along these lines … 🙂 Have a good session!

  18. Libby Thompson Says:

    I have been coding for a few years now in C+. It is a hard language but once you get to grips with it, you can easily master it and code what ever you need. I have made a small hacking framework with a GUI which was pretty good. As I am a pentester, I count on my own tools to work for me.

  19. plr articles Says:

    Just added more knowledge to my “library-head” 😀


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