Wannabes Are The Cancer That Kills Everything

Our favorite blogger who specializes in the human side of technology, Jeff Atwood, has brought to light the distressing story of how many candidates who show up for programming job interviews can’t program. He, and many of the comments appended, marvel at this phenomena. But it’s not so surprising, when you stop and think about it. They’re wannabe “hackers”.

Nobody wanted to be a hacker at first. Then trashy movies like “War Games” and “Hackers” came out, and people got the idea that hackers get to have sex with Angelina Jolie and start their own nuclear wars, so hence must be “cool.”

It’s a phenomenon older than civilization itself. It’s the same mentality that leads people to call themselves “geek” because they saw “Star Wars,” or call themselves “gangsta” because they wear their baseball cap backwards, or call themselves “bikers” because they wear a leather jacket, or call themselves “bi,” “poly,” or “kinky” because that’s the kind of porn they download.

Here’s a key to telling if you’re a wannabe: If you’d never heard of the “hacker” subculture, would you still be interested in writing computer programs? Because natural members of a subculture or lifestyle have the tendency first, then wander the Earth thinking of themselves as a misfit until they discover that there are other like them. Then they fall with relief into that culture or lifestyle, saying “at last I’ve found my place!” If this is you, then you’re not a wannabe.

But: If it never occurred to you to be interested in what makes computers work, until you first heard the world “hacker” and got curious and then saw some hacker culture and thought it looked and sounded cool and then you started calling yourself a “hacker” and got more into it until, perhaps even in the future, it finally comes to your attention that at the center of this subculture is the career of programming computers. If this is you, we have some bad news for you…