You Might Be an Old Hacker If…

It occurred to me recently that I’ve been using the Internet for almost 18 years now. That doesn’t put me into any particularly elite category since there were a lot of users way before I came along, but it does make me feel old to know that there are students in college now who were born after I started using the Internet.

Are you an old hacker like me? You might be if you…

  • …Remember when the word “hacker” just meant someone who tinkered with machinery or technology.
  • …Had an e-mail address that didn’t have to have numbers in it to make it unique.
  • …First accessed the Internet through a Unix shell.
  • …Ran your own SMTP server.
  • …Remember when the web was not the same as “the Internet.”
  • …Used gopher.
  • Still use gopher.
  • …Were glad that your Netcom address didn’t have an “ix.” in it.
  • …Wrote your first web site with Notepad (or vi).
  • …Wrote your first web app with CGI.
  • …Wrote your first “web app” before that term existed.
  • …Ever said to yourself, “Make money giving stuff away? That’s stupid.”
  • …Started an Internet business, decided it was a silly idea, and then watched someone become a billionaire with the same idea. (Hi, Craigslist.)
  • …Remember the first time you used NCSA Mosaic.
  • …Kept waiting for Netscape 4.0 to just die, already.
  • …Wrote Java applets when applets were the hot new thing.
  • …Wrote an HTTP server from scratch.
  • …Wrote a DOS shareware utility.
  • …Have IRC logs older than most of your shirts.
  • …Ran an FTP server on your office PC as a nifty way to access your files from home… and nobody cared!
  • …Owned a .com domain name that began with a commonly used word.
  • …Ran Linux prior to version 1.0.
  • …Browsed a web site with telnet.
  • …Lost your job in the dot-bomb.

That last one is particularly poignant. For me, 2001 was when the Internet, and by extension the web, ceased being some kind of new frontier. Maturity of a technology isn’t measured by people making a lot of money off of it, but rather by people losing a lot of money off of it. It was kind of hard knowing that I was out-of-work in a town (Seattle) where a barista at Starbucks probably had a better technology résumé than I did… and a job!

Just last week I became the last geek in the world to get a real smartphone (BlackBerries don’t count). As I marvel at all that I’m able to do with a remarkably inexpensive piece of equipment that can fit in my pocket, for which I’ve only spent a grand total of $2.99 in third-party software, I’m really glad that I’m an old hacker who got to watch this amazing world grow up right in front of me. You young kids don’t know how easy you have it.

(I’m sure there are a lot of you out there that were hacking in and around the ‘net way before I was. Let’s hear those war stories!)


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