Noah, a corporate software developer, and I met at a German language class when we were both living in Hamburg. As the years went by, our friendship flourished through our love for hummus and our mutual interest in tech culture. Each button, each little tiny object suddenly had a backstory, even a logic to it.
My chat app, whose features once struck me as odd, even arbitrary—a particular swipe capability, specific colors, certain moments of flashing on and off, and other bizarre ways of behaving—finally made some sense. Who made my thumb able to swipe left and not right?
When my phone collects my GPS data when I run, where does the data go, and what group of people are making the decision that my data will trigger another feature that allows me to listen to music at the speed of my running pace? Noah made me want to meet those people like him who deed the technologies saturating our daily lives, to talk to them and see what exactly they looked like, what food they ate for lunch, where they were born, and what music they listened to while coding.
Through Noah, digital media technology became nonstatic, viscose, constantly shifting like a ball of clay that a group of ly mysterious and magical people were collectively pushing and pulling on, reshaping its size, purpose, and scope. Corporate software developers are a rather enigmatic bunch of tech workers, at least when compared with the hacker, who has received far more academic and public scrutiny.
Still, these technologists make all sorts of de choices and decisions that shape the way our practices or certain forms of sociality unfold when using the digital media they create. For example, some developers are the only ones who know what beta version of an app feature is being run at what time on what specific group of users. To their bosses, their managers, their partners and mothers, and all other nondevelopers, the systems they build can even resemble the stuff of magic.
The hacker report
Their power and skill may seem nothing but hackish, especially in the eyes of nondevelopers who often only know about the world of technology from sensationalistic headlines and increasingly popular TV shows like Mr. Yet this is where things get tricky: corporate software developers vehemently deny they are hackers. Here I present an apparent paradox, common to ethnographers, through a tongue-and-cheek retelling of three stories from my field: what your respondents tell you often fails to match their actions and behavior.
As we have seen in many other ethnographies of hacker communities, hacking is about experimentation, political gestures, and craftiness Coleman Software developers are no exception. Sometimes the only difference lies in their verbal disavowal of this identity or, if pressed, they may admit to some limited resemblance: at most, they may frame their activities as a species of micro-hacking, intended for their own personal use, or only for their employer. With this in mind, I rewind a few months back to a moment before I started my ethnography at BerlinTech.
Noah and I were sitting together on the grass, enjoying the heat of July. I doubted that programmers are really superstars, the new and powerful class of worker. To do so, he would have to register himself in the Stadtamt city officeinfamous for its very annoyingly snail-slow bureaucracy.
The city of Berlin offers an online -up system for appointments, yet the downside is that the system has a three-month-long waiting list. The week, Noah explained, he had logged onto the Berlin city hall website, and managed to get an appointment for late August which, being early July, was already pretty awesome.
The only way to land an earlier spot is through a cancellation.
Understanding hacker motivations, development and outlook.
There are all sorts of little everyday examples that help us get in the backdoor of all sorts of systems that run our lives. It struck me as something similar to how the well traveled explain navigating through an airport, or how a marathon runner effortlessly describes the kilometer run they just completed. This effortlessness or ease of building a new digital tool, customizing an existent piece of infrastructure, or breaching a seemingly closed system was part of the life of being a developer in an increasingly digital society.
Software development, he insisted, is about building, about creativity, about craftiness, and about playfulness. Hackers, on the other hand, are not silent. Hackers create for something, to achieve a certain end. Sam and a few of his colleagues made their own feature for the app they were building for their company.
The art of the hack
Yet when they finished what they were doing for work, they would sometimes during office hours breach their work system, subvert their bosses, and go behind their backs and built it anyway. We try to transcend either the process or the product. But that rarely happens….
You throw ideas, but often those ideas bounce back to you, with no way to impact the structures or the culture. Hackers, on the other hand, act big.
Who are the hackers?
Hackers hack on a large scale. The software developers at BerlinTech, much like many tech companies, were encouraged by their managers to experiment. Real hackers just hack, without a third party intending to capitalize on what they are doing. As ethnographies of corporations e. This is how they gain a sense of agency and power, which can become political. Not all corporate software developers are powerful technological agents. Still, software developers do enact agency and power with their skills and capacities; their actions, however small they may seem to be, are neither mundane nor inconsequential.