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Editorial Hardware Hacking Technology Build

The Hacker Lifecycle 77

Posted by Soulskill
from the pollination-fertilization-budding-and-dispersal dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Hacker Benjamin Smith deconstructs the cycle of education, production, and rest that will be familiar to many software and hardware engineers. He breaks it down into four steps: 1) Focused effort toward a goal, 2) structured self-education, 3) side-projects to sharpen skills, and 4) burnout and rest. He writes, 'As my motivation waxes at the beginning of a cycle, I find myself with a craving to take steps towards that goal. I do so by starting a project which focuses on one thing only: building a new income stream. As a result of this single-mindedness, the content or subject of the project is often less interesting than it otherwise might have been. ... [Later], I almost always decide to teach myself a new technical skill or pick up some new technology. ... This is usually the most satisfying period of my cycle. I am learning a new skill or technology which I know will enhance my employability, allow me to build things I previously could only have daydreamed about, and will ultimately be useful for many years to come. ... [In the burnout phase], I'll spend this period as ferociously devoted to my leisure activities as I was to my productive tasks. But after a few months of this, I start to feel an itch...'"
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The Hacker Lifecycle

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  • by cellocgw (617879) <cellocgw@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday April 14, 2013 @07:49AM (#43445529) Journal

    I think this is a reasonable description of 'most everyone's productivity cycles. Granted I'm just another more-or-less Asperger's engineer/physicist with a strong love of music, but take a look at writers, artists, or almost any field of endeavor. You'll find people's output varies significantly over time. Vacations help too. :-) . The ability to take on side-projects without feeling guilty is probably a very handy thing in one's life.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @09:35AM (#43445855) Journal

      I think this is a reasonable description of 'most everyone's productivity cycles. Granted I'm just another more-or-less Asperger's engineer/physicist with a strong love of music, but take a look at writers, artists, or almost any field of endeavor. You'll find people's output varies significantly over time. Vacations help too. :-) . The ability to take on side-projects without feeling guilty is probably a very handy thing in one's life.

      Paid vacations (or similar) and adequate non-work time are a key in maintaining long-term productivity. The occasional side-project on the job is essential in maintaining your intellectual capital. Alas, if you are unfortunate enough to work for a major corporation in a fungible role (i.e. one where you can be easily replaced), then your long-term productivity and intellectual development are mere costs to be eliminated. This results in significant differences:
      1) Focused effort toward a goal, This is good, provided the goal came from Marketing, was approved by numerous committees, and was not one you dreamed up yourself
      2) structured self-education, Unnecessary, as you should know everything required for your job already
      3) side-projects to sharpen skills, Time-wasting, especially because you should know everything required for your job already
      4) burnout and rest. Burnout happens, then you're discarded and can rest without remuneration

      • by twosat (1414337)

        Men of lofty genius are most active when they are doing the least work. - Leonardo da Vinci

    • by metlin (258108)

      You should watch Stefan Sagmeister's "The Power of Time Off" [ted.com] -- great TED talk on the value of taking a break.

  • From my experience, the cycle more describes a "typical" workaholic.

    CC.

    • by rve (4436)

      From my experience, the cycle more describes a "typical" workaholic.

      CC.

      A Hacker Specific addition would be a remarkably short number of cycles before age related obsolescence is reached.

  • You're focussing on the result, rather than the activity.

    A no-no in most spritual guides inspired by Hindu philosophy or Buddhism.

    -- hendrik

    • Here the intended result, of course, is an "income stream".

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Here the intended result, of course, is an "income stream".

        Yeah, WTF! The guy was writing a library to support a new API called IncomeStream - I guess IOStream would be the parent?

        1. money = new IncomeStream

        2. compile and run

        3. Profit?

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @07:57AM (#43445567)

    It's more like

    1) Yay, a new project!
    2) Yay, I learn stuff!
    3) Ok, let's start implementing.
    4) Bah, it's trivial, it's boring.

    It's really hard to motivate me to do something trivial. Sadly, that's also what works is like in most areas. You do stuff you already know quite well. And that is just simply boring.

    I guess I suffer more often from bore-out than burnout.

    • by Fallingcow (213461) on Monday April 15, 2013 @12:30AM (#43449713) Homepage

      Ditto.

      Fucked me in school.

      "Write a paper on X". Cool. Read about X, learn about X, sit down to write paper that will be read once and thrown in the trash and that a billion other people have already written... motivation goes out the window. I can already write well (I've written 1,000 of these goddamn things) and I already know the material that's going in the paper. No one truly cares about what I'm about to write—no one needs it, and no one really even wants it. Suddenly a blank wall is more interesting.

      Give me a real need to learn something or just let my curiosity take me where it will, and I'm the world's most dangerous carnivore. I'll run a problem down and eat its damn heart, then take out the rest of the herd for funsies. Otherwise? I'm probably boned.

      The elimination of the uselessness of the end product that comes with doing actual work rather than "homework" has helped a lot, but it's still something I have to fight, years later. The multi-year process of adjusting my image of the way thought I ought to be to accommodate the fact that I simply was not compatible with a formal educational setting really sucked. Those were some sad years full of serious self-loathing. My self-loathing is far more lighthearted now :-)

      I still hate maintaining systems and chasing bugs that don't require much sleuthing. Any time I'm required to make some "quick hacks" to fix something in an ugly way for lack of time is a bad day, and I'll go home in a bad mood and show up the next day in a bad mood. I'm probably the happiest at work either designing systems or fixing things that have broken in strange ways, when I'm fully engaged in a problem for hours on end. Exercising the clever-muscle in my brain is great and makes the hours fly like nothing else, and playing grown-up legos when designing is fun. Practically everything else about being a programmer sucks, but WTF else am I going to do? At least it's fun some of the time, which beats most jobs.

      As with any personal trait or behavior I'd guess I'm far from being alone.

  • I am learning a new skill or technology which I know will enhance my employability

    After 40 I just don't care what gives Lumberg a stiffy anymore, new skills entertain me. Business's needs change daily and it's always the shiny new skill they gotta have, proficiency is always an afterthought. Like a room full of tweens waiting for Beiber to puke up something new. I hate peppy, gushing with all that enthusiasm (its like a tampon commercial), they'll beat that out of ya after a few years kid.

  • The trick is; to multitask all the steps at once.
    or
    Have several focuses juggled at once.
    and
    Be at different steps in multiple projects.
    but
    Hurry up and wait.
    therefore
    You have the node to begin yet another branch, let's try applied recursion in complex systems through archaeological evidence on various timelines, compare, contrast and map the algorithm to natural phenomena. That should hold us til dinner.

    • by dkf (304284)

      The trick is; to multitask all the steps at once.

      But that strengthens the burnout when it hits.

      • by flyneye (84093)

        The deeper you go , the higher you fly
        The higher you fly, the deeper you go
        so c'mon -"everbody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey " -Lennon/McArtney

  • Stupid n00b. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Alex Belits (437) *

    Those goals still form the focus of my motivation, even 7 years after I first wrote them down.

    lol n00b

    One of the most important is financial independence – I want my day job to be a lifestyle choice, not a requirement.

    Translation: "I can't function in a society, and never will have any joy until I am rich enough to do whatever I want".
    Here is the reality: you will never be that rich. No one ever will.

    • Re:Stupid n00b. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 14, 2013 @09:52AM (#43445921)

      You are the noob because you don't know what financial independence means. It isn't about having as much money to do whatever you want, it is about having enough that you will be "secure" regardless of the other circumstances of your life. And if you have a family then security for them as well.

      1. First come basic survival needs - shelter, food, clothing
      2. Then basic "emotional fulfillment" needs - communication, entertainment (internet, in person socialization, access to common culture).

      3. And finally, after the personal needs are met, the opportunity to contribute to a chosen cause or idea that the individual deems as worthwhile. Working so some executive can afford more hookers and blow, or so stockholders get a bigger dividend is not my personal choice for a worthy cause but I understand that others don't feel the same way.

      Sadly on this planet only a relatively small percentage of people get past phase 1. In the "developed" world only a handful, mostly who inherit their wealth, make it past stage 2.

      "Joy" as you put it is difficult to truly experience when you know you are one accident away from being jobless and then homeless. Doubly so if you are providing for a family.

      • by mspohr (589790)

        This is a very insightful comment.
        I did not inherit money but I did receive a good education so I am fortunate in that I have been able to provide level 1 for all of my working life. Level 2 has been easy with friends and family (and not too much focus on work). Of course, you have to get past level 1 to avoid the "nose to the grindstone" but it's also about setting priorities. Having a business in town allowed me to fully participate in raising our children (such as going to all of their soccer gam

        • by jelizondo (183861) *

          Very interesting comments, both yours and GP.

          However, money is not the issue.

          To quote Saint Francis: I need little and the little I need, I need little.

          As someone else pointed out, I'll never be a rich man, like Gates, Buffet o Slim. However, being poor means not having that which you need, if you need little, then you are rich with little money.

          Years ago I used to work 18 hours a day (true), going about with 2-3 hours of sleep per night. I was not happy, was making a lot of money but was NOT happy.

          One day,

      • by Alex Belits (437) *

        "Joy" as you put it is difficult to truly experience when you know you are one accident away from being jobless and then homeless.

        But everyone always is. Actually everyone is one accident away from being dead, it just depends on the accident, however all those things are pretty common, people just don't realize that until it happens to them.

      • Thanks for the Insightful post. Is there a souce for where this three phase idea comes from?
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          Thanks for the Insightful post. Is there a souce for where this three phase idea comes from?

          It's just a simplified version of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

    • I was about to flame and disagree with you, then I read the article.

      The guy feels guilty every time he's not working towards his 'life goals' (which mainly to him seems to be getting rich). Then since he feels guilty he just mopes around.

      It may take decades or even full lifetimes before he finally reaches the 'rich enough to not work' goal. In the meantime, he needs to realize that money is only a means to an end, and he should arrange his work so it helps him reach that end. If he wants to invent the f
  • by JustNiz (692889) on Sunday April 14, 2013 @09:11AM (#43445775)

    Sounds to me this cycle he describes is mostly because he's yet another developer who only does web-based stuff to get rich quick and thinks the minimal requirement to run any software includes a browser and a backend server. The internet is a short-term fickle place so isn't going to be a good environment for building something satisfying.

    Believe it or not there are still jobs developing software that has nothing to do with the internet. These usually are more intrinsically deep and longer-term tasks so often more deeply satisfying. I mean find a job developing a new way to do a speech recognition engine or an autopilot or something. I find that type of work much more personally meaningful than just continually trying to develop the next faddy website in the naive pursuit of getting rich quick.

    • by jrmech (2714225)
      I can write an autopilot software in less time than it takes to set up a personal webpage. while(flying){ trueHeading = poleGPS; desiredHeading = lookUpPreDefinedRoot(); headingError = trueHeading-desiredHeading; yawInput = Kp*headingError; } end while Add in some other terms for speed tracking, etc if you like :)
      • by JustNiz (692889)

        Trust me there's FAR more to it than that. Not only would your solution have passengers throwing up, spilling drinks etc, but it would fly the aircraft into mountains, the ground, other aircraft, and also be clueless about air spaces, air law, weather, speed, flight phases, controlled ascent, descent, merging and spacing, optimal flight paths for fuel saving and many other real-world issues that actual autopilots deal with.

    • Sounds to me this cycle he describes is mostly because he's yet another developer who only does web-based stuff to get rich quick and thinks the minimal requirement to run any software includes a browser and a backend server. The internet is a short-term fickle place so isn't going to be a good environment for building something satisfying.

      Believe it or not there are still jobs developing software that has nothing to do with the internet. These usually are more intrinsically deep and longer-term tasks so often more deeply satisfying. I mean find a job developing a new way to do a speech recognition engine or an autopilot or something. I find that type of work much more personally meaningful than just continually trying to develop the next faddy website in the naive pursuit of getting rich quick.

      Uhm, speach recognition is a solved problem. So is autopilot. You don't see more speech to text stuff because it's either slower / less intuitive than other input methods, or the application is great, but you discover the patent minefield that exists there. I can tell my digital assistant to dim the lights, or have it turn them back on and pause the show automatically when I get up and go get a snack -- That's easy. It's hooked into Linux MCE. However, if I want to sell the AI and whole home AV / autom

      • by JustNiz (692889)

        You have to be joking. Speech recognition is FAR from a solved problem. Our current systems suck ass compared to the ability of a human to understand speech. OK you want more of a challenge? try natural language processing or software that can do cognitive language reasoning.

        >> When your life is measured in decades, I'm afraid that short term is the only way to go if you want to accomplish anything at all.

        Not true at all. There are many individuals who have gone from 0 to changing the world in less th

  • 1) hey I could learn that new thing, it could be very useful in a year
    2) hey, I should learn that thing, it would be useful in a year
    3) hey, that sounds interesting, maybe I should learn it?
    4) hey, that sounds interesting.
    5) neat.
    6) Hey, what is this thing in my To Learn bookmarks? [ Site unavailable or resource moved ] Oh well.

    Not to mentioning balancing my no learning with no ability to do much because of my Crohns Disease being very easily activated by medium-ish activity.

    Luckily I knew a lot previous

    • Yeah.. I've been reviving some old code, too. 1978 old. It was greate while I was busy with it, then I got to a part of the spec I didn't care much about (because I thought the design was wrong) and it became a drag. I also spent some time on an unfinished novel, threw together an absolutely trivial 3D video game, tinkered witl the lumiera documentation. All in spare time, and it's great!

  • 5. Communication

    So, you've built something, or at least you've learned something. Then you need to go to conferences, meetups, bars, whatever floats your social boat and explain what you did. Memorialize it in blog posts, articles, or documentation (please?). Even a failed project will spin off some small piece that stands by itself and fills a need somewhere.

    • by darenw (74015)

      Insightful beyond all the other insightful posts for this discussion. Communication is so often ignored by engineers and technical creatives. A blog post, article, whatever can be found by potential new employers or clients. This can pay off big, perhaps as income or perhaps as an excellent opportunity beneficial in other ways.

      One time, I landed a key position in an exciting project because one decision-maker saw some of my paintings online. Another time, it was my web pages on some personal side proje

  • Vialka combine the manic, stop-start spasticity characteristic of so much proggy avant-rock with a melodic sense that draws straight from Eastern European folk and what I ignorantly categorize in my head as “French music.” There’s a sense of whimsy that’s very un-American going on in their writing, which probably makes them sound ridiculous to some of the more jaded types out there, but gives them a certain irrepressible charm for me.

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