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How do I tell if I am already a hacker? Ask yourself the following three questions: Do you speak code, fluently? Do you identify with the goals and values of the hacker community?
Has a well-established member of the hacker community ever called you a hacker? If you can answer yes to all three of these questions, you are already a hacker. No two alone are sufficient.
The first test is about skills. You probably pass it if you have the minimum technical skills described earlier in this document. You blow right through it if you have had a substantial amount of code accepted by an open-source development project. The second test is about attitude.
If the five principles of the hacker mindset seemed obvious to you, more like a description of the way you already live than anything novel, you are already halfway to passing it.
That's the inward half; the other, outward half is the degree to which you identify with the hacker community's long-term projects. Here is an incomplete but indicative list of some of those projects: Does it matter to you that Linux improve and spread? Are you passionate about software freedom?
Do you act on the belief that computers can be instruments of empowerment that make the world a richer and more humane place? But a note of caution is in order here. The hacker community has some specific, primarily defensive political interests — two of them are defending free-speech rights and fending off "intellectual-property" power grabs that would make open source illegal.
Some of those long-term projects are civil-liberties organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the outward attitude properly includes support of them.
But beyond that, most hackers view attempts to systematize the hacker attitude into an explicit political program with suspicion; we've learned, the hard way, that these attempts are divisive and distracting.
If someone tries to recruit you to march on your capitol in the name of the hacker attitude, they've missed the point. In the far past, hackers were a much less cohesive and self-aware group than they are today.
But the importance of the social-network aspect has increased over the last thirty years as the Internet has made connections with the core of the hacker subculture easier to develop and maintain. One easy behavioral index of the change is that, in this century, we have our own T-shirts.
Sociologists, who study networks like those of the hacker culture under the general rubric of "invisible colleges", have noted that one characteristic of such networks is that they have gatekeepers — core members with the social authority to endorse new members into the network.
Because the "invisible college" that is hacker culture is a loose and informal one, the role of gatekeeper is informal too. But one thing that all hackers understand in their bones is that not every hacker is a gatekeeper.
Gatekeepers have to have a certain degree of seniority and accomplishment before they can bestow the title.
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