Portrait of J. Random Hacker 

Extracts from The Jargon File.  Additional comments (in italics) by me.

NB:  ‘Hacker’ is used in the correct sense of ‘tinkering techie, coder, geek’ rather than ‘system cracker’ though we know the guys are be that too.


General Appearance

Intelligent. Scruffy. Intense. Abstracted. Surprisingly for a sedentary profession, more hackers run to skinny than fat; both extremes are more common than elsewhere. Tans are rare.


Casual, vaguely post-hippie; T-shirts, jeans, running shoes, Birkenstocks (or bare feet). Long hair, beards, and moustaches are common. High incidence of tie-dye and intellectual or humorous `slogan' T-shirts.

A substantial minority prefers `outdoorsy' clothing -- hiking boots ("in case a mountain should suddenly spring up in the machine room", as one famous parody put it), khakis, lumberjack or chamois shirts, and the like.

After about 1995 hacker dress styles assimilated some influence from punk, gothic, and rave subcultures. This was relatively mild and has manifested mostly as a tendency to wear a lot of black, especially when `dressed up' to the limit of formality. Other markers of those subcultures such as piercings, chains, and dyed hair remain relatively uncommon. Hackers appear to wear black more because it goes with everything and hides dirt than because they want to look like goths.

Hackers dress for comfort, function, and minimal maintenance hassles rather than for appearance.   (This definitely covers Langly and Frohike’s dress styles and Byers is just, well Byers.)

Reading Habits

Omnivorous, but usually includes lots of science and science fiction. The typical hacker household might subscribe to "Analog", "Scientific American", "Whole-Earth Review", and "Smithsonian"  (And TLG presumably)

Other Interests

Some hobbies are widely shared and recognized as going with the culture: science fiction, music, medievalism (in the active form practiced by the Society for Creative Anachronism and similar organizations), chess, go, backgammon, wargames, and intellectual games of all kinds. (Role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons used to be extremely popular among hackers but they lost a bit of their luster as they moved into the mainstream and became heavily commercialized. More recently, "Magic: The Gathering" has been widely popular among hackers.) Logic puzzles. Ham radio.

Of our guys, only gamer Langly seems to have any sort of hobby outside their work.  I’d love to see the guys doing SCA thought LOL!

Physical Activity and Sports

Hackers' delight in techno-toys also tends to draw them towards hobbies with nifty complicated equipment that they can tinker with.  (Well the guys do that a lot anyway during their work)

The popularity of martial arts in the hacker culture deserves special mention.

Common usages in hacker slang un-ironically analogize programming to kung fu.


Nearly all hackers past their teens are either college-degreed or self-educated to an equivalent level.

Academic areas from which people often gravitate into hackerdom include (besides the obvious computer science and electrical engineering) physics, mathematics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Things hackers detest and avoid

All the works of Microsoft. Smurfs, Ewoks, and other forms of offensive cuteness. Bureaucracies. Stupid people  (Hence the particular intolerance Langly and Frohike  has for Jimmy, Byers is the exception again).

Television (with occasional exceptions for cartoons, movies, and good SF like "Star Trek" classic or Babylon 5).

Dishonesty. Incompetence. Boredom.


Ethnic. Spicy. Oriental, esp. Chinese and most esp. Szechuan, Hunan, and Mandarin

Hackers prefer the exotic.

Thai food has experienced flurries of popularity. Where available, high-quality Jewish delicatessen food is much esteemed. A visible minority of Southwestern and Pacific Coast hackers prefers Mexican.

For those all-night hacks, pizza and microwaved burritos are big. Interestingly, though the mainstream culture has tended to think of hackers as incorrigible junk-food junkies, many have at least mildly health-foodist attitudes and are fairly discriminating about what they eat.


Vaguely liberal-moderate, except for the strong libertarian contingent which rejects conventional left-right politics entirely. The only safe generalization is that hackers tend to be rather anti-authoritarian; thus, both conventional conservatism and `hard' leftism are rare. Hackers are far more likely than most non-hackers to either (a) be aggressively apolitical or (b) entertain peculiar or idiosyncratic political ideas and actually try to live by them day-to-day.

Communications Styles

Though hackers often have poor person-to-person communication skills, they are as a rule quite sensitive to nuances of language and very precise in their use of it. They are often better at writing than at speaking.

Personality Characteristics

The most obvious common `personality' characteristics of hackers are high intelligence, consuming curiosity, and facility with intellectual abstractions. Also, most hackers are 'neophiles', stimulated by and appreciative of novelty (especially intellectual novelty). Most are also relatively individualistic and anti-conformist.

Although high general intelligence is common among hackers, it is not the sine qua non one might expect. Another trait is probably even more important: the ability to mentally absorb, retain, and reference large amounts of `meaningless' detail, trusting to later experience to give it context and meaning.  (The guys are definitely gfood at this one)

Contrary to stereotype, hackers are not usually intellectually narrow; they tend to be interested in any subject that can provide mental stimulation, and can often discourse knowledgeably and even interestingly on any number of obscure subjects -- if you can get them to talk at all, as opposed to, say, going back to their hacking.  (And, yup they know plenty about obscure subjects)

Hackers are `control freaks' in a way that has nothing to do with the usual coercive or authoritarian connotations of the term. In the same way that children delight in making model trains go forward and back by moving a switch, hackers love making complicated things like computers do nifty stuff for them. But it has to be their nifty stuff. They don't like tedium, nondeterminism, or most of the fussy, boring, ill-defined little tasks that go with maintaining a normal existence. Accordingly, they tend to be careful and orderly in their intellectual lives and chaotic elsewhere. Their code will be beautiful, even if their desks are buried in 3 feet of crap.   (The state of the warehouse would seem to support that.  Though I bet they know where every last item is.)

Hackers are generally only very weakly motivated by conventional rewards such as social approval or money (And just as well in the case of the guys). They tend to be attracted by challenges and excited by interesting toys, and to judge the interest of work or other activities in terms of the challenges offered and the toys they get to play with.

In terms of Myers-Briggs and equivalent psychometric systems, hackerdom appears to concentrate the relatively rare INTJ and INTP types; that is, introverted, intuitive, and thinker types (as opposed to the extroverted-sensate personalities that predominate in the mainstream culture). ENT[JP] types are also concentrated among hackers but are in a minority.


Hackers have relatively little ability to identify emotionally with other people. This may be because hackers generally aren't much like `other people'. Unsurprisingly, hackers also tend towards self-absorption, intellectual arrogance, and impatience with people and tasks perceived to be wasting their time.

As cynical as hackers sometimes wax about the amount of idiocy in the world, they tend by reflex to assume that everyone is as rational, `cool', and imaginative as they consider themselves. This bias often contributes to weakness in communication skills. Hackers tend to be especially poor at confrontation and negotiation.

As a result of all the above traits, many hackers have difficulty maintaining stable relationships. At worst, they can produce the classic geek: withdrawn, relationally incompetent, sexually frustrated, and desperately unhappy when not submerged in his or her craft.

Hackers are often monumentally disorganized and sloppy about dealing with the physical world. Bills don't get paid on time, clutter piles up to incredible heights in homes and offices, and minor maintenance tasks get deferred indefinitely.


Many drive incredibly decrepit heaps and forget to wash them.  (Sounds like the minibus alright!)


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