When talking to people and in documents, I prefer to summarize my specific interest in computing and collaborating with others online and software development under one term: hacking.

From Eric S. Raymond's How To Become A Hacker:

There is a community, a shared culture, of expert programmers and networking wizards that... originated the term ‘hacker’. Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the Unix operating system what it is today. Hackers make the World Wide Web work. If you are part of this culture, if you have contributed to it and other people in it know who you are and call you a hacker, you're a hacker....

Hackers solve problems and build things, and they believe in freedom and voluntary mutual help.

From this definition, I definitely feel that I belong in this group and am in line with a hacker's values and goals.

However, I do not know how to briefly explain the difference between the popular definition of hacking (to break into computer systems) and the hackers' "correct" definition.

Are there any alternative terms I could use in a resume or other document where I can only make such a remark about my interests and hobbies very briefly?

I read the question "Has “hacker” definitely gained a negative connotation?" but it does not suggest any alternative terms beside "ethical hacker," which means someone who ethically breaks into computer systems.

  • 1
    I'm an open software contributor/collaborator ...?
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 0:56
  • @Jim Partly, yes, but it's not all-encompassing.
    – oldmud0
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 1:26
  • 1
    Well my definition of hacker is one who does not use sound engineering processes to develop code but rather just starts typing and kludgjng until they’ve “hacked together” something that sorta runs. Much like some who uses a hatchet to hack through a piece of wood rather than a craftsman who uses a finely honed tools
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 1:31
  • Yep, the public's perception of the meaning of "hacker" has unfortunately become seriously sullied. I don't know what you can do about that, though -- I've lamented this before in this space. (And I don't really know of another term which would carry the same (positive) meaning.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 1:34
  • @Tonepoet I could, but it would become rather redundant since I often include programming-related activities in these documents ("I love programming - duh!")
    – oldmud0
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 1:40

3 Answers 3


If you are speaking in tech circles, people understand when you say something like, "I hacked together a prototype on the weekend just for fun". Usually "hack" here is used as a verb. And it connotes that you, as a programmer, understand software best practices, but just "hacked" something together quickly as a proof-of-concept for fun or to demo a concept.

On a resume or cover letter, I'd recommend you label yourself as a "software engineer" or "experienced programmer" or something along those lines. "Hacker" is definitely not good as you've mentioned. In addition, you can then mention you enjoy "working on side projects" or "experimenting with new software technologies" or "working on weekend fun software projects". Any of these communicate that you have a passion for programming and enjoy working on fun projects.


Regarding your connotation question, yes hacker is primarily seen negatively, as evidenced by the order in a dictionary (e.g. ODO).

This might be to narrow for your purpose, but maybe it does fit your needs.

You are a (collaborative) coder, your hobby is (collaborative) coding.

coder [′kōd·ər] (communications) A person who translates a sequence of computer instructions into codes acceptable to the machine.

coding [′kōd·iŋ] (computer science) The process of converting a program design into an accurate, detailed representation of that program in some suitable language.

For a resume however I agree with Victor Wu, use something along the lines of software designer/developer/engineer. The possibilities are rather vast there, just have a look at what the company you are writing to uses.


open source development

As per the same source that you provided (Eric S. Raymond's How To Become A Hacker):

Since 1998, and especially after about 2003, the identification of 'hacking' with 'open-source (and free software) development' has become extremely close. Today there is little point in attempting to distinguish between these categories, and it seems unlikely that will change in the future.

I am afraid that's as close as you can get to mentioning hacking as a hobby on your resume. Much has been said already on how the original meaning of hacking is now effectively obscured.

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