Hacking for Charity

Background

Every once in a while I like to take a break from writing articles about how to do something technical and write about an interesting concept relating to technology. In June 2007 I wrote an article entitled "Say No to Cracks" that discussed software cracking and reasons to avoid cracked software. While that article focused primarily on why cracked software should be avoided, I also acknowledged the talent present in the hacking community in general. In this follow up, we take the concept of hacking one step further and we meet a man who is finding new ways to redirect that talent into something good!

Introducing Johnny

Johnny Long has become a good friend over the years. I first met him a few years ago when he and his family moved in next door. We started talking when our families got together for backyard picnics or a swim in the pool and we realized we had a lot in common, including a past filled with some of the same friends and colleagues who shaped our outlook on the digital world, and the world in general. It was clear that we were both hackers at heart, but we chose to fulfill that passion in different ways. While Johnny spends his time discovering and testing vulnerabilities in systems in order to help companies secure their networks, part of my own job was to find new ways to thwart hacking attempts and secure my own software against the hackers/crackers. When Johnny wasn't filling my face with needles or hijacking my Ghost (both typical Johnny moves in Halo 3), I actually liked the guy even though in some ways, our careers were juxtaposed. :-) Little did I know a couple years later he'd come up with an idea that could really make a difference in this world!

Hacking for Charity

Ever watch someone do something with such talent that it made you wonder what they could do with that talent if it wasn't "misdirected"? Sometimes you find someone so good at what they do that they really do need to quit their day job! Johnny Long has found a way to take the raw talent of the hacking community and redirect it to a good cause! The concept of using a hacker's talent to do good isn't new, but to recognize skill and be able to direct that skill at something that makes you feel good can turn computer skills into a passion. Johnny's web site, Hackers for Charity, does just that! You can see by the list of donors on the site that people are starting to take the concept seriously. I've donated some copies of my own Qimage software to his cause and will be donating more to the cause in the future as I have confidence in what he is doing and where my donations will be used. As for my readers here, I thought it worthy of mention as I believe it to be a novel concept on how to better utilize potential resources in the tech community.

Johnny has traveled to Uganda twice on extended trips to set up computer equipment in teaching environments, distribute swag (pens, pencils, paper, backpacks, etc.) to children there, and being able to make a difference in the local community is fueling his passion to help even more. His idea of "hacking for charity" is starting to get recognition as he and/or his organization have made the headlines on CNN, CNBC, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other media outlets.

Recognizing and rewarding talent

As someone who can relate to the excitement of being able to get a computer or system to do something that it wasn't designed to do, I can understand hacking even though my career demands that I work against it. Part of the reward of being a hacker is that you are doing something different. Hackers don't like fitting the mold. Most of them don't want money for their hacking. Everyone else gets paid money. The average person in a technology related job puts on his/her suit, goes forth in the daily grind and commute, and they come home with some money to pay the bills. The hacker wants more. The hacker wants recognition that they've done something unique.

One of the reasons that hacking for charity is such a novel idea is that it is something that could actually work. What better recognition than to know that you've used your unique skills to make a dent at making the world a better place! I've heard it so many times, "Hackers are just evil" or "why would anyone want to make a computer virus". It is not about evil or good/bad. It's about people not wanting to be another stamp in the mold. Hackers feel like they are enlightening the world by showing them a different way to look at things or that things are often not what they seem on the surface. Sure, some do bad things and some do it for monetary gain... but so do a lot of white collar workers doing the daily grind. There's good and bad in everything. All you have to do is look to find it. I for one, will be contributing to the Hackers for Charity cause so that in the future, when someone asks me "why do those people do that", I can respond, "maybe they'll eventually be the ones to make the world a better place." :-)

Summary

Hackers for Charity is a new concept where the talent and skills of hackers are being used to make the world a better place. Check out their web site if you want more information on this interesting twist on how to better utilize some of the worlds best technology skills. Knowledge is the way to the future, and we should be taking advantage of it wherever we can find it!

-- Mike Chaney