Jack Dorsey explains the difference between a developer and “hacker”

Last updated May 16, 2019

During the Q&A portion of a fireside chat with Jack Dorsey at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone in Toronto this week, a woman prefaced her question by mentioning that the co-founder of Twitter and Square inspired her to become an entrepreneur.

Given Dorsey’s success in social media and payments, that’s understandable. The question is, will he also inspire people to become software developers?

It’s not that Dorsey has in any way exemplified what it means to be a coder, or that his programming skills have blazed some kind of trail that others will want to follow. In fact, he told the audience of small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs at the DMZ that he doesn’t see himself as a real software expert at all.

“I am not a (software engineer). I’m a hacker,” Dorsey said. “And by ‘hacker,’ I mean someone who does whatever it takes to make something work. And then they move onto the next thing, and the next thing. Engineers, to me, are like magicians, because they get things to actually work and stay working.”

Dorsey, in other words, respects those who take the time to develop their skill set to a point where they can work as professionals — which is exactly what brings many people to CourseCompare in the first place.

It’s what Dorsey said next, however, that may have proved most telling.

“I wrote the original code for both Twitter and Square. And if you looked under the case today, you won’t find any of that code there anymore,” he said. “And I’m glad, because it was terrible.”

Dorsey, in other words, is an innovator. He described his role as coming up with the initial concept for what has become one of the most popular social media tools of all time, and what may be an equally transformative way to let small business owners sell their products and services. He said his programming skills were good enough to get  those ideas to a point where they could be shown to potential investors and launch his companies. They were not enough, however, to actually make those ideas viable as the flagship products for those companies.

This should be inspiring to anyone who has an interest in things like web development or user experience design but who has yet to come up with something that could become the next Silicon Valley unicorn.

Much in the way great artists employed entire teams of people to paint the details of their masterpieces, there is likely to be incredible demand for software professionals who can successfully execute on the visions of innovators. You don’t have to think up something as game-changing as Twitter or Square. Instead, you might make your mark by being the coder who makes those dreams a reality — with a career a lot longer than the average tweet, and a salary much higher than most of what gets processed through Square. Whatever your passion, Dorsey’s message is clear: just start hacking.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate and manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing Magazine and B2B News Network. He is also the former Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief) at IT World Canada, a former technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada, and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca.

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