As usual, Paul Graham writes really lucidly on the hacker culture and how to attract them to a business. One of the things I found interesting was how it is pretty close to impossible to find out how good a hacker is until you work with him. On quite a few levels I agree with this statement however in some other ways there must be some methods of evaluating them or at least bringing up the probabilities of detection besides working with them for a long time (one could argue that would prove a person’s worth in ANY field not JUST hacking [the coding sense]).
The best analogy I could think of is the athlete, a master musician, or a master craftsman. A master in his craft when showing his or her craft makes it look easy because a lot of practice, dedication, and raw talent has gone into making those moments that you see executed in a beautiful fashion. When, I’m searching to learn something new I always keep a sharp eye for these type of people as a teacher or someone to work with. These people that make it look easy usually have spent so much time working on their craft it flows as naturally as water in a river. However, this is not something that is easy to spot. Some things are much easier to see (such as professional sports or music) than other things (mathematics, engineering, fluency in a foreign languages). How do you spot it?
Paul Graham’s suggestion of just working with them for awhile is probably the most definitive way to find out. However, barring that since that methodology is extremely time consuming and not possible in many many circumstances the next best thing is to develop an observant eye for picking out quality and skill. It’s not hopeless as Paul Graham seems to suggest but it isn’t a cakewalk either. How do I know it’s not as hopeless as Paul Graham makes it seem? How many people can appreciate great music but can’t play anything themselves?