Intro to Hacking

with Greg Osuri

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No longer a subculture, there are more hackers than tattoos

Greg Osuri

Co-Founder of OverClock, Angel Hack &, Coding & Hacking Expert

Lessons Learned

A startup is an experiment with a hypothesis in mind.

Decrease waste by hacking expressions of your hypothesis for validation.

Shipping a hacked product can incur brand costs for a corporation.

Speed of a startup enables you to hack a demo for customers for early confirmation & validation.

Not a programmer? Attend a hackathon, become part of the culture, and understand how things work.

In a corporations, hacking is used to drive internal innovation.

Hacking provides a vehicle to translate employee ideas into a demonstrable product.


Lesson: Intro to Hacking with Greg Osuri

Step: #6 The Audience: No longer a subculture, there are more hackers than tattoos

A startup in my definition is nothing but an experiment. You are experimenting with a hypothesis in mind. You are trying to validate this set of assumptions that you have made. Now, if you go about building an entire product and putting it out to the customers. In the amount of time that you have spent and amount of resources for building a product and say it doesn't work out, which 90% of the time it doesn't work out. You have wasted so much before you can even validate one piece of your assumption. So hacking is very important in that sense.

Say for example you want to build Twitter. The first feature you would go build is absolutely the news feed. If you think about how it all started the crux was, yeah I sent a message and I want ten people to see my message. That's when they started really hacking up a small group messaging system. Then formalized Twitter around that communication that, yes you can send a small update and ten of your friends that follow you can see it. But then you go about building an entire product and building a website and the sort.

The question gets a little tricky in a corporation, like can you ship a hacked product? You can't quite, because you have costs that are going to incur, like your brand costs. Basically the more damage that you're going to do versus innovation there. So in that sense, yes you hack a solution that can be de-mobile that other people can see and validate it, so the validation, most of the time happens internally, in that sense. Or maybe a focus group or maybe a set of users that you think are okay to be a test bed. But in corporations, the hacks get produced within a week and then there's a review board obviously; people look at it and there's a selection process that happens and once they feel that it is something that they want to do, it gets to a polished product.

So in startups where you don't really necessarily have any brand, you don't necessarily have anything that you can cling onto, it's faster to move. So in our company, at Overclock, we hacked a very, very basic, we built this operational platform and we hacked a very, very basic version within a week and put it in front of a customer to take the immediate feedback to find out if the other metrics that we are measuring. We were right and a few things we were wrong, on a few things obviously and that feedback was only possible because we could put the product in front of the customer really early. If that didn't happen we would still be banging on the design, banging on the nitty-gritty details of the product and we would never have that feedback and we would probably end up building the wrong thing.

The best thing to do if you're not a programmer is to get an idea to how programming happens. And a lot of times people don't understand, if you're not a programmer you don't understand. People can't think like a programmer. The best way to do that is to go and attend a Hackathon. That's something I've told a lot of people, and a lot of people have done that. A lot of people have actually went about forming companies, at least saw their ideas come to light.

The best thing to do is always have an idea as to what you want to do, there should be something that is bothering you in your daily lives. And figure out how to do it, right? And if you don't know how to do it, go to a Hackathon or even do to something like Noisebridge where you have workshops to do it, and become a part of the culture and understand how things are made. That will program a lot of answers to a lot of questions you may have actually.

Hacking inside a large corporation. To give an example, PayPal is a classic story. They don't necessarily ship the product, a hacked product. But hacking is used to drive innovation. In the case of PayPal they have formal programs where they invite people to work on something that they're not doing the daily jobs. You can work on any project you want. So, basically, to drive internal innovation is very relevant there. Now, once you hack an idea and show it to the board, the people, maybe an audience within the company and they all like it, sure why not? Make it a product.

The same thing happens in Google. Google news was formed this way and a lot of the features in Gmail were formed that way too. So, a lot of the products come out as simple, small ideas that employees normally have. And having a process to take that idea to a demo-able product is very hacking and very relevant. And once you know that, yes, this is a product we're going to go build, you go build a polished product.

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