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Why my people will never be Ministers

As Malaysians woke up today, to a brand new cabinet of Ministers, many have already begun expressing their dissatisfaction on the lineup. I know better than to wade into these politically charged discussions — but I will point out that my people have long been overlooked for Ministerial positions.

Who are ‘my people’ you ask…

Hackers.

Or if you prefer a less negative word — Geeks. But for the rest of this post, I’ll use the more accurate term of hacker to refer to technically savvy folks who subscribe to the hacker ethic.

Yes, we in the hacker community have long been overlooked for ministerial positions, and I for one, choose to speak out against this travesty. But before I delve into why I think we’ve not played a bigger part in politics, let me first make the case for why we need hackers in parliament.

Why we need hackers in parliament

As technology becomes more pervasive and ubiquitous in our lives, every policy decision becomes a technology decision, whether it’s in education, finance or defence. Hence it becomes pertinent to ensure that the people making these decisions have the capacity to understand the technology that drives the issues. This is not something you get from a 2-week bootcamp, or a crash course in computers, it involves deep technical knowledge that can only be attain from years (even decades) of experience.

But it’s not enough that policy makers merely understand technology, they also need to subscribe to the hacker ethic , and bring that ethic into the decisions they make.

What is the hacker ethic? Well I’m glad you asked.

The ethic has no hard definition, but it incorporates things like Sharing, Openness, Decentralization and Free access to computers, etc. The ethic further includes attitudes, like pure meritocracy, the idea that hackers should be judged for their hacking (and nothing else), not age, gender, degrees or even position in a hierarchy. So anytime you see some poor sod who claims to be a hacker, but puts CISSP, PMP, CEH at the end of their LinkedIn profile — you know they’re not really hackers.

You can see ethic played out at hacker conferences throughout the world, hackers are ever willing to share what they’ve built with anyone who’ll listen, and they’re accepting of anyone willing to learn, at any age bracket, without any education or formal training.

The Hacker perspective is an interesting one, and like all perspectives, may not always be right or appropriate, but it’s important for it to be present at the decision making process, if nothing more than to add to the diversity of thought.

So why aren’t there more hackers in decision making levels? Well let’s see what it takes to reach the decision making level in the first place.

My take on politics

To get to a ministerial position in Malaysia requires that:

  1. You’re a member of political party (because very few independent MPs)
  2. You’re a candidate for a parliamentary constituency
  3. You win that constituency (and become an MP)
  4. Your party wins the election (Opposition MPs are never Ministers)
  5. You’re high enough in the party’s leadership to be shortlisted for Minister
  6. The Prime Minister approves your position

Ministers are literally one in a million, and represent the pinnacle of a politicians career, there’s a lot of filtering to get down to 25 Ministers from 30 million Malaysians. Question is, at which step, do hackers drop off?

Are we MPs who just aren’t in the party’s leadership? Are we joining party’s but just aren’t being put forward as candidates?

I personally feel, we aren’t even joining the political parties in the first place. We’re not even fulfilling step 1. And that’s because, well….. politicians are idiots!

Politicians are idiots

If you ask the tech community, we’ve got very little patience with politicians, because unlike politics, technology is about data. If there’s a decision to be made, the side with the best data wins, that is the key principle of our community.

But in politics it’s about sentiment, and optics, and consensus. I personally had a fallout with an old friend, because he (as a member of a political party) was defending a position based on sentiment, which I couldn’t phantom to be a logical starting point for a discussion. Who cares what people ‘feel’, it’s irrelevant, the data is what counts — or so I thought.

Any politician that disregards sentiment is bound to fail. So politicians hone this skill to perfection, after all sentiments win elections, not data. As a former boss once told me “if people made their decisions based on data, nobody would smoke”, and that was a huge ‘aha’ moment for me.

Hence we have a large disconnect between the hackers and politics. It’s hard to reconcile a world where information, knowledge and meritocracy is prized over everything else, and the world of politics where sentiment reigns supreme.

Which is why hackers join political parties — at least some of them, but there’s more.

Distrust Authority

One key hacker ethic that I’ve left out (until now!) has been distrust authority. Hackers, more than any other sub-culture distrust authority, prefer decentralization and are borderline anarchistic. It’s why the Internet, the most complex thing mankind has ever built, has so little authority baked into it.

Most politicians would baulk at just how little authority anybody has over the Internet. No one can shut it down, or take it offline, and no government has succeeded in censoring it effectively (except maybe China).

Hackers created the Internet, torrents, bitcoin, and bunch of other things that work without any formal authority. These things are the manifestation of a key value we hold dear to our hearts, distrust authority.

So if hackers distrust authority, why would they expend effort to become members of government — the thing they distrust the most? The answer is clear.

But it doesn’t mean they’re not interested in policy, it just means they find the role based authority of being a Minister unappealing. They find less authoritative ways to participate more appealing, and they *do* participate.

When the previous government wanted to implement the computing professional bill, hackers throughout Malaysia bandied together and killed it, and when the terrible 114(a) amendment to the evidence act was being proposed, hackers (probably more than lawyers) got in on the act of protesting it. I know of one hacker, who spent hours creating a stupid breach notification website in the wake of large data breach in Malaysia, and gave it as a free service to the public, what kind of idiot would do that?

My fellow hackers are members of civil society, and charitable organizations, and hold great influence on social media, so there’s hope yet for my people to participate in politics, just not as MPs or Ministers.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t hackers in goverment or in political parties. If you consider yourself a hacker, and you’re in a political party — good on you! Keep it up!

Conclusion

I have no conclusion to this post, other than we need Hackers in Parliament, but we also need them to remain Hackers. It’s a ironic paradox — can you be a hacker if you’re an MP?

Clearly we need to think about this more deeply, and I’m not saying this qualifies to be thought about in the same vein as women representation in parliament — hackers are barely 5% of the population, let’s no conflate that with an issue that impacts 50% of Malaysians.

But indulge me while I pour out my heart.

After all the real reason I wrote this, because I found it odd, that the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, the most technical ministry of all, is now being led by two lawyers. I won’t say it’s blasphemous — but how would lawyers feel if the Law Ministry was led was a Java Developer and Database Administrator. Food for thought, at least for me.

What are your thoughts?

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