Mark Zuckerberg is about to become one of the richest men on the planet, but underneath all that gold plate, he’s still a hacker.
In the quasi-philosophical letter that accompanied Facebook’s initial public offering filing on Wednesday, the social network’s chief executive officer touched on everything from the nature of personal relationships to technology’s role in political upheaval.
But the most bizarre detour was the 27-year old tech impresario’s ode to “the hacker way.”
“The word ‘hacker’ has an unfairly negative connotation from being portrayed in the media as people who break into computers,” Zuckerberg wrote. “In reality, hacking just means building something quickly or testing the boundaries of what can be done. Like most things, it can be used for good or bad, but the vast majority of hackers I've met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.”
That’s a spirited defense of a means of protest that has wreaked havoc on a litany of Fortune 500 companies over the last year.
Recent high-profile hackings have targeted everyone from Sony to Universal Music Group to the Motion Picture Association of America. Many of those attacks have been coordinated in response to the shut down of the digital locker Megaupload and two controversial anti-piracy bills.
In the later case, Zuckerberg, like the hacking activists, found himself on the opposite side of most major Hollywood studios, in claiming that Congress’ Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act were tantamount to censorship.
Still an IPO filing is an odd moment for a tech chief to lob metaphorical Molotov cocktails. Not to mention that the timing is a bit odd for Zuckerberg to embrace or reappropriate a term that is synonymous with corporate protest.
By pushing his social network onto the stock exchange, the still youthful CEO stands to reap billions putting him in the upper echelons of the one percent.
Yet in his letter Zuckerberg maintains that the company’s success is partly attributable to the way that it has integrated the good elements of the hacker creed, such as its meritocratic nature and its emphasis on engineering, into its day-to-day operations.
“The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration,” Zuckerberg writes. “Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it's impossible or are content with the status quo.”
If this missive is any indication, the most radical thing about Zuckerberg won’t be his penchant for flip flops and hoodies. Like the Google founders before him, Zuckerberg seems to want to bestride a looser and more socially conscious mega-corporation.
Wall Street probably won’t mind all the idealism as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the stock price — provided Anonymous isn't a featured speaker at the next shareholders meeting.