There is a small bridge over a stream near my home in New Hampshire in the U.S. For nearly 100 years, young people have come to dive and swim there. Children and teenagers jump from the bridge, showing off their bravery and daring in front of admiring girls.
Recently, the town council placed a sign on the bridge that reads "No jumping". I am sure that the sign was placed there under the recommendation of city lawyers to prevent lawsuits in case of an accident. Now, the young guys have to break the law to continue impressing their girlfriends.
Testing the limits and facing challenges are an inherent part of being young. Teenagers constantly seek recognition, sometimes from their friends and at other times from adults. They want to be accepted. And if we do not turn their path to acceptance into something positive, they will find the path that leads to the dark side of society.
HackerTeen recognizes these two paths for scholars in the computing community and encourages teenagers to show that it is more fun to create than to destroy. It is more fun to be recognized as a really good computer programmer than to follow the destructive path of teenagers known as "crackers".
I know young people who have done surprising things with open-source software:
All of them contributed to society using open-source software! They were not constrained by the restrictive licensing of proprietary software.
Young people see how software is written and improve it by working collaboratively through the Internet, without anyone asking how old they are. They can meet and connect with people all over the world and, based on mutual respect, see that other cultures are not so different from their own, breaking down barriers among nations.
Today, we read so much bad news in the press and so little good news on people who are contributing to society. That is why programs such as HackerTeen are so important. They show computer science students the right and ethical way from the start of their careers as computer students. They serve as an example of what our young people are capable of doing so that young people can be recognized without having to jump off the forbidden bridge.
Jon "maddog" Hall is the executive director of Linux International (www.lpi.org), in the U.S. Over his thirty-year career, he has worked as a programmer, system designer, system administrator, product manager, marketing manager and educator. He has worked for companies such as Western Electric Corp., Aetna Life and Casualty, Bell Laboratories, Digital Equipment Corp. and VA Linux Systems. He is currently funded by SGI (Silicon Graphics, Inc).