Confessions of a Computer Program Hacker

In the Beginning

I wouldn't get too excited about the title. It is true enough, but this is not an expose of someone breaking into networks or computers and creating havoc. Actually Hacking is an honorable profession, that is known by other names, Program Fixing, QA, and Maintenance Programming. Please don't run away too quickly, there is a lot of interesting stuff here.

I have been a computer programmer analyst for more years than I care to think about. It wasn't until about 20 years ago that I truly started hacking and discovered I have a talent for it. I was working for a company called Memorex/Telex as a Consulting Systems Engineer. No one identified me as a hacker in those days, but that was part of what I did. The program I was asked to hack was one developed by Memorex/Telex, and the client that wanted me to do the hacking was Sprint.

Is It Live or Is It Memorex/Telex/Sprint

Be aware, that both Memorex/Telex and Sprint wanted me to perform the program hacking that I did. In fact I was well paid for my efforts, and I wasn't breaking any laws. The truth of the matter was that the program was a network communications application between two computers and it didn't do what Sprint wanted it to do. Although the program worked as advertised, Sprint wanted more,

They needed the communications protocol to be altered to provide specific transmission information about data to be integrated within the communications protocol at one end and to be extracted by a computer at the other. It was a way to confirm that the data being transmitted was legitimate. This was pre-internet, and in the end it I was able to accomplish the task without adding too much to the transmission overhead. It was fun exploring code, and looking through the commands to find where I could make the changes necessary so that when the two programs talked to one another the data was transmitted successfully and within the parameters requested by Sprint. Although there was no specific name for it at the time I was a computer program hacker.

Stupid Docent Tricks

Ironically it would be another 10 years before I would be compelled to re-enter the world of program hacking again, and it would again be my employer who made the request, and it would again not be defined as hacking, even though that was what was being asked of me. It came under the guise of “Stupid Docent Tricks”.

Docent is now SumTotal, but back in the early days Docent was a company which developed a internet content delivery system for education or Content Management System(CMS). Along with the CMS Docent had an internal product called Outliner, that was used to build courses for the internet. It had a drag and drop interface that used an SQL database and built a course structure using an outline methodology integrated with Netscape Serverside JavaScript.

“Stupid Docent Tricks” was an internal contest for employees to come up with ways to use the Outliner and the CMS to deliver new and interesting educational content.

I had been hired to be an Outliner developer and to consult with customers about ways to transfer legacy forms of content into courses to be delivered over the internet. Part of my assignment was to become intimately familiar with the CMS and how it functioned and to explore the Outliner and discover new ways to create interactive engaging course content. Then I was to develop replicable functionality for customer's to reuse.

In simpler terms they wanted me to research the programs of the CMS and Outliner and hack them in a was that customers could reproduce easily. After I was there 8 months, I owned “Stupid Docent Tricks”. In fact the category of presenting cleaver course content was closed because I always won it. I used JavaScript, HTML and CSS and exploited what I knew about Serverside and Clientside communication (Ajax) with a SQL database to create course material, unique testing options, and develop examinations that not only provided information about how well a student did, but also provided information about where course content material failed in educating the student, so it could be corrected.

Hacking, for me, became the primary tool for studying and exploring the functions of programs and finding way to perform tasks and functions that were desired by customers. The more difficult process was to develop API interfaces (hacks) that we could give to customers so that they could take advantage of the elements within the Outliner and the CMS that I was able to exploit.

One of the greatest compliments that I received came from the developer of the Outliner, who told me that he had no idea that the Outliner could do what I was getting it to do.

WEB Master Hacker

My next challenge as a hacker was introduced to me when I became a WEB Master for a Discount Shopping Bags an eCommerce WEB site. DSB had paid for the development of an online shopping cart which it had put up on the internet. The developer had used a primitive open source shopping cart written in PHP and MySQL using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. My initial challenge was to make the Shopping Cart work correctly. The details of the problems are unimportant, needless to say I had to become familiar with the PHP code used to build the WEB pages of the Shopping Cart, and to familiarize myself with the MySQL database to correct the errors and stream line the functionality of the WEB site.

(On a Side note, DSB has since changed its Shopping Cart to xCart (my recommendation) which was installed by another group of individuals.)

Again I used my skills as a hacker to infiltrate the shopping cart code to better understand what was going on and to exploit the code to correct the problems and fix the WEB site. Additionally I needed to make changes in the code to interact with API's from other online sites including UPS, the merchant bank, DSB did business with, Google ad sense and the email accounts of customers to transmit receipts to and the email accounts of DSB customer service to inform shipping about customer orders. My employer didn't refer to what I did as hacking, but that was the processed used to accomplish my assigned tasks.

Game Development

As an independent Game developer, my Hacking skills were needed more than ever. First I needed to research a number of game engines to discover which would better serve the type of games I want to develop. I knew I wanted to develop adventure games. I had been playing adventure games ever since Sierra introduced the King's Quest series. I was impressed the growth of game GUI, story telling, and sophistication as I played each succeeding game. Too bad Sierra Jumped the Shark Tank with King's Quest 8.

My goal is to develop an adventure game with that sense of wonder I felt each time I played a new KQ game. I have been researching for about 12 months and working with my chosen game engine for about 8 months, Unity 3D.

Hacking will take on a new form for me here. I will do less code research in Unity 3D and more functionality research. Unity 3D already has a JavaScript interface for game activity and animation development, so my “hacking” will actually be outside the Unity 3D code itself and will more appropriately involve working with the traditional API's that Unity 3D provides.

I will need to rely upon other artists for voice, music, background, characters, and some programming as I continue to work on story development and puzzles which I will also require help with. In creating a successful game I will need a whole spectrum of Craftspeople to pull off what I hope will be a successful franchise of games that appeal to all ages.

Look for Booh and Babbot in The Haunted House Of Dracula, the first in their franchise game series. It is a work in progress.

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Comments 4 comments

askformore lm profile image

askformore lm 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing the information about your "hacker career". It made my mind wander back to some good old days:

I began as a salesman in the computer industry in 1969. Even as a salesman we had to learn some (assembler) programming. However, my career would have been very short as a "hacker", instead I was in sales and management for many years.

Today I feel as a dinosaur, my knowledge might be huge, but extinct!


gposchman profile image

gposchman 2 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

I worked for Memorex/Burroughs (I forgot the company Name in the merger) for eight plus years as a Systems Engineer covering the Bay Area and Sacramento. Responsible for sending a lot of salesmen to quota club.

Gene Poschman


Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 22 months ago from California

This hacking sounds like very interesting work. I wish I could understand even half of what you're doing - all of those abbreviations and acronyms. Man! Inventing video games would be even more fun. Wow! Anyway, I'll bet you make a lot more money hacking than you do with writing hubs. Hey! Later!


gposchman profile image

gposchman 22 months ago from San Francisco Bay Area Author

It definitely provided me a good living, but writing Novels is what I want to do and writing Hubs is more for just writing on random subjects, that I think people will find interesting. Sometime I write Hubs for educational value and sometimes my mind takes a side trip and the writer in me just tags along.

Thanks for the comment.

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