Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Response to "Hacking" Story

To whom it may concern,

I would like to respond to the following lawsuit and Bloomberg story alleging LinkedIn hacking into users’ email account, citing a three year old sentence in my LinkedIn profile as support:

Before I say anything else, I should say that I no longer work for LinkedIn - I left LinkedIn on good terms in May 2012. Whatever I say here represents my own personal view only, and does not represent the view of my former employer.

Firstly, I think the suit - Perkins v. LinkedIn Corp., 13-cv-04303, exploiting an understandably common fear of digital privacy invasion, is baseless. I am confident that after the dust settles, and clearer heads have a chance to examine the claims and all relevant evidence, it will be dismissed and LinkedIn proved innocent.

However, I feel compelled to respond to the the following line in the class action document that was repeated in the media - “LinkedIn software engineer Brian Guan described his role on the company’s website...” - citing the following section on my profile:

Principal Software Engineer
LinkedIn February
2010 – May 2012 (2 years 4 months)
... still devising hack schemes to make lots of $$$ with Java, Groovy and cunning at Team Money!

I was in shock when I read this in the story on Friday Sep 20th after a friend forwarded the Bloomberg article to me - it is a misrepresentation and a farce. The implication is that I broke the law with my employer’s endorsement and openly bragged to the world about it… seriously, guys?

I must point out that the word “hack” has more than one meaning in the high tech context.

The lawsuit and article seem to assume that “hacking” means “gaining unauthorized access to other people’s system and data.”

Among software engineers, the word “hack” carries another less nefarious meaning: clever and skillful programming. See some of the definitions in Wiktionary’s entry. Hacking in this sense often carries a humble, self-deprecating tone of done-fast-and-on-the-cheap, using shortcuts. A “good hack”, in this context, exhibits a certain poetic aesthetic and showcases technical wizardry.

This usage is the one I meant in my own job description. It is so popular among technologists that many others use it in their profile too. A casual search on LinkedIn or any other internet people search engine with the keyword “hacker” will bring up thousands of engineers and designers, currently “hacking” at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, e.t.c.

This positive “hacking” spirit is so celebrated that these highly respected and successful companies frequently host events called “Hack-Days” or “Hack-a-thons”, where engineers get together to compete at coming up with cool and innovative technical solutions and product ideas, often as cheaply as possible, and sometimes done for laughs - but no unauthorized “break-ins” were ever conducted at such events!

This use of the word “hack” is prevalent. The prominent high tech venture capital company Y-Combinator runs a popular blog call “Hacker News”, a co-working and learning space for technologist in Silicon Valley calls itself “Hacker Dojo”, thousands of open source software projects hosted on GitHub use the H-word in their project descriptions, and many successful fund raising campaigns on KickStarter use it to describe all kinds of widgets… Facebook even purposely named their headquarter address to be “1 Hacker Way”!

As for the rest of the sentence - “... making lots of $$$ … for Team Money!” - it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek line, in the style of hip-hop artists talking about bling while brandishing a gold chain with a big dollar sign hanging on it. “Team Money” is the internal nickname for the Monetization Team responsible for developing and maintaining revenue generating products for LinkedIn. You will find this team described in a very positive light (and with a link to my profile) in a BusinessInsider article published last year.

My tenure at LinkedIn was a high point in my career. I worked with many talented and passionate engineers, designers, managers, and business people, all with utmost integrity, many with whom I have formed lifelong friendships. I was fortunate to join LinkedIn during its early years. I never personally worked on the email address book and invitation features questioned in the lawsuit. However, I had the pleasure to work on the conception of other innovative products such as Recruiter, which I believe provides a valuable service to job seekers, recruiters and employers, and is changing the recruiting industry for the better. When I wrote the offending “... hack … $$$ ...” line, I was feeling a sense of pride in Recruiter’s commercial success back in early 2010, despite its shaky “hacky” beginning when we had to cut some technical corners, in order to get version 1.0 out the door and into the hands of early adopter customers. A common story no-doubt familiar to the startup world.

Now that I have explained myself... Peace out.

- Brian Guan, hacker, the good kind.