When I was a kid, I was a programmer. I wrote one of the first programs with some of the character of a virus. Totally benign, it was intended to add a capability to an early operating system, CP/M (control program/micro), to facilitate remote printing with a Televideo 950 green-screen terminal. This was in the floppy disk era. Since CP/M did not have a methodical way of adding capabilities, an ad hoc approach was devised. This mystified the “gurus” for about three weeks.
In this way, I was socially exposed to the rag-tag band of savants, misfits, and visionaries who laid down the foundations for the world of the 1990’s, when almost everyone became the operators of computers. We are now exiting that era. While formerly, we were custodians of computers, the machines are becoming our custodians. With every new release, the diapers become softer.
Even in those early days, the personalities were divided into constructors and deconstructors. The constructors wrote the databases, calcs, word processors, games, tools, and so forth. The deconstructors exhibited remarkable skill with a tool still in use, the disassembler. This activity takes apart a computer program and, in a crude way, translates it to a human readable code. There are also decompilers, but that’s too much detail.
The two activities, construction and deconstruction, had associated personalities. The “constructors” were methodical, creative, and goal oriented. The “deconstructors” were mischievous, addicted to peak experience and the act of discovery. They were disciplined to hard yet voluntary work, and also risk-takers, since the goal, glory of the secret, was risky to share. Later, this morphed into software piracy. And they tended to work alone, or in groups with the identities of the individuals hidden by aliases.
These are desirable characteristics for spies. They may be common for some NSA employees who specialize in breaking into systems, whose activities resemble the “deconstructors.” Other NSA employees, the mathematicians, and those who devise complex software, belong to the “constructors”. From my observations of personalities, the deconstructors, of whom Edward Snowden was a member, are more likely to have an Übermensch moral view.
And, to act on it.