1- Write open-source software. Write programs that other hackers think are fun or useful, and give the program sources away to the whole hacker culture to use. Hackerdom’s most revered demigods are people who have written large, capable programs that met a widespread need and given them away, so that now everyone uses them.
2- Help test and debug open-source software. Any open-source author who’s thinking will tell you that good beta-testers (who know how to describe symptoms clearly, localize problems well, can tolerate bugs in a quickie release, and are willing to apply a few simple diagnostic routines) are worth their weight in rubies.
Try to find a program under development that you’re interested in and be a good beta-tester. There’s a natural progression from helping test programs to helping debug them to helping modify them. You’ll learn a lot this way, and generate goodwill with people who will help you later on.
3- Publish useful information. Another good thing is to collect and filter useful and interesting information into web pages or documents like Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) lists, and make those generally available. Maintainers of major technical FAQs get almost as much respect as open-source authors.
4- Help keep the infrastructure working. The hacker culture (and the engineering development of the Internet, for that matter) is run by volunteers. There’s a lot of necessary but unglamorous work that needs done to keep it going — administering mailing lists, moderating newsgroups, maintaining large software archive sites, developing RFCs and other technical standards. People who do this sort of thing well get a lot of respect, because everybody knows these jobs are huge time sinks and not as much fun as playing with code. Doing them shows dedication.
5- Serve the hacker culture itself. This is not something you’ll be positioned to do until you’ve been around for a while and become well-known for one of the four previous items. The hacker culture doesn’t have leaders, exactly, but it does have culture heroes and tribal elders and historians and spokespeople. When you’ve been in the trenches long enough, you may grow into one of these.
Hackers distrust blatant ego in their tribal elders, so visibly reaching for this kind of fame is dangerous. Rather than striving for it, you have to sort of position yourself so it drops in your lap, and then be modest and gracious about your status.