The best definition that I've found is from the Jargon File, currently in version 4.4.7. They define 'hacker' as:
- A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary. RFC1392, the Internet Users' Glossary, usefully amplifies this as: A person who delights in having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular.
- One who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about programming.
- A person capable of appreciating hack value.
- A person who is good at programming quickly.
- An expert at a particular program, or one who frequently does work using it or on it; as in ‘a Unix hacker’. (Definitions 1 through 5 are correlated, and people who fit them congregate.)
- An expert or enthusiast of any kind. One might be an astronomy hacker, for example.
- One who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.
- [deprecated] A malicious meddler who tries to discover sensitive information by poking around. Hence password hacker, network hacker. The correct term for this sense is cracker.
What is the intrigue in being (correctly) labeled a hacker? Mostly, a common culture. This culture shares a love in deep thinking, social tolerance, science/science fiction, and technology.
Interested in becoming a true hacker? Read this. Then get to work; it's a long road.