Hacker News is one of the bigger technology news and discussion forums, with a decided Silicon Valley / startup bent. It was started and is hosted by Y Combinator, a Mountain-View-based company / investment fund that provides seed funding, advice, and networking for new startups.
Due to these affiliations, it's often seen as in some sense geographically located in Silicon Valley. But I found myself noticing that many of the prolific contributors, both those who were and weren't involved in tech startups, did not seem to be based there: one runs a security company in Chicago, another runs an encrypted-backup company in Canada, and there are more than a few Europeans, too. And many don't seem to fit the stereotype of the twenty-something startup founder either; quite a few contributors are considerably older than that. (The stereotype that posters are mostly male does seem accurate, however.) For these and other reasons of personal curiosity, I decided to put together a little directory of the prolific contributors who have chosen to post under their real names (I didn't do any sleuthing to "out" people who post under pseudonyms).
For convenience, and because it makes a reasonable proxy, by "prolific contributors" I mean those with the most "karma". That's simply the number of times something they've posted has had the up-arrow next to it clicked, minus the times someone has clicked a down-arrow or "flag" button. So it's some mixture of how frequently they contribute, for how long they've been contributing, how appreciated their posts are, and how visible their contributions are (posts in high-traffic discussions garner more karma). Therefore, it's a vaguely reasonable measure of high-profile users of the site, at least if we don't take the precise number or ranking too seriously.
To give an idea of what types of people make up the prominent contributors, I've written small capsule bios of the top 20 publicly identified prolific contributors below (ordered alphabetically). I often find this approach to understanding a population—a sequence of brief descriptions—more useful than a "data" based approach that gives tallies of occupation and the like. This way, at least to me, gives a richer glimpse into who people are and what they do. Following the bios, I have however summarized people into numbers on one aspect, giving the geographical location of the top 100.
(Apologies if I've mis- or insufficiently represented anyone!)
Karl M. Bunday is an education-reform activist. Since the 1990s, he maintains learninfreedom.org, an information resource for homeschooling parents and self-teaching learners. He is also a founding director and math coach for the nonprofit Edina Center for Academic Excellence, which teaches weekend and summer mathematics courses. He has four kids of ages eight through nineteen, and lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota; he has also in the past lived for a considerable time in Taiwan.
Paul Graham is the site's owner. After earning a PhD in applied science, and studying painting for a bit, he became known in the Lisp community for writing two books, On Lisp (1993) and ANSI Common Lisp (1995); the former is still particularly liked as an explanation of idiomatic use of macros in Common Lisp. He then gained fortune by selling an online storefront company, Viaweb, to Yahoo in 1998. Subsequently, he used some of the proceeds from that sale to found Y Combinator. He also writes a number of essays, some of which were collected into a 2004 book. He is based in Mountain View, California.
John Graham-Cumming is a British technologist and author. He wrote the POPFile mail filter, successfully initiated the 2009 campaign for a British government apology to Alan Turing, and founded an organization that aims to build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. He's been involved with companies including Scriptics, Interwoven, Electric Cloud, and CloudFlare. Things he's written include a PhD thesis, Guardian articles, a column on GNU Make collected into a book (2008), a blog, and another book, the more popularly oriented The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive (2009). He lives in London, UK.
George Grellas is a lawyer focusing on technology startups as clients, as a partner in Grellas Shah LLP. He writes a "Startup Law 101" series, and frequently comments with lengthy analyses of legal issues that the community is discussing. He is based in Cupertino, California.
Jacques Mattheij is a Dutch technologist. An excerpt from his own bio blurb: "Born in 1965, just in time for the PC revolution to get underway, I've been playing with technology since I was old enough to hold a screwdriver ... First it was mechanical stuff, then electrical, then electronics, and pretty soon thereafter software. I'm a life-long tinkerer, love technology very much, and try to understand 'what’s in the box' as much as that is possible. From vacuum tubes to VLSI, and everything in between. My main occupations are being owner/operator of ww.com, which pioneered streaming webcam technology, and working as a consultant to do technical due diligence."
Patrick McKenzie is an entrepreneur known for running web-based small businesses, especially Bingo Card Creator. He blogs extensively on the marketing and business aspects of running a one-person small business online. He lives in Gifu, Japan.
Dan Nguyen is a journalist, programmer, photographer, and writer. He used to work at the Sacramento Bee and ProPublica, and now works at Skift. He's taught a course at NYU-SCPS on "small data journalism". Writings include a New York Photoblog, another blog, and free online books on Ruby, photography, and regular expressions. He lives in New York City.
Thomas H. Ptacek is a computer-security researcher, and co-founder of Matasano, a computer-security consultancy based in Chicago (since 2012, a subsidiary of NCC Group). In addition to their regular work, they have a somewhat famous Crypto Challenge, a 48-exercise course (of sorts) that they administer, advertised as an alternative way to learn cryptography (and probably be hired, if one completes it).
Daniel Ribeiro is a Brazilian software developer. He was formerly CTO of a mobile-game startup, and now works for PagerDuty in San Francisco. He keeps a technical blog, and contributes to a variety of projects.
Jonathan Rockway is a programmer who currently works at Google. He's been active in the Perl community for some years (although presumably not at Google, who afaik don't use any Perl). Among other things, he's a core developer of the Catalyst Perl web framework, and wrote a book about it. He lives in the New York City area.
Ed Weissman is an American programmer who is locally famous in large part for his postings on Hacker News, which he later compiled into a free ebook (PDF). He describes himself like so: "My name is Ed Weissman and I've been programming professionally for 32 years. I've done work for many companies, both enterprises and small/medium businesses. I've functioned as an employee, a contractor, and a vendor. I've worked in many industries, almost always on business systems. I started out on IBM mainframes, moved to mini-computers, then to PCs, and finally to web-based technologies. I've started three businesses, two with partners and one alone, selling both services and products." He used to have a blog at edweissman.com, but it seems to have died along with its host, Posterous. He has a new one (not including archives) at Wordpress.
David Welton is a programmer and small businessman who runs DedaSys. He's been involved in a wide range of free-software projects, including as a Debian developer since the '90s, a maintainer of Apache Tcl, and co-creator of Hecl. Among other writings and side projects are some articles and langpop.com. From Oregon, USA, he now lives in Padova, Italy.
Colin Wright describes himself pretty concisely: "I'm a PhD in Pure Maths (Combinatorics and Graph Theory) from the University of Cambridge. My BSc(Hons) was in Pure maths from Monash University, Australia. I work in industry as a director of Innovation and Research, helping to create equipment that does the maritime equivalent of Air-Traffic Control. Basically, we provide kit to help people stop 30,000 tonne oil tankers from crashing into nuclear submarines. In what's laughingly called my free time I travel around the world giving talks on why maths is useful, fun, and occasionally exciting. My most popular talk is on the theory of juggling. I speak about 100 times a year, mostly in the UK, but recently in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Finland, Ireland, and Jersey." He lives in Wirral, UK.
Of the top 100 contributors, 81 either disclose their location in their profiles, or else post under their real names and give their location in some other obviously public location (website, Twitter, GitHub, etc.). The San Francisco Bay Area is indeed the single most common location, with 17 out of those 81. The majority (64/81) are scattered elsewhere around the world—but mostly elsewhere around the United States.