Big Ideas From the Computer Age
As more and more aspects of our lives - typewriters, phones,
cameras, cars, etc. - become computerized, the need to understand
the world of computer programmers becomes more and more apparent.
In Hackers & Painters
, computer science expert and
painter Paul Graham examines the world of computer programmers and
what motivates them to create the most important technical
breakthroughs. While discussing the many issues that have
accompanied the computer's rise to prominence in our lives, Graham
attempts to answer many of the questions that have emerged along
For starters, Graham explains that the word "hacker" has more than one definition. Although many might think of a hacker as a malicious malcontent who breaks into computers, the hackers who
Graham refers to throughout Hackers & Painters are the good computer programmers who make all the magic of computers
happen at the touch of a finger.
Graham's first chapter, "Why Nerds Are Unpopular," attempts to explain why smart children are at the bottom of the food chain in high school, and describes the dilemmas facing them when they are too young and unorganized to put their gifts into action. While
contemplating the terms "character" and "integrity," Graham follows his own progress from nerd to computer scientist to painter. He explains that painters and computer hackers have much in common, including the desire to make good things.
Masterpieces and Software
When comparing the development of great software to the creation of
a painted masterpiece, Graham points to Leonardo da Vinci's
portrait of Ginevra de' Benci. He explains that da Vinci's painting
is not great simply because of the beautiful form of the woman in
the foreground, but is arresting because of the immense attention
to background and foreground details that produces a complete and
stunning work. Graham writes, "Great software, likewise, requires a fanatical devotion to beauty. If you look inside good software, you
find that parts no one is ever supposed to see are beautiful
Ambition and Routine
When discussing the intricacies of hacking and the management of
it, he explains that the ups and downs of inspiration must be taken
into account. "In both painting and hacking there are some tasks
that are terrifyingly ambitious, and others that are comfortingly
routine. It's a good idea to save some easy tasks for moments when
you could otherwise stall."
Graham, who has a Ph.D. in computer science from Harvard and has studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design as well as the Accademia in Florence, Italy, points out that the similarities between hackers and painters are endless. For example, he writes, "Like painting, most software is intended for a human audience. And so hackers, like painters, must have empathy to do really great work. You have to be able to see things from the user's point of view."
Hackers & Painters can be seen as a compilation of essays, each held within a single chapter, that explore the
concepts of creativity and computer programming as seen through the
eyes of an imaginative thinker who has strong and personal ideas on
all the subjects he attacks. Along the way, he describes how spam
can be destroyed, the role of "taste" in the creative process, how
programming languages work, what type of programming language will
exist in 100 years, and how his Viaweb startup created the first
Web-based application. Although each chapter can be digested alone
without the others, together they form a well-rounded view of the
many worlds that are taking place beneath the surface of our
language, our computers, and our culture.
Why We Like This Book
Hackers & Painters goes beyond personal memoir and business handbook, landing at a more unique place where personal
and business experiences combine, providing the perfect canvas on
which to paint clear directions for those managing hackers, and the
hackers themselves. Full of positive advice and leadership tips,
Graham offers his readers a road map to the computerized future.