Hackers and painters

Paul Graham‘s essay hackers and painters is an very interesting read:

One thing we can learn, or at least confirm, from the example of painting is how to learn to hack. You learn to paint mostly by doing it. Ditto for hacking. Most hackers don‘t learn to hack by taking college courses in programming. They learn to hack by writing programs of their own at age thirteen. Even in college classes, you learn to hack mostly by hacking.

The comparison goes further making a statement on how the creative process works which is pretty interesting in these days where the big business is talking about “intellectual property” and “patenting ideas”. There is no such thing as an “original idea” in my opinion.

Because painters leave a trail of work behind them, you can watch them learn by doing. If you look at the work of a painter in chronological order, you‘ll find that each painting builds on things that have been learned in previous ones. When there‘s something in a painting that works very well, you can usually find version 1 of it in a smaller form in some earlier painting.

The same goes for hackers and their work. He makes also interesting notes about programming languages:

A programming language is for thinking of programs, not for expressing programs you‘ve already thought of. It should be a pencil, not a pen … We need a language that lets us scribble and smudge and smear, not a language where you have to sit with a teacup of types balanced on your knee and make polite conversation with a strict old aunt of a compiler.

He points out differences between hacking and being a “software engineer”, the problems of hackers in the established systems of science and commerce and puts the beauty of hacking up front:

You can‘t do anything really well unless you love it, and if you love to hack you‘ll inevitably be working on projects of your own.

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 too.

In hacking, like painting, work comes in cycles. Sometimes you get excited about some new project and you want to work sixteen hours a day on it. Other times nothing seems interesting.

I couldn‘t agree more. Read the whole story.

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