Book Reviews

Hackers and Painters By Paul Graham

November 4, 2017

Most people who aren’t into computer programming tend to think of it as boring and analytical. But if you’re a programmer yourself, you know that programming is a very creative process, akin to painting. Just like artists, good programmers focus on creating great things, and the possibilities of what you can do are virtually limitless.And this is not the only misconception non-programmers have about programmers. Yes, programmers may dress unfashionably or act awkwardly in social situations, but this is mostly because they’re smart people and couldn’t care less about social conventions. It’s this rebellious spirit that makes them so good at programming, a state of mind that could help anyone come up with innovative ideas.

Paul Graham is a British programmer and venture capitalist. He is the co-founder of start-up Viaweb that was sold in 1998 to Yahoo! and eventually became Yahoo! Store.From his Book,Hackers and Painters you will learn what programming languages are and why there are so many,why the motives of computer hackers initially baffled the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and why perhaps it’s time you too learned how to code – if you want to become obscenely rich.This book will help you better understand the inner self of hackers and programmers.Below are the top misconceptions cleared and lessons discussed in this book:

1.Morals are as fleeting as fashion; and nerds are unpopular because they’re unaware of both:What do you think fashion and morals have in common? At first glance, not much. But actually both phenomena are limited to a certain time and place.It may be a surprise then to realize that morals are just as temporary and location-dependent. These moral fashions affect a whole spectrum of moral issues, including how you should treat other people and what values you cherish the most.So, both clothing fashions and moral fashions are constantly changing. Can you think of any subgroup in society that is oblivious to these changes?

Of course: nerds, or smart people who are not socially adept and so don’t try to fit in with their peers. Nerds use their time and energy to become smarter without bothering to adhere to fashionable conventions, because being fashionable isn’t a goal. This may be most apparent if someone you know wears a neon denim jacket every day for five years, but it also applies to moral fashions.The result is that nerds are not very likely to be popular among their peers, especially in high school. To be voted prom king or queen, a student usually has to be in tune with the current moral and clothing fashions.But thankfully after high school – in the real world – where being fashionable doesn’t matter much anymore, nerds seem to do just fine.

2.Computer hackers are like artists, in the sense that both groups want to make good things:If you think of the word hacker, what comes to mind? Most people probably imagine a cold, calculating person who illegally breaks into computers through tedious, analytical work.Now, think about an artist, like a painter. You’ve probably conjured up an image of an inspired genius who pours her soul on to a canvas.Let’s clear up a few misconceptions. First, in the computer world, the term hacker refers to an outstanding programmer who can do almost anything, not necessarily a criminal. What’s more, hacking requires a very creative mind, closer to a painter’s than say, a mathematician’s.In fact, both hackers and painters are similar in the sense that they both solve problems by creating concepts rather than implementing them.

For example, the author was originally taught he should work on computer code on paper until it was perfect, and only then, transfer the code to a computer. But he found that an artistic approach worked far better: he would just start writing code and solve problems as they occurred, much like a painter might just start sketching something and work from there, rather than perfectly planning her work beforehand.Another similarity is that both hackers and painters produce work that has abstract value, which is hard to measure through metrics such as tests or media attention. The only measure of value for such “work” is how well people like it. For software, this depends on how well the software pleases the user by meeting his needs, and for art, on how well the work pleases the audience.The author came to understand these similarities when he went to art school after graduating with a degree in computer science. He found both fields to have more similarities than differences, because both aim at the same fundamental goal: making good things.

3.Hackers  need to be rebellious to be good at what they do :You may think that successful computer programming requires you to adhere rigidly to rules and conventions. After all, not doing so would result in a bunch of errors, right?In fact, becoming a hacker often means violating some rules. Just like in any other profession, you can only learn to hack by looking at the work of those who came before you. And if you want to take a really close look, you may well have to bend and break some laws yourself, as it’s possible that the work you’re interested in is protected by intellectual property rights.Hackers have a kind of intellectual curiosity about current technologies such as cutting-edge software, and yet to study it, they may have to break into someone else’s computer. These endeavors are often illegal. Hackers are thus considered criminals, even though they’re most likely committing a crime out of curiosity, rather than to steal anything.Originally, when breaking into computers was first classified as a crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) struggled in its cases, as often a hacker’s main motive was simple intellectual curiosity. As far as criminal motives go, this was – for the FBI – totally unheard of.You may now be thinking that hackers should simply abide by the law, but in fact it is their rebellious nature that makes them so good at what they do.

Because being rebellious means questioning authority, whether the government or experts in your field. And questioning established ideas is the only way to come up with innovative ones, a prerequisite for good programming.Most hackers are nerds in that they are smart people who don’t really care about social conventions, so they are especially skilled in challenging everything – and then improving on it.

4.Programming Languages:In this book,Author also discussed about Programming Languages in language so that even layman person can understand all about how programming languages works and what they are.Author discuss that how  Programming languages differ according to their purpose, and are being improved all the time.For Example,Sometimes the necessary concepts for your program don’t even exist in the language you’ve chosen, so you have to either switch or find a workaround in the first language.For example, if you tried to add Y to X in the language Python, you’d run into trouble because it doesn’t fully recognize variables like that. So you’d have to find a workaround, which in this case would mean writing six lines of code.This is why there are so many languages in existence. But the field is far from stagnant: existing languages are constantly evolving and new ones are being developed. This is because languages are developed by programmers who adapt them according to their own preferences and requirements.Author also discuss in this section about the importance of designing the programming language according to hacker’s taste and needs or else hacker will simply switch to another language.

The most important point discussed in this section was Businesses prefer popular programming languages, but sometimes obscure ones could give them an edge.This is what the author did when he created Viaweb with the little-known language Lisp, giving him a technical advantage and leaving his competitors wondering what exactly he was doing.

5.Launching a start-up can be a fast way to get rich, and there’s nothing wrong with that:Many people dream of one day starting a company around a great idea they’ve had. But if you’re a good programmer, you really should go for it and found your own company.Because launching a start-up really is one of the fastest ways to becoming rich.When working for a large corporation, your wage won’t substantially increase no matter how hard you work. If you found a start-up, on the other hand, you’ll have to work very hard but at least every hour of work you put in will make it more likely your company will succeed and you’ll get a big payout.This is what happened to the author. He and his start-up’s two co-founders worked long hours on their online shopping application called Viaweb, and eventually sold it for millions.Some may protest that this is the wrong goal, and that the whole dynamic of concentrating wealth in the hands of the rich is a mistake. But actually, concentrating wealth is not only fair, it’s good for everyone.


Because wealth is not the same as money. Wealth constitutes the things that people want, whereas money is only the medium of exchange that people trade for wealth.With this distinction in mind, it’s obvious that wealth can be created by anyone, without diminishing the wealth of others. For example, if you own a classic car and refurbish it in your spare time, you’re creating new wealth without depriving anyone else of it. This means wealth is not limited, so the rich aren’t “hogging” it.Also, isn’t it possible that the richest individuals, such as CEOs, professional athletes and so on, really have worked harder and more productively than others, so that they deserve their wealth?For example, if you have to work ten times harder in your start-up than the average corporate employee, isn’t it fair that you earn ten times the income? Especially when in doing so, you’ll create a product that everyone can enjoy and benefit from.


These Were the top takeaways from this book.

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