Hackers and Painters - Paul Graham


Essays on sociology, art, business, and software.

indicative quotes

teenage life

Like a lot of American kids, I read this book [Lord of the Flies] in school. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world. This was too subtle for me...I wish they had just told us outright that we were savages and our world was stupid. [5]


Nearly all the greatest paintings are paintings of people, for example, because people are what people are interested in. [31]

Representational art is only now recovering from the approval of both Hitler and Stalin. [42]


There are only two things you have to know about business: build something users love, and make more than you spend [84]

It's a lot easier for a couple of hackers to figure out how to rent office space or hire sales people than it is for a company of any size to get software written [85]

why bother?

If you are interested in the essay as a form (Graham as one of the prominent contemporary practitioners).

The world was out to dupe and enslave you, but he, Paul Graham, was — disinterestedly, dispassionately — going to get you out of here alive, armed only with Lisp, random facts about medieval Florence, and deep knowledge of Business Things.


social conformity leads to a Straussian world (you can only be honest with close friends)

Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?...If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence?...If you believe everything you're supposed to now, how can you be sure you wouldn't also have believed everything you were suppposed to if you had grown up among...the Mongols in 1200? Odds are you would have. [35]

Closed thoughts and an open face. Smile at everyone, and don't tell them what you're thinking. [45]

The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas...have a few trusted friends that you can speaking openly to...the people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know. [46]

a programming language is for sketching

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. [22]

Have you ever noticed that when you sit down to write something, half the ideas that end up in it are ones you thought of while writting? The same thing happens with software. Working to implement one idea gives you more ideas. [68]

prescient on what software development would become

I think a lot of the next generation of software will be written on this model [client-server vs. desktop] [56]

You realize how much software development is affected by the way it is released. [63]

If Apple were to grow the iPod into a cell phone with a web browser, Microsoft would be in big trouble. [78]