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great hackers

http://www.paulgraham.com/gh.html

PG's latest...enjoy.

don't agree with him on all points though!

Prakash S
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Python, hmm....

Berlin Brown
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

so what is the message?  You are not a great hacker unless you use open source software and program in Python?  Sounds like trash to me.

Craig H
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I like python, but I think this is a bit over the top.  There are a ton of smart Java guys as well.  Plus I'm not convinced that python is universally better than Java or C++ for that matter.

christopher (baus.net)
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

...And java girls of course.

christopher (baus.net)
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

His point isn't that Python is a better language, it's that hackers like Python better, so therefore it must be a better language.  Subtle difference.  Paul himself is a Lisp nut, and has written some very insightful books on it (On Lisp, available at his sight).

His other premise is that hackers are so ludicrously better than other programmers that they don't need the conforming elements of a language, such as static types.  He has an essay on LFM vs LFSP, that being Languages for the Masses (Java, C++, COBOL) vs Languages for Smart People (Lisp, Python, anything the hackers use).

I don't know if I believe it, but it's a romantic notion, especially if one aspires to it.

Aspiring Hacker
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"If Microsoft used this approach, their software wouldn't be so full of security holes, because the less smart people writing the actual applications wouldn't be doing low-level stuff like allocating memory. Instead of writing Word directly in C, they'd be plugging together big Lego blocks of Word-language. (Duplo, I believe, is the technical term.)"

Yeah that's what .NET is all about.  Pity he doesn't reference this.  Surely he realizes it?

"I think Bill Gates knows this. What worries him about Google is not the power of their brand, but the fact that they have better hackers."

I beg to differ.  If you look at the people working for Microsoft Research it is like a who's who of great hackers.  And a lot of their work filters down into end-user products, so it isn't like there is a real split there because they are in the Research division.

Mr. Fancypants
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I get a little sick whenever I read Graham's essays, from the amount of self-congratulation and pandering to geek stereotypes.  How many Python coders didn't get a little jolt of self-esteem from reading that Great Hackers (TM) choose expressive Python over dull, gray, corporate Java.  Yeah, I'm anti-establishment!  Fight the man!

How is that article anything other than a rehashing of the geek stereotype that was so prevalent and overused in the dot-com bubble?

Justin Johnson
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Ugh! Another elitist view on software development which makes me think the author has an axe to grind with Java.

What's his beef?

TheGeezer
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Similar spin here on java with python being the favorite for Bruce Eckel.

http://mindview.net/WebLog/log-0055

So all 3 million java hackers are bad hackers, if you say so.

Berlin Brown
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Bruce Eckel is, at least, an honest convert.  When he says that Python is better than Java for X, Y, and Z reasons, he at least knows what he's talking about, and allows that Java has its own virtues from a different perspective.

Justin Johnson
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

That's the point.  There aren't 3 million Java hackers. There are 3 million Java programmers.  Programmers are not necessarily hackers.

!
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Java taking over COBOL as the most popular language?  Wha?
No mention of C/C++?

Is it just me or was a good chunk of his essay based on a false "fact"?  He makes good general (and unprovable) points, but when you have to constantly lean on "facts" like that, it probably means his argument isn't *that* strong.

I'll give you that on average, the Python user is probably a better programmer than the average Java user, but that's only because Java isn't taught to every Tom, Dick, and Harry at every community college on earth and Python isn't mainstream, thus attracting people who are naturally more inquisitive on their own (also, there's no mention of problem domain being solved).

Crimson
Thursday, July 29, 2004

These rambling "gatekeeper to all wisdom" articles Paul Graham spews out are increasingly ridiculous.  He is obviously suffering some form of a christ complex.

heil paul graham
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Like most of his articles, Paul makes some very insightful points here, is pretty much on the money in many details, and is miles closer to the truth than conventional wisdom could ever lead anyone.

Take, for example, when he discusses productivity variance. He has the scale right, and the outcome, but I think he misses the underlying reason.  Paul: "I think what's happening in programming is just that we have a lot of technological leverage."  I think a much bigger factor is related to something said here many times, which I'll put this way: in a roomful of people who speak only English, what will be the performance advantage of the one person fluent in Swahili, when the given task is to translate a Bantu text into English?

In comparing programming to stick gathering, the difference is not the technology leverage, but the fact that even a toddler can gather sticks, and so a productivity variance is moderate, while in programming, the average person stares blankly most of the time while the hacker happily hacks away.

But in other areas, Paul's points are impeccable: money, environment, boredom and curiosity.

We might quibble about his Python and Unix and Open Source predilections, and I disagree with him on all three.  Open Source grieves me for its effect on the programming job market, I've used Unixes quite begrudgingly for a couple decades and still despise it, and while Python has a few language features I really like, as a whole I think only a fellow victim of Perl could love Python.  (And this one doesn't.)  Still, Paul's salesmanship for those things and claims of their role as bellwether do not bother me so much.  I just discount it as a sign that he  travels in a very narrow circle, and needs to get outside his tribe more.

I'll gladly take these few quirky spices in a dish of otherwise tasty and nutritious thought, as his articles almost always offer, to the ancient pile of puss-ridden leftovers at the back of the refrigerator offered as wisdom in nearly all other quarters of our profession.

Cabby
Thursday, July 29, 2004

The constant arbitrary distinctions this industry makes between programmers and anybody else on the planet is really tired.  Where does this nonsense come from? The enfeebled egos of million cubicle bound code monkeys?  It's almost as if in the last 30 years or so an entirely new generation of people were born that had undergone some evolutionary quantum leap.

This "great hacker" stuff is fatuous rubbish. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen so much utter drivel condensed into a single article.

pffft..
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Ugh, Java fanboy backlash

_
Thursday, July 29, 2004

> ...And java girls of course

Huh? What are girls?


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Aside from his anti-Java bigotty, the thing that sticks in the gullet is the self-congratulation. He really does think the sun shines out of his behind. His book 'Hackers and Painters' is full of it.

Take a look at the review here:

http://www.techbookreport.com/tbr0095.html

x
Thursday, July 29, 2004

"Ugh, Java fanboy backlash"

Nice Troll.

TheGeezer
Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm the greatest hacker the world has ever seen.

I'm hacking all of you fools right now and you don't even know it.

That's how good I am.

Mr.Fancypants
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Me thinks Mr Graham gets most of his "insight" from JOS; from the discussions WE have here. Note the offices cubicles thing. Apart from that he doesn't really display any insight.

Management material
Thursday, July 29, 2004

>> They generally feel that they're stupid and lazy, that their brain only works properly one day out of ten, and that it's only a matter of time until they're found out.

Oh my God. This is EXACTLY how I feel!

Alex
Thursday, July 29, 2004

For such an intelligent and educated guy he sure seems unable to assemble evidence from anything outside his immediate experience.  He doesn't think it's possible to identify hackers but he knows they prefer Python over Java?  I admit, my experience is that UNIX fanatics tend to be far better than Windows NT proponents, but I am not egomaniacal enough to consider this an indisputable fact.

Especially revealing is the way he says that disparities in wealth or income may not be as bad as "we" thought.  Who is "we"?  I never thought that.  I know a lot of people who never thought that and I have seen many people on TV clearly not thinking that and I have read many articles by people who clearly don't think that.

Somehow in this guys mind "we" all were under that misaprehesion until the day he reasoned out that it might not be true.  I will stop now before I start ranting about how disparities in wealth and income aren't bad.

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, July 29, 2004

"He doesn't think it's possible to identify hackers but he knows they prefer Python over Java?"

He doesn't think it possible to identify hackers without knowing them.

"I am not egomaniacal enough to consider this an indisputable fact."

And you think Paul is?

"Who is "we"?"

Please..

i like i
Thursday, July 29, 2004

From the writing he seems to consider his limited experience in the same way scientists consider the data they gather.  If the writing is an accurate reflection of the man then I would say I do.

"please..."  snappy comeback.  You should be on one of those political debate shows.

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, July 29, 2004

The point is that if one cannot reliably identify a population it is not possible to ascribe preferences to them.  He has met a handful of people who he would put in the group hackers.  They almost all prefered Python and UNIX.  To a person who understands statistics and science, it is obvious that this tells us nothing about the preference for Python and UNIX in the overall hacker population.

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, July 29, 2004

The right tool for the job.

I can and have programmed in Java, C++, Perl, Python, and a dozen others in 25+ years.  I don't have a favorite, although I like the Java development environments like netbeans, which makes it more fun.

The best hacker I ever worked with was a master with the PDP-8 and PDP-11 macro assembers - how that's a true hacker!

Allez-Allez
Thursday, July 29, 2004

The article could be summarized as "3 million Java hackers can't be right". 

His points *might* be true for pure hacking, but most of the folks I have met who are into mainstream languages (C++, Java, C#) are into business hacking: trying to get the most business value from software. That's a different *kind* of problem than his hackers are trying to solve.

On Open Source, I've always thought that the *main* reason for preferring OS is not ideology but the fact that you don't need anyone's permission to set it up -- just download and go. No licenses to buy, no forms to fill out.

Portabella
Thursday, July 29, 2004

No programmers to feed.

Cabby
Thursday, July 29, 2004

"I'm the greatest hacker the world has ever seen."  No I would say the worlds greatest hacker is standing somewhere in Africa with a bloody machete in hand.  Sadly.

Formerly someone else
Thursday, July 29, 2004

When I read the article, I was pretty sure that despite the many intelligent things Paul mused about, most people here would be up in arms about one thing only: the Java dis, and its implication that their years in Javaland demonstrates they must not be so good.

Suck it up, kids.  Cripes, I spend a boatload of time using Java too, and reside totally outside his "great hacker" preference profile, but I didn't let the reptile medulla fire up on this one.  What tender egos.  If it helps, pull it into your text editor, substitute "%%%" for each sentence containing "Java" or "Python" or "Windows", and reread.  You might notice some stuff you didn't see before.

A point made above implies Java is somehow better suited to business applications than Paul's dear Python.  I'd be eager to read a detailed feature analysis supporting that argument.  (Note: I much prefer Java over Python, and yet I don't see justification for that position that Java is inherently better suited for business applications.)

Cabby
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Why are some of you dwelling on Python?  His other articles and his book clearly state that he thinks Lisp is better than Python.  Even in this article, he seems to elevate Perl to the same level as Python.

Scot
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Cabby-

I think posters have made it clear they agree with much of what he said.  They disagree with the great hackers prefer Python idea which was presented with no evidence aside from the anecdotal.

I also think some of the posters were correct to point out that these "great hackers" might not all be ideal for developing business apps.  I have known some great programmers who only wanted to do interesting things.  One guy liked Java but after working on it for many years became bored and tried to convince our company we should be using Rebol.

Honestly is it a good idea to switch your enterprise app from Java to Rebol because one of your best programmers is bored?  There are fun parts to programming final products and boring parts and we need to do them both.

name withheld out of cowardice
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Well I guess we know which camp the JOS fall into.

I know a couple of great hackers and they were not offended by this article in any way.

Cornelious
Thursday, July 29, 2004

I'm no hacker.  I know hackers - white hats mostly - and sometimes I can answer their C questions.  Interestingly, there exist modern hackers that can CTF at DefCon, can interpret single obfuscated statements, but can't translate the code of an entire application into its purpose as well as JOS developers.

Not claiming that as a general rule, just as an experience I've had, but it makes some sense.  We're used to getting applications dumped on us - it's Day 1, any job - and being expected to grok the system and do something that it would find useful.  Totally different skill than finding a target to exploit.

best not to say :)
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Best Not Say-

You don't understand what is meant by the term "hacker".  Check out http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/H/hacker.html. 

Thank me later
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Why are we listening to this guy?  So he made some money during the .com boom.  Big deal...

I'm getting sick of these .com guys who claim to be really smart because they made more money than us when the getting was good.  If you want to impress me, start a software company today, and sell in THIS market.   

The comment on Java is stupid, and uninformed.  Take a look at all the work being done on Jakarta.  Plenty of good hackers have contributed code there. 

Have you seen the new Wired?  This guy is way on the Wonk side if you ask me...

I'll probably regret saying that someday, but screw it...

christopher (baus.net)
Thursday, July 29, 2004

> the Java dis, and its implication that their years in Javaland demonstrates they must not be so good.

What's wrong with contesting this assertion?  I don't think my ego is on the line when I say that the broad, sweeping statement that "great hackers aren't working in Java" is wrong.

When C++ was the rage, were all the great programmers working in Smalltalk? Some of them, yes, but *all* of them?

> A point made above implies Java is somehow better suited to business applications than Paul's dear Python.  I'd be eager to read a detailed feature analysis supporting that argument.  (Note: I much prefer Java over Python, and yet I don't see justification for that position that Java is inherently better suited for business applications.)

The primary suitability of Java and C# for business applications is that it's where the market is. No more, no less.

An interesting datum would be the language that many start-up server-side applications are written. *If* there are real competitive advantages vis-a-vis the language (a dubious proposition), then the choice should be most obvious here, not in the mainstream.

Portabella
Thursday, July 29, 2004

I thought his article sucked.

He sets up Microsoft as an example of how to develop software (put your developers in their own offices). Oops - Microsoft sucks, he knew a company that was going to use NT and that meant the company was DOOMED.

Ok, so Microsoft can attract all these great hackers that like to work in offices, but Microsoft can't produce tools that others can use to build successful products. So who cares if you have hackers?

Maybe the title of his article should be, "Hackers considered useless."

As well, he claims there are only 10-20 places where most hackers want to work. If you aren't in that top 20 you'll have 0 hackers. I really doubt this reasoning. Maybe there is a hacker top 20 list, but I'm sure there are hundreds of companies letting hackers work on their little labors of love.

NathanJ
Thursday, July 29, 2004

But he mentions how you get the Great Programmers working on their magical super frameworks and toolkits while the grunts tap away making them into programs to be sold. So maybe this is what is supposed to be happening at MS, with the grand masters producing their beatiful pearl of an OS kernel, which as it goes through the company steadily grows accretion after accretion and crappy gewgaw after pointless shiny UI thing... until you have Windows XP.

Tom
Thursday, July 29, 2004

His article is a good illustration of the fact that mediocre people were able to create assets that business would pay millions for during the dot com boom.

As I recall, this guy didn't even cotton on to the roles that had been assigned after he sold his company, and ended up having to leave. Not only was he unable to contribute in that new environment, he was outmanouvered too.

.
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Portabella said "but most of the folks I have met who are into mainstream languages (C++, Java, C#) are into business hacking: trying to get the most business value from software."

That isn't hacking. That's programming. As used in Graham's essay, there is a difference. He is reflecting on his personal experiences with other elite hackers.

Most of us aren't hackers at all, in that we are not driven to code even on the days off, on the weekends, etc. We may be professional programmers, but we aren't hackers. Graham's essay doesn't address us except tangentially (by implying that we are less valuable than real hackers).

Is his personal experience foolproof? Probably not. But I think his insight that hackers are a differentiated subpopulation of programmers that should be targeted carefully is right on the money. Isn't this what Microsoft famously does? (Maybe they don't do it well enough, but that's a separate question.)

bashful
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Okay then, we need to define terms.  What is a hacker and how is it different from a programmer.  I thought I knew and never considered "hacker" as superior to "programmer" but the author seems to take it as a given that hacker=super-programmer.

name withheld out of cowardice
Friday, July 30, 2004

Example #1.  The guy or gal who upon arrival dumps a bag full of books in his office and and rushes to yours saying with bloodshot eyes "Hey, check this out..." and shows you an application-specific language and compiler cranked out from 11pm to 3:45am this morning, after noticing that in the application you both write, 38% of the code is the expression and 4-way replication of something that could be expressed very concisely with no duplication in this new simple language.

Cabby
Friday, July 30, 2004

The discussion basically centers around _values_.

I think Graham likes nerds so much that he gives them more credit than is due. He'd rather have a brilliant academic language which is not used for anything practical than a boring, kinda buggy business app that people actually use for real work. That's his choice. I can see his point, but I think that the world is simply wider than he chooses to acknowlege.

One might also ask about the role of geniuses in creating. Take the World Wide Web for example. Created by smart folk to be sure, but built to what it is now by everyone under the sun, for all kinds of purposes: noble and crass, foolish and wise, greedy and altruistic.  Being smart was entirely optional.

Portabella
Friday, July 30, 2004

The mention about python hackers being better than java hackers, onlyholds on 2 lines, and is not mentioned again.
I don't know why so many people focused solely on these couple of lines.
So many other interesting stuffs were said, that they almost blow away the python VS java argument!

Gosh, can one be more picky!!!!

Yen a marre!
Tuesday, August 03, 2004

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