"Hackers aren’t Like Painters" (or: "For Starters, Painters Get Chicks. And Gonorrhea.")

Book cover: Paul Graham's 'Hackers and Painters'.

Back when I had a personal technical blog (The Happiest Geek on Earth, no longer online),

I used to devote some time to voicing my annoyance with Smug Lisp

Weenies, of whom Paul

Graham is a high-ranking member, if not its Supreme

Commander. Some of these rantings were even chronicled

in Boing


In the time that has passed between then and now, Graham’s stance

towards non-Lisp languages, particularly one of my favourites, Python,

has mellowed. He’s also found other topics to write about. As a


a visit to no longer results in Mr. Graham’s getting up

my nose, at least as long as I don’t peruse the archives.

However, the Law of Conservation of Annoyance has asserted itself, as

Maciej Ceglowski

— both a programmer and a painter — has a bone to pick with Mr.


About two years ago, the Lisp programmer and dot-com millionaire Paul Graham wrote an

essay entitled Hackers and


in which he argues that his approach to computer programming is better

described by analogies to the visual arts than by the phrase “computer


When this essay came out, I was working as a computer programmer, and

since I had also spent a few years as a full-time oil


everybody who read the article and knew me sent along the hyperlink. I

didn’t particularly enjoy the essay — I thought the overall

tone was

glib, and I found the parallel to painting unconvincing — but

it didn’t

seem like anything worth getting worked up about. Just another

programmer writing about what made him tick.

But the emailed links continued, and over the next two

years Paul Graham steadily ramped up his output while moving

definitively away from subjects he had expertise in (like Lisp) to

topics like education, essay writing, history, and of course painting.

Sometime last year I noticed he had started making bank from an actual


book of collected essays, titled (of course) “Hackers and

Painters”. I felt it was time for me to step up.

Even if you’re not a computer programmer, you’ll find

Maciej’s essay, titled Dabblers and Blowhards, interesting — even if

only as a look into what geek pissing contests, complete with cruel-albeit-funny cheap shots, look like. He doesn’t

stray too far into technical esoterica and merely argues that hackers

are much, much closer in sprit to engineers rather than artists.

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