Hackers and Painters

by Paul Graham

1 Why Nerds Are Unpopular

Their minds are not on the game. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html

2 Hackers and Painters

Hackers are makers, like painters or architects or writers. http://www.paulgraham.com/hp.html

3 What You Can’t Say

How to think heretical thoughts and what to do with them. http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

4 Good Bad Attitude

Like Americans, hackers win by breaking rules. http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

5 The Other Road Ahead

Web-based software offers the biggest opportunity since the arrival of the microcomputer. http://www.paulgraham.com/road.html

6 How to Make Wealth

The best way to get rich is to create wealth. And startups are the best way to do that. http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html

7 Mind the Gap

Could “unequal income distribution” be less of a problem than we think? http://www.paulgraham.com/gap.html

8 A Plan for Spam

Till recently most experts thought spam filtering wouldn’t work. This proposal changed their minds. http://www.paulgraham.com/spam.html

9 Taste for Makers

How do you make great things?

10 Programming Languages Explained

What a programming language is and why they are a hot topic now.

11 The Hundred-Year Language

How will we program in a hundred years? Why not start now?

12 Beating the Averages

For web-based applications you can use whatever language you want. So can your competitors.

13 Revenge of the Nerds

In technology, “industry best practice” is a recipe for losing.

14 The Dream Language

A good programming language is one that lets hackers have their way with it.

15 Design and Research

Research has to be original. Design has to be good.

5 The Other Road Ahead

Web-based software offers the biggest opportunity since the arrival of the microcomputer. http://www.paulgraham.com/road.html

Via web was a lot more sophisticated than what most of these merchants got, but we couldn’t afford to tell them. At $300 a month, we couldn’t afford to send a team of well-dressed and authoritative-sounding people to make presentations to customers.

A large part of what big companies pay extra for is the cost of selling expensive things to them. (If the Defense Department pays a thousand dollars for toilet seats, it’s partly because it costs a lot to sell toilet seats for a thousand dollars.) And this is one reason intranet software will continue to thrive, even though it is probably a bad idea. It’s simply more expensive. There is nothing you can do about this conundrum, so the best plan is to go for the smaller customers first. The rest will come in time.

There are only two things you have to know about business: build something users love, and make more than you spend. If you get these two right, you’ll be ahead of most startups. You can figure out the rest as you go.

Use your software yourself, all the time. Viaweb was supposed to be an online store builder, but we used it to make our own site too. Don’t listen to marketing people or designers or product managers just because of their job titles. If they have good ideas, use them, but it’s up to you to decide; software has to be designed by hackers who understand design, not designers who know a little about software. If you can’t design software as well as implement it, don’t start a startup.

6 How to Make Wealth

Here is a brief sketch of the economic proposition. If you’re a good hacker in your mid twenties, you can get a job paying about $80,000 per year. So on average such a hacker must be able to do at least $80,000 worth of work per year for the company just to break even. You could probably work twice as many hours as a corporate employee, and if you focus you can probably get three times as much done in an hour. [1] You should get another multiple of two, at least, by eliminating the drag of the pointy-haired middle manager who would be your boss in a big company. Then there is one more multiple: how much smarter are you than your job description expects you to be? Suppose another multiple of three. Combine all these multipliers, and I’m claiming you could be 36 times more productive than you’re expected to be in a random corporate job. [2] If a fairly good hacker is worth $80,000 a year at a big company, then a smart hacker working very hard without any corporate bullshit to slow him down should be able to do work worth about $3 million a year.

If $3 million a year seems high, remember that we’re talking about the limit case: the case where you not only have zero leisure time but indeed work so hard that you endanger your health.

Smallness = Measurement