Hackers and …

Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters, published by O’Reilly Media in 2004, gives insight on earning money in the Cloud (though the term is not used), on computer languages and software design. Probably its most known for the first chapter “Why Nerds are unpopular” which explains very good why teenagers (not only nerds) are unhappy.

As the title suggests, it is full of analogies. Indeed, he compares Stalin with Hitler, Cobol with Neanderthal language, Porsche 911 with Roman Pantheon (both are funny), Florence of the 15th century with New York of the 20th. Good hackers with Leonardo and Jane Austen, and bad hackers, who are too lazy to start a startup, with cows who still believe in current running through fence. And of course hacking with painting and architecture.

My attention was attracted by the following metaphor:

“Computer Science is a grab bag of tenuously related areas thrown together by an accident of history, like Yugoslavia.” (p.18)

Graham hates the idea to throw mathematitians financed by DARPA, algorithm historians and hackers into the same department, because its intellectually confusing. And most of all because hackers shouldn’t be doing science and research, but “designing beautiful software.” It’s an interesting idea to educate hackers as painters, and probably Graham means that as soon as hackers are independent from computer science they will get rid of research and become artists.

“Perhaps one day “computer science” will, like Yugoslavia, get broken up into its component parts. It might be a good thing. Especially if it meant independence for my native land, hacking.” (p.19)

Let’s hope that when the Federal Republic of Computer Science will break up, Hacking will manage to come out like Slovenia, not like Kosovo or Bosnia.

The Wikipedia article on computer science names at least six fields, each with numerous disciplines. But what is curious that, despite the overall name, none of them is occupied with computers themselves. The article refers to analogy made once by the noble Dutch scientist Edsger Wybe Dijkstra: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

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