Paul Graham: Hackers and Painters:
When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in painting. They seemed to think that hacking and painting were very different kinds of work– that hacking was cold, precise, and methodical, and that painting was the frenzied expression of some primal urge.
Both of these images are wrong. Hacking and painting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I’ve known, hackers and painters are among the most alike.
What hackers and painters have in common is that they’re both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things. They’re not doing research per se, though if in the course of trying to make good things they discover some new technique, so much the better.
I’ve never liked the term “computer science.” The main reason I don’t like it is that there’s no such thing.
…For a long time I felt bad about this, just as I once felt bad that I didn’t hold my pencil the way they taught me to in elementary school. If I had only looked over at the other makers, the painters or the architects, I would have realized that there was a name for what I was doing: sketching. As far as I can tell, the way they taught me to program in college was all wrong. You should figure out programs as you’re writing them, just as writers and painters and architects do.
Realizing this has real implications for software design. It means that a programming language should, above all, be malleable. 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. Static typing would be a fine idea if people actually did write programs the way they taught me to in college. But that’s not how any of the hackers I know write programs. We need a language that lets us scribble and smudge and smear, not a language where you have to sit with a teacup of types balanced on your knee and make polite conversation with a strict old aunt of a compiler.
Make sure to read the whole thing.
I’ve disagreed with Graham on a number of things over the years. In particular his assertion that “good hackers prefer Python to Java” (note that ‘hacker’ in this context refers to a software artisan, not the caricature you see on TV), but as I get older… well I’m appreciating Python more and more and my realize just how right he probably is.