Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Great Hackers and Nasty Little Problems

Paul Graham has a new essay up. He has some good things to say about what motivates hackers:
One of the worst kinds of projects is writing an interface to a piece of software that's full of bugs. Another is when you have to customize something for an individual client's complex and ill-defined needs. To hackers these kinds of projects are the death of a thousand cuts.

The distinguishing feature of nasty little problems is that you don't learn anything from them. Writing a compiler is interesting because it teaches you what a compiler is. But writing an interface to a buggy piece of software doesn't teach you anything, because the bugs are random. So it's not just fastidiousness that makes good hackers avoid nasty little problems. It's more a question of self-preservation. Working on nasty little problems makes you stupid. Good hackers avoid it for the same reason models avoid cheeseburgers.
If working on "nasty little problems" is like eating a cheeseburger, I guess I need to go on a diet in more ways than one...


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