On Not | Mo Chit

July 28, 2004

Great hackers Paul Graham has a good essay on what he thinks are some of the components to great hackers.

There's a nice jab at Microsoft which is always entertaining:
A couple years ago a venture capitalist friend told me about a new startup he was involved with. It sounded promising. But the next time I talked to him, he said they'd decided to build their software on Windows NT, and had just hired a very experienced NT developer to be their chief technical officer. When I heard this, I thought, these guys are doomed. One, the CTO couldn't be a first rate hacker, because to become an eminent NT developer he would have had to use NT voluntarily, multiple times, and I couldn't imagine a great hacker doing that; and two, even if he was good, he'd have a hard time hiring anyone good to work for him if the project had to be built on NT.
Paul discusses the importance of having a good working environment. I couldn't agree more. At my last job I worked in space where two walk ways between rows of cubicles intersected. On top of that, I sat right next to a set of people who could easily land in a Dilbert cartoon on a daily basis for incompetence and annoyance. Needless to say, I was absolutely unproductive except when I used my headphones which was heavily frowned upon.

The obvious question is why did I move to another location? Well, that's a good question, Johnson. Unfortunately, I was a pawn at the forefront of the war for territorial expansion. My desk was the first desk annexed inside of enemy territory, and the general wasn't about to give way after having fought for so long to acquire the space. My productivity was simply an acceptable casualty in the on going war of headcount and extra desk space.

Anyway, Paul's wording on the matter is right on the mark.
After software, the most important tool to a hacker is probably his office. Big companies think the function of office space is to express rank. But hackers use their offices for more than that: they use their office as a place to think in. And if you're a technology company, their thoughts are your product. So making hackers work in a noisy, distracting environment is like having a paint factory where the air is full of soot.

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