Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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TECH TALK: The Best of 2004: Art and Artists

January 17th, 2005 · No Comments

6. Dan Bricklin on Software that lasts 200 years (July)

Dan Bricklins essay makes us think of software as critical infrastructure. We are building something to make it last. In a way, it also highlights the shift from the tangible to the intangible, and epitomizes the knowledge society we now live in.

We need to start thinking about software in a way more like how we think about building bridges, dams, and sewers.

The world is different now than it was even just a decade or two ago. In more and more cases, there are no paper records. People expect all information to be available at all times and for new uses, just as they expect to drive the latest vehicle over an old bridge, or fill a new high-tech water bottle from an old well’s pump. Applications need to have access to all of the records, not just summaries or the most recent. Computers are involved in, or even control, all aspects of the running society, business, and much of our lives. What were once only bricks, pipes, and wires, now include silicon chips, disk drives, and software. The recent acquisition and operating cost and other advantages of computer-controlled systems over the manual, mechanical, or electrical designs of the past century and millennia have caused this switch.

I will call this software that forms a basis on which society and individuals build and run their lives “Societal Infrastructure Software”. This is the software that keeps our societal records, controls and monitors our physical infrastructure (from traffic lights to generating plants), and directly provides necessary non-physical aspects of society such as connectivity.

What we build must last for generations without total rebuilding. This requires new thinking and new ways of organizing development. This is especially important for governments of all sizes as well as for established, ongoing businesses and institutions.

7. Paul Graham on Great Hackers (July)

Software programming is as much an art as it is a science. If there is one regret that I have as an entrepreneur, it is that I dont do programming any more. I still remember the few years that I spent programming (more than a decade ago) the mind would keep thinking of making things better. Reading this essay made me go back to an era in my past when I thought of myself as a great hacker!

A great programmer might be ten or a hundred times as productive as an ordinary one, but he’ll consider himself lucky to get paid three times as much. This is partly because great hackers don’t know how good they are. But it’s also because money is not the main thing they want.

What do hackers want? Like all craftsmen, hackers like good tools. In fact, that’s an understatement. Good hackers find it unbearable to use bad tools. They’ll simply refuse to work on projects with the wrong infrastructure.

The fact that good hackers prefer Python to Java should tell you something about the relative merits of those languages.

Great hackers also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control. Good hackers insist on control. This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you. You shouldn’t be surprised when they feel the same way about the operating system.

Great hackers also generally insist on using open source software. Not just because it’s better, but because it gives them more control. Good hackers insist on control. This is part of what makes them good hackers: when something’s broken, they need to fix it. You want them to feel this way about the software they’re writing for you. You shouldn’t be surprised when they feel the same way about the operating system.

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.

Along with interesting problems, what good hackers like is other good hackers. Great hackers tend to clump together– sometimes spectacularly so, as at Xerox Parc. So you won’t attract good hackers in linear proportion to how good an environment you create for them. The tendency to clump means it’s more like the square of the environment. So it’s winner take all. At any given time, there are only about ten or twenty places where hackers most want to work, and if you aren’t one of them, you won’t just have fewer great hackers, you’ll have zero.

Tomorrow: Mobility and Memex


TECH TALK The Best of 2004+T

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