Making a Career Out of Creativity — Book Review: Hackers and Painters

Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham (Beijing, Cambridge, Farnham, Köln, Paris, Sebastolpol, Taipei, Tokyo: O’Reilly, 2004)

Paul Graham’s Hackers & Painters, in essay-like chapters, illustrates how technology and art converge, both philosophically and in practice. As the creator of the Yahoo! Store, a Ph.D. in Computer Science (Harvard), and someone who has studied painting at the RISD, as well as the Academia in Florida, Graham is well positioned to offer insights on this subject.

To illustrate Graham’s overall argument, we will focus on chapter two of this perceptive book. Graham contends that the guild should reconsider how it trains students, because it naturally inhibits “hackers,” who are the artists of the computer industry, from being free thinkers (pgs. 18-21). According to Graham, Computer Science professors at the university level do not enable free thinkers, but conversely teach impractical, insufficient and abstract knowledge. Graham then goes on in the rest of the book to illustrate how the same problems occur in corporations, and the only solution for artists (“hackers”) in the technological age is to either work for a company that allows for them to “hack,” or create their own start-up. In spite of Graham’s “against the grain” line of reasoning, his practical philosophy is very useful—the key for the artist is finding the balance between art (what they love) and everything else in their occupation.

Though Graham’s book is well worth the read, it could have been improved by reducing the long excursions into the details of various programming languages. This information is better fit for a more disciplinary-focused book.

Hackers & Painters offers perceptive, thought-provoking advice on finding (or creating) a workplace where you can be an artist (or “hacker”), and the reasons why the guild must change to enable (rather than disable) free thinkers.


(I read this book as part of Logos Bible Software’s “Read for Cash” program. The publisher and/or author in no way influenced my review. However, the links in this post are affiliate links and thus I will receive a small amount of money if you click the link and then make a purchase.)

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