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Motivations for Hackers [and Technical Writers?] -- Paul Graham speech

by Tom Johnson on Jun 16, 2006 •
categories: technical-writing

Paul GrahamIn this 30 minute podcast, Paul Graham explains what motivates hackers. By hackers, he's not referring to people who maliciously unleash viruses and worms and bring down major systems. He's referring to advanced developers who dream in code. These hackers, it turns out, are a lot like writers. Here are a few of the things that motivate hackers:

  • Hackers enjoy challenges, problems to solve.
  • Hackers believe curiosity is their defining characteristic.
  • Hackers are smart people, but rather than glorying in their own intelligence, they are unaware of it and feel everyone else is incompetent.
  • Hackers need quiet areas to concentrate. Working in noisy cubicles makes them feel like “their brain is in a blender.”
  • Hackers are particular about their tools, and would much rather code in Python than Java.
  • Hackers thrive on interesting projects.
  • Hackers would rather not put a new interface on top of bad code. They feel these kinds of projects make them dumber.
  • Hackers believe that just as some projects can make you dumb, other more challenging projects can actually increase your hacking intelligence.
  • Hackers make a secret pact that they will not care about money (except to feed a starving family) and that they will pour out their souls into challenging projects.
  • Hackers clump together — they like working with each other. Hackers attract more hackers.
  • Hackers dislike working in big glass boxes in parking lots. They prefer the home environment to the corporate one, and despise meetings and teambuilding activities.
  • Hackers hate ugly designs, even in cars (for example, the Pontiac Aztec).
  • Hackers tend to brag about their prowess by being able to code entire applications in one day.

So, if we were to substitute “writer” for “hacker,” how much would still be true? The gap between our tech comm departments and that of development may be a lot closer than we sometimes think.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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