I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Paul Graham used to be one of my heroes.
My memories of my first steps into the world of software development are no longer crisp. The texture of it, the day-to-day, the mechanisms by which my skills solidified —that’s all faded. Mostly what I remember is the people I looked up to, people whose writing shaped my understanding of software culture and served as rose-tinted windows into a culture I wanted so desperately to be a part of. Some of my favourites: Eric S. Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar; Neal Stephenson’s In The Beginning was the Command Line; Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture; Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror blog. Most of all, Paul Graham’s essays, because he had managed to translate software competency into real-world success.
I remember two Paul Graham essays that particularly resonated with me — Hackers and Painters, and Why Nerds Are Unpopular. They were the gateway to a more vibrant and meaningful world that I, trapped in a high school I hated and feeling alienated from my peers, could only dream of. They appealed to me on a level that I can’t really put into words and frankly feel embarrassed thinking about, even now. Here was this brilliant and successful person telling me that I was special, and that immersing myself in this fledgling community would be my ticket to success. A community whose figurative leaders included Paul Graham. How could I not have looked up to him?