Half technology and half religion

Paul Graham, “Beating the Averages,” 2001:

Ordinarily technology changes fast. But programming languages are different: programming languages are not just technology, but what programmers think in. They’re half technology and half religion. And so the median language, meaning whatever language the median programmer uses, moves as slow as an iceberg. Garbage collection, introduced by Lisp in about 1960, is now widely considered to be a good thing. Runtime typing, ditto, is growing in popularity. Lexical closures, introduced by Lisp in the early 1970s, are now, just barely, on the radar screen. Macros, introduced by Lisp the mid 1960s, are still terra incognita.

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If you ever do find yourself working for a startup, here’s a handy tip for evaluating competitors. Read their job listings. Everything else on their site may be stock photos or the prose equivalent, but the job listings have to be specific about what they want, or they’ll get the wrong candidates. During the years we worked on Viaweb I read a lot of job descriptions. A new competitor seemed to emerge out of the woodwork every month or so. The first thing I would do, after checking to see if they had a live online demo, was look at their job listings. After a couple years of this I could tell which companies to worry about and which not to. The more of an IT flavor the job descriptions had, the less dangerous the company was. The safest kind were the ones that wanted Oracle experience. You never had to worry about those. You were also safe if they said they wanted C++ or Java developers. If they wanted Perl or Python programmers, that would be a bit frightening—that’s starting to sound like a company where the technical side, at least, is run by real hackers. If I had ever seen a job posting looking for Lisp hackers, I would have been really worried.

On learning German

Crossgrove and Crossgrove, Graded German Reader: Erste Stufe

Durrell, Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage

Habermann et al., Grundwissen Grammatik: Fit für den Bachelor

Jannach and Korb, German for Reading Knowledge

Rosenberg, German: How to Speak and Write It

Sandberg and Wendel, German for Reading

Stern, Studien und Plaudereien (available on Project Gutenberg)

Twain, “The Awful German Language,” in A Tramp Abroad