One of my favorite business technology writers, thinkers, and essayists is Paul Graham, author of Hackers & Painters. I subscribe to Paul Graham’s RSS feed and am rewarded every few months (Paul’s average publishing cycle) with a great thought-provoking read. This month is no exception with an essay from Hackers & Painters on How to Make Wealth, which outlines the role of technologists and startups throughout history going back to Florentine cloth makers in the 1200’s and the Dutch ship builders of the 1600’s.
One of my favorite quotes from the essay comes in the notes at the end, which explains why startups tend to be more productive than large companies and why technologists often develop a habit of working late at night.
One valuable thing you tend to get only in startups is uninterruptability. Different kinds of work have different time quanta. Someone proofreading a manuscript could probably be interrupted every fifteen minutes with little loss of productivity. But the time quantum for hacking is very long: it might take an hour just to load a problem into your head. So the cost of having someone from personnel call you about a form you forgot to fill out can be huge.
This is why hackers give you such a baleful stare as they turn from their screen to answer your question. Inside their heads a giant house of cards is tottering.
The mere possibility of being interrupted deters hackers from starting hard projects. This is why they tend to work late at night, and why it’s next to impossible to write great software in a cubicle (except late at night).
Read the complete essay here: How to Make Wealth.
If you sometimes find me difficult to reach by phone or on instant messaging during the day, now you know why. (Please don’t stop calling though.) 😉