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Want to start a startup? Get funded by Y Combinator. April This article is derived from a talk given at the Franz Developer Symposium.
In the summer ofmy friend Robert Morris and I started a startup called Viaweb. Our plan was to write software that would let end users build online stores. What was novel about this software, at the time, was that it ran on our server, using ordinary Web pages as the interface.
A lot of people could have been having this idea at the same time, of course, but as far as I know, Viaweb was the first Web-based application.
It seemed such a novel idea to us that we named the company after it: Viaweb, because our software worked via the Web, instead of running on your desktop computer.
Another unusual thing about this software was that it was written primarily in a programming language called Lisp. It was one of the first big end-user applications to be written in Lisp, which up till then had been used mostly in universities and research labs. He suggests starting with Python and Java, because they are easy to learn.
The serious hacker will also want to learn C, in order to hack Unix, and Perl for system administration and cgi scripts. Finally, the truly serious hacker should consider learning Lisp: Lisp is worth learning for the profound enlightenment experience you will have when you finally get it; that experience will make you a better programmer for the rest of your days, even if you never actually use Lisp itself a lot.
This is the same argument you tend to hear for learning Latin. It won't get you a job, except perhaps as a classics professor, but it will improve your mind, and make you a better writer in languages you do want to use, like English.
But wait a minute. This metaphor doesn't stretch that far. The reason Latin won't get you a job is that no one speaks it. If you write in Latin, no one can understand you. But Lisp is a computer language, and computers speak whatever language you, the programmer, tell them to.
So if Lisp makes you a better programmer, like he says, why wouldn't you want to use it? If a painter were offered a brush that would make him a better painter, it seems to me that he would want to use it in all his paintings, wouldn't he? I'm not trying to make fun of Eric Raymond here.
On the whole, his advice is good. What he says about Lisp is pretty much the conventional wisdom. But there is a contradiction in the conventional wisdom: Lisp will make you a better programmer, and yet you won't use it.
Programming languages are just tools, after all. If Lisp really does yield better programs, you should use it. And if it doesn't, then who needs it? This is not just a theoretical question. Software is a very competitive business, prone to natural monopolies.
A company that gets software written faster and better will, all other things being equal, put its competitors out of business.
And when you're starting a startup, you feel this very keenly. Startups tend to be an all or nothing proposition. You either get rich, or you get nothing. In a startup, if you bet on the wrong technology, your competitors will crush you. Robert and I both knew Lisp well, and we couldn't see any reason not to trust our instincts and go with Lisp.The faces above and the stories below are a snapshot of the devastating opioid epidemic sweeping across the United States.
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