Chapter 12. Beating the Averages

In 1995 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.1 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.

The Secret Weapon

Eric Raymond has written an essay called “How to Become a Hacker,” and in it, among other things, he tells would-be hackers what languages they should learn. 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 ...

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