One of the reasons I often dislike Joel Spolsky’s essays is because he makes me feel inferior for not having a Computer Science degree. He doesn’t inspire me to become a better coder; he makes me feel bad that I’m not a better coder in the first place.
Likewise, Paul Graham’s writings often concentrate on startups and the entrepreneurial spirit. Sometimes they’re good; sometimes they have the exact same effect as Spolsky—to make me feel worthless because I haven’t started my own company, and have no intention of doing so.
Rands, on the other hand, writes about management in an interesting and entertaining way, without making me feeling like a failure because I don’t have a team of people working for me. Likewise, I find Jeff Atwood an inspirational writer: in his dedication to coding as a craft, he understands that one of the keys to being a good developer is a fundamental desire to become a better developer. In his latest article, he takes Paul Graham to task for his “you suck” attitude. Thanks, Jeff—I needed that.
I still use this quote from Lois McMaster Bujold as my personal motto:
“There is this, about being the sparring partner of the best swordsman in Caribastos. I always lost. But if I ever meet the third best swordsman in Caribastos, he’s going to be in very deep trouble.”
I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that this attitude would give Paul Graham fits, but it would make Jeff Atwood smile. There’s the difference.