The Power of “Hello World”

Hello World!

There’s a long-standing tradition in computing which compels beginners doing anything new to print out these words. It goes all the way back to 1974 from an internal memo in Bell Laboratories, written by Brian Kernighan:

Handwritten hello world, by Brian Kernighan (courtesy

While the origin of “Hello World” starts before most of us were even born, we each carry it on today. There have been a few times I’ve seen the “Hello World” concept derided by those who say it’s not a good way to learn a new programming language, platform, or framework. That is true. But it’s a start, and a lot of the time, the start of something is the most important part.

It’s important to celebrate these small victories along the way. If Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour estimate for mastery of a subject is true, one needs several tools to help them retain their bearings through any such journey:

1. Interest

It all starts with this: being interested in something enough to try it out. That’s what gets you started. If you can think back to anything you’re good at doing, I’m sure you can remember the place where you started, and I’m almost sure you started for the simple fact that you were interested.

2. Accomplishment

What did it feel like when you wrote your first “Hello World”? It felt like you were getting somewhere, right? I remember the first programs that I ever wrote on my father’s Commodore 64. They certainly weren’t anything special, but they were my code. And I was learning and doing things I had never done before.

3. Encouragement

Here’s where one can really help others. When you write something like “Hello World”, you know you’re just barely scratching the surface. When you start to realize how much more there is to learn, it can become very disheartening. Even the smallest gesture from someone who’s done it before can really help you keep going.

4. Determination

This one only occurs after some experience. You have to be able to draw from your past experiences where you’ve met similar challenges and succeeded. Sometimes you can use the same tactics you used then, sometimes you just have to keep plodding forward because you know you’ll eventually conquer this challenge, too.


All of this cultivates to one’s motivation to keep going, keep learning, keep doing. That’s the most important part of learning. The more I’ve seen in life, the more I believe in the human ability to learn almost anything. I’d be willing to say that–barring biological capabilities and challenges–one’s ability to master a subject is 90% learning and maybe 10% natural ability.

And that’s why it all starts with “Hello World”. It’s that moment that captivates you, when it clicks for the very first time and you’ve created something new for yourself. “Hello World” stands for something larger. It means “I’m just learning this new thing. I can’t do anything amazing just yet, but this is my first step.” And first steps are very important, for none of the steps following matter without it.

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