A recent tweet by Marc Andreessen got me thinking about our culture:
“Silicon Valley is nerd culture, and we are the bro’s natural enemy.”
It got me thinking: what is nerd culture?
An interest in programming? Computers in general? Does it exist anymore? As a guy who could most certainly be viewed as a nerd (I started programming on a Commodore 64 as a kid and I could probably give you the rundown of every single game released in the N64/Playstation era), the whole ‘nerd culture’ thing always kinda jarred with me.
There are cultures around music, sport, film etc. Nerd culture is different to these in that its viewed as an exclusive membership. If you liked computers then you spent Friday nights at home playing Dungeons and Dragons, not out catching a game of ball.
When people learnt you had interest in computers they quickly assumed you didn’t have any interest in pursuits outside of technology.
This is understandable. Computers have only had widespread adoption in the past two or three decades. Tech culture is super young in the grand scheme of things. “Outsiders” built stereotypes due to a lack of understanding.
But my issue isn’t with outsiders pigeon-holing us. That happens for every culture eg. Football fans being seen as yobs, art fans seen as snobs etc. My problem is when we start viewing it this way ourselves.
If we ourselves start labelling each other as either “geeks”, “brogrammers” or whatever then we do a disservice to ourselves, to the person we’re labelling and to our industry.
Why? Because nobody is just one thing. I know plenty of people who are crazy sport fans who make great coders and I know plenty of self-proclaimed super-nerdy types who can’t hack for shit.
Here’s why it’s important to kill off these stereotypes now: because we’re at an important changing point in our industry and our culture. A career in tech is possible for more people (and more types of people) than ever before. The vast, vast majority of people considering a career in tech won’t fit into the nerd/brogrammer archetype.
For some people that won’t matter but for others it will make them reconsider pursuing an interest in which they have a very real passion.
Caricaturing the roles in our industry will reduce diversity and will mean that we’ll miss out on some really talented people who could do special things in technology.
What you can do
1. Realise that stereotypes add nothing positive to anything and try to wipe them from your mind.
2. Don’t fit yourself around a stereotype. Are you a programmer with bad social skills? Well then work on it – becoming a good conversationalist isn’t that hard. Are you a sales guy who just “doesn’t get” tech? Work on it. Again, it isn’t that hard.
3. Encourage as many people as you can towards our industry. The days of programmers being almost exclusively neck-bearded white males are coming to an end, people. This is a good thing.
Screw the stereotypes. Encourage people to code. Watch our industry blossom.