Skip to main content

Nerd Culture & Non-technical Users

So I'm a bit put off. Here's an article that the arduino community thinks is fantastic.  I agree with some of his points, but he links to this article.  And that article is full of itself.

Let's start with the biggest invalid point in the original article "Nerd Culture Must Die".   He complains about inequality in programming as a profession.  He doesn't mention that same inequality in other professions (like healthcare where women are nearly 80% of the industry) or even that the inequality may be more associated with an overall inequality in the engineering industry where there have always been fewer women.  Perhaps it's a cultural issue, where boys are given electronics and girls are given dolls as children.  To leap to the conclusion that it is my fault as a "nerd" is inconsiderate of the massive effort I make every day to encourage the spread of knowledge.

But then there's Jessica.  That article made me very angry.  It's not that it wasn't true.  It absolutely was true.  I meet people every day who use computers in the way Jessica did who have similar issues and lifestyles.  My problem with the article stems from the sense of entitlement that is implied about Jessica.  "What was her sin?"  the writer asks, as if she is completely blameless in what happened to her.  Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me explain why I'm so frustrated.

First, it is clearly emphasized repeatedly throughout the article that Jessica uses the older beat up computer for updating her facebook status and checking email and nothing else.  What that bit of information means, that the writer blatantly ignores, is that that means the computer is a toy to her.  A toy is not a necessary part of life.  It's a bonus.

Second, it's more than evident that this girl does not need a computer.  I'm not being insensitive.  Millions of people on the planet get by without a computer every day.  Heck, in central Africa, many people currently get through an average day without food.  I know that's an extreme comparison but it is important to understand that this girl is not suffering, she is fortunate in the long run.

Third, the article implies that ownership of the computer is not enough, but by saying "What's her sin?" it implies that she also should take no responsibility for how she uses it.  She is certainly sinful (and not just in the moral sense--seriously, why is this girl using a pc to email nude pics to her boyfriend, doesn't she own a phone?) because she feels utterly entitled to use a device without responsibility for her actions.

Now this may seem extreme.  I mean, it's just a computer right?  Let's replace it with another device that many people in the first world own.  Let's pretend that Jessica's toy is a circular saw.  Jessica doesn't take time to find out how to use it safely, she just wants to cut a pretty board for her boyfriend.  She slips and cuts off her finger.  Do you think that should be her responsibility?  What if it were a gun and she accidentally shot and killed her boyfriend (something we hear about all too often)?  Should she be responsible for her actions then?

But those scenarios can also be called "extreme".  I mean, in the end all that happened is some hacker got nude pictures of her, and her banking information, and her passwords to all her accounts, and all her email, and probably her SSN.  I mean, it's not like she was in danger of losing a finger--just all of her worldly possessions.  Yeah, that might be a bit more than it sounded like at first.

Let me be abundantly honest, the internet is a dangerous place.  No one is denying that.  But the article about Jessica makes the argument that freedom is a bad thing, because then you're forced to be responsible.  The alternative is less software, less technology, and waiting for the dumbest person on the planet to catch up before the rest of us move forward.  No thanks.

Yes, education is important.  Yes, we need to work on making everything more user friendly.  Yes, we need to make software as secure as we can.  But no, it is not our responsibility to tie Jessica to a chair and forcibly teach her something she admittedly has no interest in.  Jessica has to manage her own life.  If keeping things private is important to her, she'll take the time to learn how to do that.  If it isn't she won't, and occasionally bad things happen to good people.

So let me reiterate.  Jessica does not need a computer.  She has one to "keep up with the Joneses".  She should spend time to learn about tools before she uses them--no one would let her drive without learning about that first.  She is responsible for what she does with the computer.  And it is not my fault that she feels entitled to use a computer (and take no responsibility when things go wrong) without learning about it first.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Teams and Complexity

Let's pretend you're a car mechanic (I don't know, maybe you are).  But you don't work at some shop in town, you work at a bigtime auto-maker onsite at the factory.  You help build cars from scratch.  You work with a lot of other car mechanics, and various engineers of different levels.  If we were looking at the 1910s, you might be working for Henry Ford on one of the first ever assembly lines.  Either way, you have a specific part of the car you're responsible for.  Your skills probably extend beyond that, and you might work on a different part of the car each day as your manager moves you around to keep the factory efficient.

One of your coworkers, Bob, is a superb engineer.  He is very good at building cars, far better than you, and he does it faster than everyone else.  Your boss really likes him.  You often get stuck after him in the assembly line, so you know exactly what sorts of things he does.  He's not sloppy, but he likes to do things his way.  He w…

Managing Programmers

Working with other programmers is tricky.  That said, it's nothing compared to the job of managing programmers.  One of my favorite quotes about Perl is that (paraphrased) "a Perl developer is like a rockstar.  Now imaging having a bunch of rockstars in one room together and you will understand why you don't want an entire team of Perl developers."  It's not about Perl here though. What's important to understand is that any developer worth his salt is going to be like a rockstar.  And yes, there are a lot of professional developers out there who aren't worth their salt, but that's for another post another day.  Rockstar may not be the right term here, but think of it this way.  These guys are smart.  They may not be geniuses, but there's going to be things that they know that you don't and probably never will.

I've seen it more than once and it's not going to make some Product Managers happy, but I'm going to state a fact, an eleph…

Managing Developers is HARD

I've been a software dev for a long time.  I've also been running my own software company for a few years now.  This is important information because of why I do these things.  I am a sofware developer because I love learning.  I slack off when doing a job that bores me, and software development always has something new to experience which keeps me excited and interested.  Why start a software company then?  That puts me in the role of manager rather than developer.  The truth is simple.  I've worked for a lot of companies, and I don't see any of them doing a great job of managing their software development.  That's not to say none of them have done a good job, but no one out there seems to be doing a great job.

How are they different?
A lot of companies get this part right.  Software developers are different from other employees.  The distinction is important in the same way it's important to acknowledge that an insurance agent is different from a construction…