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Techies and Non Techies

A friend of mine left her programming job to become a teaching fellow. She's been busy, so she mass-mailed her friends explaining why she hasn't been around lately. Here's an excerpt from her e-mail.

> There are surprisingly few technical people in the
> Fellowship. It's been a long, long time since I met a
> group of people who weren't techies, or wannabe
> techies, or at least techie fans (or "techie sympathizers",
> if you will). I thought the days of the "bad" geek
> reputation were long gone, replaced by the late
> 90's "cool" geek reputation, but no, that's just what they
> *tell* you to make you feel better about being a
> programmer. People were very surprised, once they
> found out about my other life, that I was actually able to
> hold a conversation for longer than ten minutes without
> mentioning Linux or the Matrix or an intense envy and/or
> hatred for Bill Gates."

I thought this complimented what Neil said in the car/engine thread "Basically, the same people who look down their noses at programmers (aka 'geeks') look down their noses at mechanics (aka 'grease monkeys')."
Monday, June 16, 2003

Techies - Non Techies
boil down to humans ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I'm leaving my programming career to become a grease monkey (motorcyle mechanic) for a while, because the nerdo stereotypes are largely accurate. I like programming, but find it hard to relate to the slashdot/matrix crowd, and don't like being lumped into that social group.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Mechanics and programmers are a closer breed than either group would like to acknowledge. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

IMHO, people, as a race, like to be expert about *something*. This produces the baseball stats savants, football junkies, grease monkies, geeks, seamstresses, etc, etc, etc. We enjoy knowing something really well and the pride that can come with that knowledge and sharing that knowledge.

Sadly, another part of human nature seems to be believing that my expertise is more worthy than your expertise...

My $.02


Tuesday, June 17, 2003

People who hold stereotypes hold stereotypes. That's about all there is to say about it. If there can be a stereotype about a group, there'll be a group who believes it.

And then there's those who don't. There's always preconceptions, there can't not be, but many people will at least be skeptical.

Keep in mind the strength of negatives: many people are skeptical of such stereotypes; they usually have been classified into one or another at some time during their lives.

Philo: I think you've hit the nail on the head. People like their ideas. They tend to discount the experiences and ideas of others. I know I'm guilty of it a lot: I find it hard to relate to people in some (many) other fields, because I know absolutely nothing about them. You can throw jargon at me, but you can't expect me to understand it any better than I expect you to understand LDAP or POSIX.

A tangent: how many more/less programmers become mechanics/construction workers/etc than become say professional graphic designers? While many do music or what have you in their spare time, I don't see much about many tech people (there's another bucket to lump people in) moving into less, er, 'concrete' fields much at all.

Mike Swieton
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Mike - I know a number of techies that are musical. Maybe not to the point of becoming a musician, but are very much into music and own guitars and such.

Music is very mathematical. On many levels it's pure math. Of course, the way people experience music is often purely visceral.

The difference is, you don't compile or execute music in an unforgiving environment, so you don't have to learn the rules to do it.

Re: stereotypes

Stereotypes are useful. They're important. Without being able to go from the specific to the general, you would never have been able to make your stereotype about programmers not being musicians.

Emmanual Goldstein (aka
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The term Techie is one I've considered of the same level of insult as 'Pakky', and usually just as inaccurate.

Simon Lucy
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

there are still some non-programmers about?  I thought they all died out....

hmm...must leave the house more often..

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

[[ I like programming, but find it hard to relate to the slashdot/matrix crowd, and don't like being lumped into that social group ]]

The same about me. Good said.

Evgeny Goldin
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

I always thought the reason for the large number of musicians who were programmers was because they needed a day job with some freedom and programming paid better than serving tables.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Actually, I do happen to know a bunch of former musicians (keyboard-wise) who became software engineers. Conducting indeed seems to be related to software engineering. OTOH, most programmers I know have been geeks in their past, i.e. kids who are identified as "smart" just because they know how to install linux (in earlier days windows) on their teacher's computer.

Just to point out there is a difference between software engineers and programmers.

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

As a failed classical musician, i can say that there is very little relating conducting to software engineering. Also, in my experience, "software engineers" are usually people with no aptitude, but with a degree in computer science. The musicians I know all became "programmers" in the noble sense.

The difference between software engineers and programmers, is that software engineers draw boxes, and programmers create software.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

On this side of the moon it's the opposite - programmers don't "create" software, they rather "craft" what software engineers have invented.

Johnny Bravo
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Believe what you wish. At the end of the day, the only opinion which matters is that of the payroll office.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The similarity between the music and the software industry is that both have thousands of untalented practitioners who don't know the first thing about theory and still manage to get by because people can't tell the difference between good and bad.

The artist formerly known as Big B
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The talent in the music industry is often the audio engineers and producers who put together pop hits that can even make anyone sound good, the talent scouts who get the right looking person for the role, and the marketing departments who creates the right image.

Somehow I think there are more out of work musicians than programmers... then again, in this economy, I may be wrong.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

This is a tangent --- often, I feel that "ordinary" people's negative view of "techies" is justified.  There are a lot of people in tech who are just plain stupid and lacking personality.


I hired a local company to come out and pump out our septic tank last week. While these guys were working with the hose in our backyard, I went out and BSed with them (no pun intended). They seemed like reasonably intelligent guys, told a few bad jokes, etc. No lifelong bond was formed here, but I didn't feel like I had simian apes working on my property.

Later: On the inside of the house, we have ISDN, and I've been having intermittent connection on demand problems. I called the ISP when it happened:

Them: "Hello, Local Net?"
Me: "Uh, are you guys having problems with your ISDN? I'm having trouble connecting."
Them: "Uhhhhh..... no. I don't think we're having problems."
Me: "Well, I can't connect on demand."
Them: "Uhhhh.... wull, I dunno what to tell you. Uh, I don't think we have any problems".

... etc...

When I talk to certain classes of IT people (and ISPs are in my crosshairs on this, but other hangers on come to mind too) I feel like I'm dealing with real life Beavis and Buttheads.  Zero personality. No initiative. Working for a paycheck, period.
And I don't mean anyone here, of course! :-)

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Bored Bystander, what makes you think this is limited to programmers, ISPs or anything even remotely computer related ?

I've worked with audit firms and accountants, havent really seen anything very different from what you describe..

deja vu
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Exactly. Who says the customer service rep is a "techie" ? Did he say something like "well, according to slashdot, the Matrix sucks, so really in proportion, your problems are miniscule. Oh, and Bill Gates sux."
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Bored Bystander:

No proof, but from my own experience I will almost guarantee that the person you talked to likely was actually a near total computer idiot. Did they actually speak english properly?

In short, call centers and "customer [hip gyration] service" tend to get outsourced and cost squeezed, such that they do hire people who A) really don't want to be there (and who really wants to be in customer service, anyway? customers, at least in many instances, have a sad tendency to be assholes - usually for a good reason), B) qualified by being able to read a script and occassionally make typing noises. Then again, it could be a techie.

In general, the problem with stereotypes are/can be:

- When a stereotype controls perception, and as such overrides actual experience, such as the thinking line "black people aren't intelligent...this black person seems to be intelligent...however, is he black, so he isn't actually intelligent". In short, when the general rule over-rides the specific individual reality.

- When a stereotype is considered as something other than a statistical likelyhood, rather than as an absolute rule. Yes, most programmers aren't very personable, that's seems true - but to say that none are is simply wrong.

This goes to how humans don't deal well intuitively with statistics, or with gradients for that matter. Example: If the chance of rain for the day is 70%, that doesn't mean it will rain, nor if it doesn't rain that doesn't mean the weatherman was wrong. As in:
>50% != 100%
<50% != 0%

As such, if 99% of people are something or do something, that does not mean everyone is the same way - in fact, it explicitly means that everyone is NOT the same way.

- Stereotypes which are drawn from bad sources, or upon too little information. For instance, if I said a man was a homosexual communist quantum physicist who was into bestiality and playing the kazoo...what sort of image and concepts would you conjure up?

The fact is, any such image is just absurd and meaningless, because I can say with great certainty that you've never met anyone remotely like that. Any image you think up would be simply a fantasy which is completely unreliable - but if you don't treat it that way, then you have a problem.

As to bad sources, this could be for instance the media, parents, friends, or just other people. Often one will find that they have drawn their conclusions and stereotypes from yet other peoples opinions, or very limited personal experiences of their own, or things that simply no longer applied to you.

It is a fact that applies to all of life, that to rely on something with overstated precision and confidence tends to lead to undesirable results. So just don't think your stereotypes are more accurate than they are, and don't be excessively confident of their validity in general, but especially don't be very confident that they will apply to a specific case.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

"... a man was a homosexual communist quantum physicist who was into bestiality and playing the kazoo ... such image is just absurd and meaningless"

So true. I can say with great certainty that all 9 of the communist quantum physicist that are into bestiality and playing the kazoo amongst my friends are straight as a bat.
Wel ok. I'll admit we have doubts on one of them, but then her kazoo solos aren't all that great either.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Boy, I love a good argument. :-)

The ISP is in a small 2 room building. The guy that answered the phone also probably does sysadmin. Probably knows how to run installation wizards for Red Hat and that's it.

The last ISP I used was a few doors down from this place, similar size, and they refused to understand how their proxy was screwing up my access to a web board I was moderating at the time. I canceled my account with them after getting the run around, told them they weren't helping. Were they pissed.

All I was pointing out was that most of the programmers, sysadmins, and other computer types that I've been running into locally in the last 10 years have been steadily declining in verbal abilities, common sense, obvious intelligence, initiative, and ability to converse normally.  And I find much more apparent life and spark in people who work in supposed "brain dead menial" jobs like sewage pumpout, car repair, etc.

It's almost as though "the technology life" is so draining and all consuming that many people in it can't even fake the appearance of being normal and well rounded.

Maybe I'm no particularly convincing and I am using poor and limited examples of what I mean but it's definitely a pattern I'm observing.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

This reminds me of that episode of Frasier where the plumber is the bully that beat up Niles high school. It turns out he makes as much per hour as Niles and even drives a better car.

Perhaps it's your attitude towards these people that brings out different aspects of their personality?
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

RE: Frasier - yeah, that's pretty much what I meant.

I start out neutral with almost everyone, and it goes up or downhill (or sometimes stays at a level) from there. If I'd expect a culture clash it would be with someone in a blue collar job, not from my "own kind".

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

--""... a man was a homosexual communist quantum physicist who was into bestiality and playing the kazoo ... such image is just absurd and meaningless"----

Not at all meaningless. Does not music soothe the breasts of savage beasts?

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Dear Bored Bystander,
                                  With ISP's it's really very simple. The margins are so small that they can't afford to hire anybody who knows anything. I think you'll find that the decline in the quality of service you mention is directly proportional to the decline in profit margins.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

All I can say is, there are professional and idiot 'customer service rep', just like any other fields.

I'd rather talk to a person who knows s/he doen't know many things than one who thinks s/he know everything.

Rick Tang
Thursday, June 19, 2003

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