I’m seeing a lot of comments on twitter lately about tech culture. People saying that it’s bro culture not nerd culture; comics implying nerds have become the bullies they used to suffer; a myriad of complaints about silicon valley assholes. I’ve had conflicting feelings about these comments, and I think I’ve just figured out why.
My first impression was to feel offended, and think not-all-nerds thoughts. I think of myself as a nerd/geek/whatever, and I can never quite remember the common definitions of the words or what the difference is supposed to be.
My second impression was to think of the geeky circles I hang out in, and how those people generally don’t fit these comments either. There are a few jerks in most groups, and how well they’re dealt with varies, but the general atmosphere is welcoming and inclusive.
What I had forgotten was that these were all groups I had chosen to be part of. There’s a selection bias there – if they hadn’t been welcoming groups, I wouldn’t have bothered to stick around. When I think about tech circles I didn’t get to choose, I see a very different picture. :(
At all the schools I attended, there was shitty tech culture. I couldn’t just quit school, so I turned to foss and the KDE community to escape it. At bcit, the classes were organized such that I was stuck with the same group of people full-time for a year. They turned out to be the sort of people that would put goatse wallpaper on the Linux users’ computers, then tell us it was our fault for not password-protecting the bootloader. Ugh. I’m just glad I wasn’t the only Linux user… But there was plenty of sexism too, and general macho bullshit.
At SFU, there were more Linux users, but that didn’t help much: instead I got picked on for using KDE instead of gnome/ratpoison/etc. Somehow I was always at the bottom of the totem pole. After a while I discovered there were lots of social circles there, and made friends with people who wouldn’t ridicule my choice of technology, but I couldn’t hang out in the CS common room without some of the jerks being there, and it actually seemed to get worse over the years. My last year before graduating, I don’t think I visited the common room more than twice.
Anyways, it occurred to me: maybe the people talking about tech culture are still stuck in shitty circles like that. Maybe silicon valley is dominated by that bullshit (I wouldn’t know, I’ve only visited briefly). Maybe the tech culture I know isn’t the tech culture they know.
Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s more than one culture in tech. How many projects, meta-projects, languages, corporations, foundations etc. are there? How many thousands and thousands of developers are there? Of course we don’t have the same experiences. Different programming communities are almost like different countries.
The sad thing is, though, I’m beginning to suspect that the nice-tech-culture I’ve surrounded myself with is a lot less common than the shitty tech-bro-culture I’m hearing about. It’d be neat to see some statistical information about culture over different meta-projects and geographical areas, though. Not that I have any idea how one would gather such information.