Why nerd culture must die: Not everyone can teach themselves, and we have to welcome diversity
An interesting argument, with implications for computing education.
- Many people in nerd culture are self-taught — there were few courses in the early days, and people just figured it out. If we want computing to grow, broaden, and diversify, we have to start teaching this stuff, and not only value those who are self-taught.
- We have to stop insulting our students’ learning. I told the story in my CS Education Zoo interview of a teacher (at Georgia Tech, I’m sorry to say) who asked everyone who took Python as their first language to raise their hand. He then told them, “Python is a terrible language. You need to forget everything you learned if you’re going to learn Java.” That’s classic nerd culture — dissing the languages and tools of others, of those not in your “in” group.All kinds of CS learning leads to developing expertise. That kind of insult says to women and under-represented minority students, who may already be wondering if they belong (see imposter syndrome), “And you know even less than you thought.”
If we went to get beyond “nerd culture,” then we have to take seriously the welcoming and education of new-comers to our field.
And that’s where the problem lies. We’re still behaving like the rebel alliance, but now we’re the Empire. We got where we are by ignoring outsiders and believing in ourselves even when nobody else would. The decades have proved that our way was largely right and the critics were wrong, so our habit of not listening has become deeply entrenched. It even became a bit of a bonding ritual to attack critics of the culture because they usually didn’t understand what we were doing beyond a surface level. It didn’t used to matter because nobody except a handful of forum readers would see the rants. The same reflex becomes a massive problem now that nerds wield real power. GamerGate made me ashamed to be a gamer, but the scary thing is that the underlying behavior of attacking critics felt like something I’d always seen in our culture, and tolerated. It only shocked me when it was scaled up so massively into rape and death threats, and I saw mainstream corporations like Intel folding in the face of the pressure we can bring to bear.