Geeks won; now what?
Ben Lehman has a great post about how geeks have pretty much won out over mainstream society and can, like, stop acting all persecuted now. You should read the whole comment thread.
The fact that geeks now run the show is especially easy to see here in Silicon Valley, where geeks have built themselves a virtual utopia: a place where they get paid phenomenal amounts of money to mess around with computers, where obsessing over fantasy and science fiction is completely normal, where everyone can quote internet memes, where offices feature free snacks and beanbag chairs and video game consoles, where you can come to work at noon and work till midnight if you want, and where nobody ever has to wear a suit and tie.
The only question left is, now that we've got the power, what are we doing with it? Are we using our geekiness to make the world a better place? And if not, why not? And if not now, when?
A Silicon Valley Bestiary
I do a lot of interviewing candidates for Mozilla. I've sarted to notice certain types of people who I see over and over again. In the spirit of those Matt Groening Life-In-Hell cartoons where he illustrated the 9 types of high school teachers or whatever, here's a partial guide to the types of Silicon Valley job-seekers.
The Sysadmin Grognard
Recognizable by: Beard and beer-belly are mandatory. Ponytail, suspenders, and "Slashdot" baseball cap are optional but very common.
Advantages: Experienced, knows every in and out of his chosen flavor of *nix. Can do amazing things with cronjobs, init scripts, httpd.conf, and /etc/hosts. Gets things fixed within minutes of finding out they're broken, even if it's Sunday night.
Disadvantages: Incapable of suffering fools gladly. Thinks graphical user interfaces are the tool of the devil. Programs only in shell scripts and Perl. Says "this job would be perfect if only we didn't have users".
Watch out: If he ever leaves, nobody else will be able to understand how the servers are set up. Ever.
The Conformist Innovator
Recognizable by: He's pushing a business card into your hand and telling you all about his new social networking website startup company.
Advantages: Highly motivated; up on all the latest technology trends; knows influential people; gives cool presentations; brings great new ideas to your company.
Disadvantages: The great new ideas he brings are the exact same great new ideas all your competitors are using. He's not so good at actually building things and gets impatient with the follow-through needed to turn an idea into a usable product. Not knowing history, he is doomed to repeat it.
Watch out: May leave your company at any time he gets an idea for a new startup.
The Young Pythonista
Recognizable by: Wardrobe consists of T-shirts from PyCon 2009, PyCon 2008, PyCon 2007...
Advantages: Smart, eager, thinks outside the box, hates unnecessary complexity and will strive to simplify and streamline everything he works on.
Disadvantages: A language zealot; Complains when forced to use any non-Python language; susceptible to one-true-wayism. Writes slash fanfics about Guido von Rossum.
Watch out for: You come in on Monday to find out he hacked your company's bug reporting system over the weekend to run on Trac instead of Bugzilla because "Trac is written in Python! It must be better!"
The web designer
Recognizable by: Hipster glasses, ironic t-shirt, latest MacBook, latest iPhone
Advantages: Creative, good aesthetic sense. Up on all the latest standards and practices. Cares about making things work cross-platform and cross-browser and knows how.
Disadvantages: Extremely condescending to anyone who can't tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial. Doesn't care what your website actually says as long as it looks good. Thinks the universe began in 1994.
Watch out for: The blank stare of uncomprehension when you say the word "compiler" or ask him to write any code not for consumption by a web browser.
The Straight-Out-of-College Know-it-all
Recognizable by: Giving textbook answers to questions: flawlessly correct in theoretical terms, but completely impractical. Makes you feel old when you realize his first video game system was an N64.
Advantages: Can name all the dimensions of database normalization, find the big-O of an algorithm, and answer questions about scoping and type systems like a language-lawyer. Is used to working hard, completing assignments, and hitting the books when he doesn't know something.
Disadvantages: Is used to being the smartest kid in his class; since he's used to everyone else being dumb he would rather hack alone in a dark corner for hours on end than talk to other people. He will be crushed when he finds out that making real-world software is 60% planning and communicating with a team. Unless he went to a very unusual school, he's never used version control or bug tracking before, let alone written unit tests.
Watch out for: Painstaking code optimization in places where it doesn't matter, coupled with gigantic gaps where it does matter ("What do you mean it has to run on Windows too?")
The Code Monkey
Recognizable by: His resume shows ten respectable, but random jobs with no sign of progression, advancement, or direction. Glazed, dead-inside expression.
Advantages: Does what you tell him to do.
Disadvantages: Does only what you tell him to do.
Watch out for: The time he spends at work daydreaming about what he'd rather be doing with his life.
The Eastern European Linux-Head
Recognizable by: Incomprehensible accent, beard stubble, laptop with GNU and EFF stickers, running obscure Linux distro compiled from source.
Advantages: Passionate; Solid programmer; Saves you a lot of work by pointing out "There's already an open-source library for doing that". Do-it-yourself attitude: gets stuff done.
Disadvantages: Sarcastic, zealous personality frightens other developers. Prone to outbursts of rage over esoterica of licensing practices, or starting flame wars about latest transgressions by Google/Apple/Microsoft.
Watch out for: Time spent at work contributing patches to unrelated open-source projects.
Recognizable by: Indistinguishable from other types unless you stand over his computer and make him write code while you watch.
Advantages: Friendly and charismatic. Has an impressive resume. Flatters you and your company. Makes you want to like him.
Disadvantages: Can't write code worth shit.
Watch out for: He is good enough at BSing his way through interviews that he passed the phone screen and made it to you. He will give vaguely plausible answers to questions and weasel out of being pinned down to specifics. You must expose him before gets hired and ruins your company.
The For Real Deal
Recognizable by: After talking to him for ten minutes you realize that he understands your own project better than you do, despite the fact that you've been working on it for two years and he hadn't heard of it before you introduced it to him earlier in the same conversation.
Advantages: Makes computers do things previously thought impossible, and does it with code that's fast, bug-free, and easily maintained and extended. Ask him to do something in a language he's never heard of on an operating system he's never used and he'll teach himself in under four days. Surprisingly humble.
Disadvantages: He can get a job at any company he wants, and he knows it. He don't need money and he don't need fame, so the only way to get him to work for you is if you're offering him more interesting problems to work on than any other company in the field. Which you're probably not.
Watch out for: Extremely rare. Also, makes you feel dumb.
Bankuei on fixing dysfunctional role-playing
Bankuei has written up a trio of great posts up about dysfunctional role-playing:
- Common symptoms of dysfunctional roleplaying;
- the historical roots of the big problems: Incomplete texts, wargaming roots, illusionism, and impossible social contracts;
- and finally advice for how to get a functional group together, which boils down to "pick a set of rules you can agree to".
That last one sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But so many gamers have trouble with it. Bankeui explains it pretty well, but I thought I'd offer my own take on it...
Here's how I see it. Most role-players think they've agreed to a set of rules, when they really haven't. Maybe they've agreed to play D&D, but that really only means they've agreed to the game-mechanical part of the rules. That's not enough.
Compare D&D where every player controls one character to D&D where every player controls a small army of hirelings and men-at-arms (yes, this was a common type of old-school play. The charisma and morale rules are there for a reason.) Completely different games. Compare D&D where all PCs are assumed to get along with each other, and backstabbing another PC is effectively against the rules, vs. D&D where PCs work for opposing political factions and are expected to plot against each other. Completely different games. Compare megadungeon-crawling, get-as-much-treasure-as-you-can D&D against backstory-heavy, team-of-heroes-on-a-quest-to-save-the-world D&D. Completely different games.
You've agreed to game mechanical rules (and hopefully a setting too), but you're missing a whole level of rules, something that could be called procedures - basically, how do we play this game? What do our characters DO in this game? How do we decide what type of characters are appropriate, what goals they are trying to accomplish, where the opposition comes from, how the characters are related to each other, whether they get along or not, what types of actions are appropriate for the game or out of bounds... I could go on and on.
These procedural rules are not in the book, but they're just as important to agree on as the game-mechanical rules, and should be considered just as binding. If you don't want players backstabbing each other in your game, make that against the procedural rules! If someone goes all "I stab (other PC) and take his stuff", the answer is "No, that's against the rules", just as if a fighter had tried to cast Magic Missile. As long as you have a game group that is able to talk openly about what the procedural rules, you have a way to fix whatever problems arise.
The biggest problem in role-playing is that so many players are unable to talk openly about procedural rules. They lack the vocabulary to talk about procedures, or even talk about the fact that procedures are missing from their game and must be filled in. Instead, they've got a whole mess of assumptions about "how you're supposed to role-play", based on previous game experiences, that they unthinkingly use to fill the gaps. Thinking that D&D is a single game, they join a group assuming they know how to play... and then wonder why everyone else is playing wrong!
Bankuei puts it all much more succinctly than I can:
"OH GOD POWERGAMERS." Wait. That’s like going, "OH GOD GO FISH" at a Poker table. It’s a discussion that shouldn’t even have to happen- someone wants a different game – why are they playing this game with you?
If role-players were on the whole were more socially functional people, they'd be able to deal with games that are missing procedural elements. They'd just go "Hey, I don't think the way I want to play is compatible with the way you want to play. Let's play something else, or play with different people."
But geeks have trouble with that. Have I ever linked to the Five Geek Social Fallacies from this blog? I should link to it more often - every geek totally needs to read this article.
Because geeks think that friends must do everything together (this is Fallacy # 5), they are constantly trying to get people to play in the same game with each other despite the fact that they obviously have very different, and incompatible, gaming preferences. Put this together with the inability to talk about procedural elements of the game and you have a recipe for huge trouble. Add in the way that traditional gamers treat a campaign like a freakin' marriage, as an indefinite commitment... horrors!
This has a lot to do with what I talked about in a previous post: traditional gamers think what they want is a way to get everyone to play together despite the fact that the players all want to play different games. When you tell them that no, in fact, the answer is to pick one game and play that (via Creative Agenda), they run it through a filter of Geek Social Fallacies and interpret it as an attack on their friendships.
No, your hobby will not become mainstream
I saw it today in the Team Liquid Starcraft 2 forums: yet another topic about "Oh noes my [family member] doesn't understand Starcraft and tells me it's a waste of time what will it take for Starcraft/"E-Sports"/competitive strategy gaming to become MAINSTREAM??"
I've seen this same complaint plenty of times before. On anime disucssion groups: "People don't understand my anime addiciton and they think anime is all pokemon or hentai, what will it take for anime to become MAINSTREAM??". On role-playing discussion groups too: "What will it take for role-playing games to become MAINSTREEEEEEM?"
OK, nerds of the world? Listen up. Your hobby is probably never going to become mainstream. And that's OK. Because:
1. You can still enjoy your hobby all you want no matter how obscure it is. All you really need are a couple of friends who share your interests. Even a very tiny niche hobby probably still has a worldwide participation of hundreds of thousands of people. Mabye none of them live near you, but you can still talk to them on the Internet. Things are a lot better for niche hobbies than they ever were pre-Internet, for sure.
2. You wouldn't like it if you hobby became mainstream, anyway. Imagine if your hobby magically did become the most popular pastime in the country. Then it would be over-hyped, commercialized, dumbed down, lots of stupid and obnoxious people would like it, and you would be complaining about how it was ruined. Search your feelings; you know it is true.
3. Why do you care whether or not strangers like the same things you like? Yeah, OK, sometimes somebody will call you names, tell you your hobby is a waste of time, or just give you a blank stare of incomprehension when you try to explain it. So what? Some people are stupid, narrow-minded, and judgemental. Those people lead boring lives because they're afraid to try new things.
Even if your hobby magically became mainstream, those people would still be stupid, narrow-minded, and judgemental. You don't want them as your friends anyway, so why do you care what they think? Just ignore them and go have fun doing the things that you know are awesome.
4. Consider that the problem might be your conversation skills. If people are running away every time you start talking about your RPG character, your problem might not be "RPGs aren't mainstream", it might be the fact that all you talk about is your RPG character. People who can only talk about one thing are boring. Picture a guy who only rambles on about fishing, no matter whether other people are interested or not. Yeah. Don't be that guy. Learn to listen well, learn to gauge people's interest levels, take an interest in other people's lives too, and learn a variety of subjects to converse about. These skills might not come naturally to nerds but you can learn them with a little effort, and they're important to have.
Worrying about mainstream acceptability of your hobby is just a sign of insecurity. Grow up, get some self-respect, and accept that other people won't always like what you like.
Introvert / Extravert
As I mentioned, I'm at the MIT career fair.
And it's a funny thing: I have no fear whatsoever of public speaking. I always give a talk when I visit universities, and it's fun. I talk about the history of Mozilla, why we were founded, emerging threats to the freedom of the Internet and what we can do to fight them, etc. I feel relaxed and energetic and I crack lots of jokes.
I can also, without feeling a bit of self-consciousness, rattle off the whole pitch to every student who walks by, telling them why Firefox 4 is going to kick ass and why working for us will be way more fun than working for any of those other guys at the other booths.
But last night there was a fancy dinner party for career fair reps and selected students. I tried to weasel out of it but failed. And I was miserable. I felt so awkward that I barely said one word all night, and I spent the whole time wishing I could be anywhere else.
Because I'm not shy about public speaking, most of my coworkers assume I'm an extravert. They're wrong, though. I'm introverted by nature but I can play the role of extravert if I have a mental script to follow. If the interaction has a concrete goal ("present this information in an entertaining fashion", "make this person interested in applying for an internship", etc.) that I can focus on. And of course I can talk to my friends about anything.
When I'm just dumped in a room full of strangers and told "make casual chit-chat!" then I fall apart. I don't know who to talk to or what to talk about. I feel a very strong desire to hide in a corner and read a book until the strange people go away.
It's why I hate parties and avoid them (unless I know a quorum of the people there). I've been this way ever since childhood and it's probably never going to change; it's just part of who I am.
A party I enjoyed for a change
Even though parties usually make me miserable, I had a good time at a housewarming party for Sushu's friend Christie last night. Even though I didn't know practically anybody.
Not sure why that was but it was a nice change. I was able to strike up small talk with random people quite easily, I wasn't self-conscious, and the people seemed interesting.
Oh but there was this one guy there. He had just come back from 14 months of teaching English in Saudi Arabia. So that's pretty interesting. I asked him a lot of questions about it, and he just kept bringing everything back to how much Saudi Arabia sucks and how stupid and terrible all the students were. He didn't have a single good thing to say about anybody. He actually said:
"As soon as the oil runs out they're all going to go back to being cannibals."
Which made my jaw hit the floor. That's one of the worst things I've ever heard anybody say.
Granted, there probably are a lot of really terrible things about Saudi Arabia, but I think this guy just had a terrible attitude. I remember his type from the JET programm: There were all these people who went to Japan and then did nothing but complain about it for the whole year. Like, can't you find anything to enjoy about living abroad, and if not then why are you doing it? It was mostly the type of person who was not especially interested in the culture but was just bumming around from one international job to another, trying to avoid starting a proper career or getting serious about anything.
All the rest of the people there were cool though. Almost all of them, at least 3/4, were teachers, because teachers make up Christie's social circle. I know just enough about teaching to have a conversation but not so much that I'm bored by stuff I've already heard before. It was nice to be able to start a conversation just by saying "Hey, are you a teacher too? What subject?" and going from there. It might have been this easy way of starting conversations that made the party fun, or maybe it was just my mood yesterday.
Christie's sister, who is training to become an English teacher (this led to a fun conversation about the best and worst books we had to read for school) brought over some of her paintings, and they were pretty amazing. They're huge and detailed and colorful and done in a crisp, chunky style inspired by stained-glass windows.
You know what else was really nice about this party? NOT TALKING ABOUT THE SOFTWARE INDUSTRY. No APIs, no IPOs, no venture capital, no patent lawsuits, no startups, no iPhone apps or Facebook widgets. It was amazingly refreshing.
I really need to hang out more with teachers and artists and less with silicon valley wonks.
X-men First Class, or: How geeks watch movies
I liked X-Men: First Class quite a lot. More than I expected to. (I went to watch it because watching movies with Sushu makes her happy, and X-Men seemed like the least offensive choice available that weekend.) IMHO it's the best of the X-men movies. Minor spoilers ahead (but it's a prequel, so you kind of know how it's going to end already, don't you?)
The guy who plays Magneto was really, really good. He made Magneto a complex, nuanced, sympathetic character. You really feel his pain and his reasons for mistrusting humanity; the friendship between him and Charles Xavier is touching and beautiful and tragic because you know they're going to become enemies. The actor redefined the character kind of the way Heath Ledger redefined the Joker.
And I loved the way the story of the mutants was woven together with the real-life story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It could easily have been hokey or preachy, but they did a good job portraying this fascinating and terrifying moment of history. And all the awesomely chunky cold-war era technology on display! It was really a Cold War movie that happened to contain mutants, more than the other way around. (There's also a subtext that, like, of course the Cuban Missile Crisis was the result of a supervillain manipulating the USA and USSR to try to start WW3, you didn't think governments could really be that suicidal all by themselves did you? Sigh...) There's a neat parallel at the end where all the less-powerful mutants have to choose sides between Magneto and Prof. X... just like how all the less-powerful countries had to choose sides in the Cold War.
I loved the character development with Mystique and Beast and their awkward almost-romance and their changing views of mutant pride, mutant acceptance, and passing for normal. Some really juicy dialogue in there. The bit where somebody accidentally "outs" someone as a mutant to his co-workers, and the significance of the phrase "Mutant and proud", immediately suggest an allegory to the gay rights movement. Although it was the the civil rights movement that was more relevant to the time that the movie is set (and the time when X-men was written). Really, map it onto the acceptance movement of your choice.
There were parts I didn't like, too, of course. The main villain's master plan didn't make a single bit of sense. The one black guy dies first, of course; I thought we were finally over that horrible movie trope but I guess not? As a physics geek it annoyed me that Magneto's powers seem to ignore Newton's third law of motion. There are a bunch of X-men who don't get any character development. And the script never seems to have a problem with the fact that young, idealistic Xavier is always digging around inside other people's most private memories, without permission, supposedly for their own good. I would have liked to see some acknowledgment of how INCREDIBLY CREEPY that would would make him in real life! But no, he's pure hero as far as this movie is concerned.
So that's what I thought of the movie. But let me tell you another story.
Last weekend I was in my friendly local game store (Game Kastle in Santa Clara) and the guy working the counter had a Green Lantern shirt on. So, just to make conversation, I was like "Oh, I take it you're a big fan. What did you think of the Green Lantern movie?"
I was kind of expecting him to trash it, since the trailers make it look really terrible.
But he raved about it! He liked how true it was to the source material and how good the special effects were for the constructs and blah blah blah and "they'd better make a sequel! There's a teaser after the end credits that sets them up for one!"
I mentioned X-men First Class (where I stayed to the end just in case there was a teaser, but there wasn't.) He made a face and said that movie was a disappointment. Why? Because it was about a bunch of B-list characters instead of the famous X-men; because it got some of the characters' powers "wrong"; because somebody's name was "wrong" (a minor character who is named Tempest in the comics went by "Angel" in the movie; there's a different X-man in the comics named "Angel".)
Not one mention of whether the story in either movie was interesting or not.
I've noticed this before with the way that geeks watch movies. Many of them seem to be nearly incapable of answering the question "Did this movie have a good story?". Or even asking the question. They only care about whether it was "accurate" and visually impressive.
"Accurate". As if the X-men were real, and the movie was a documentary about their lives, and we were judging the documentary on accuracy. I guess they don't really care about a good story as much as they care about seeing their favorite mythology/setting/lore -- or their personally preferred interpretation of that lore, which is an even bigger can of worms -- honored by a lavish on-screen presentation.
I guess this makes geeks easy to market to -- once you get them hooked on your IP, no need to worry about good storytelling; the geeks will provide a steady stream of money as long as you make sure to remain consistent with the canon and the continuity.
It's not a horrible thing by any means. It can be kind of cute how devoted geeks get to their favorite pretend universe and the pretense that it has an internal consistency that must be respected. It's just very, very different from how other people watch movies.
GenCon was meh
Blogging from the public library at Frankfurt, Michigan.
GenCon was underwhelming.
There were a few neat things there -- a guy dressed as Link who actually played the ocarina; a giant-sized RoboRally board with remote-controlled lego robots that followed the programs the players punched in; Homestuck cosplayers, including a (male) Vriska carrying around Tavros' severed legs; the display case with the winners of the miniature painting contest; and the writer and artist of Erfworld, who happily signed books for me. And the True Dungeon was pretty neat.
But other than that, well... there was a lot of carrying heavy bags around while lost in Indianapolis, a lot of missed connections, a lot of waiting around for people to gather up so we could get food... some napping on benches in hotel hallways due to sleep deprivation... a lot of glitches figuring out the rides to and from the sleeping arrangements that Cat and Kent were kind enough to provide (thanks guys! And thanks again for the pancake breakfast, Cat!).
I never managed to find the role-playing that was supposed to happen with the Forge people at the Embassy suites. I went there at the time I was told it was happening, but I couldn't find anybody. That was very disappointing, since it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to GenCon in the first place.
Played some Warmachine in the Iron Arena. Extra points were given for fully-painted armies so I didn't have to play against the Silver Horde of the Barren Pewter Wastelands like I often do at the local game store. Got in a 75-point game with both sides fully painted, which was neat. I won a tape measure. (It sounds dumb, but I had broken my old tape measure, so it was actually something I really wanted.)
Alright. Gamers. We have to talk.
We have to talk about the quantity and aggressiveness of gamer identity totems you guys had on display at GenCon. Like, I get that the normal social order is inverted and everybody can't wait to brag about what a huge dork they are. It's OK to care a lot about your hobbies. That's cool.
But, like, would it kill you to be a little more creative about it? Supposedly gamers prize themselves on creativity, but I just saw the exact same tired played-out gamer memes on display over and over again. Guys, that Star Wars pun on your shirt, like the joke about the guy attacking the gazebo, was already old twenty years ago. You guys have ruined zombies, Cthulhu, and "steampunk" forever by reducing them to the stupidest possible cliches and then beating them into the ground. I don't want to hear any more Monty Python and the Holy Grail references ever again, and I hate to tell you this but Army of Darkness was not a good movie to begin with. Neither was Highlander. But apparently what passes for humor in gamer culture is all about getting references; no actual jokes are required.
And the slogans about living on pizza and ramen, or killer GMs, or staying up all night playing video games... it just felt like people were bragging about their unhealthy lifestyles. Ick.
Overall I felt like I would have had just as much fun, with 1/100 of the hassle and aggravation, if I had just spent the weekend visiting some friends and gaming with them. I spent most of Friday night and Saturday morning at GenCon wondering why I had come. I contemplated giving up and hopping on a bus back to Chicago.
I decided to stay for the True Dungeon, though; that was the one thing I couldn't do at a friend's house. Kent was Very Serious about collecting the round plastic tokens which represent treasure in True Dungeon; he had a special sash holding them all so he could pull out a healing potion or wand of lightning bolts right when he needed it. He loaned me a custom set of tokens to boost my Elf Wizard stats up out of the newbie level, since we were going to be playing on Nightmare mode.
Imagine that cool dad in your neighborhood who makes elaborate haunted houses every halloween for the local kids? Now imagine he's got the budget for fog machines, lasers, blacklights, and animatronic monsters, and there's game mechanics to it. A GM standing in the corner of each room announces events, tells you you've sprung a trap, answers rules questions, rolls for the monsters, etc.
There were seven rooms, with fake rock walls. Five had puzzles, three had monsters. Some of the puzzles were quite elaborate, like the one where we had to line up a laser to bounce between ten orbs with mirrors in them, in the right order, to hit a spot on the door. Hit a gong to start the laser, then we've got 30 seconds to try, and the whole party takes damage each time we fail. The monsters were an animatronic gargoyle, an animatronic red dragon, and a (conveniently invisible) astral stalker. You attack monsters by sliding weapon disks across a smooth table to try to land in a good hit location on a monster silhouette. It's like shuffleboard of the damned or something. Each spellcasting class has some random knowledge to memorize (for wizards, it's memorizing a map of the planes); when you want to cast a spell, the nearest GM will quiz you.
There were some tensions between the ten people in the group, most of whom didn't know each other, and some of whom took the whole thing way, way too seriously. (I got yelled at by the bard for wasting a spell in the second room which she thought I should have saved for the dragon.) The puzzles involved a lot of everybody yelling ideas at once. Anyway, we beat the dungeon with only one character death, huzzah.
True Dungeon was a fun thing to try once but I don't think I care enough to go back, and that about sums up GenCon for me as well.
The sick misogyny of "geek culture" exclusionism
A guy calling himself "Joe Peacock" has written an atrocious, horrible article called "Booth Babes Need Not Apply" on CNN's "geek blog". (Wait, CNN has a "geek blog"? What?)
The article perfectly illustrates everything that's sick and wrong about "geek culture" today: The denial of privilege. The identity politics. The rampant misogyny. The total lack of perspective or self-awareness. The persecution complex. The enormous sense of entitlement. Did I mention the sexism?
Thanks, Googleshng, for pointing me at this article, thus ruining my evening!
The article is so bad that I'm going to respond to it with point-by-point sarcasm for your (hopefully) amusement.
There is a growing chorus of frustration in the geek community with - and there's no other way to put this - pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.
Translation: there is a growing frustration among Joe Peacock that girls are trying to get into his "no girls allowed" clubhouse.
San Diego Comic-Con is the largest vehicle, but it's hardly the only convention populated with "hot chicks" wearing skimpy outfits
Those evil, evil vixens! How dare they be attractive in Joe's presence, cruelly forcing him to feel sexual attraction to them?
simply to get a bunch of gawking geeks’ heads to turn, just to satisfy their hollow egos.
Joe Peacock's amazing powers of telepathy allow him to know the motivation of every girl he passes in the hallway at Comic-Con!
So... I'm confused. The title of your article is "Booth babes need not apply", but booth babes aren't there to satisfy their egos, they're there because a company with no respect for women wants to sell crap to horny guys. So are you talking about booth babes, or about something else?
Next: five paragraphs of "I'm not a misogynist, but..." Skipping these.
What I'm talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming
Every geek starts out as a newbie. You know that, right? Every gamer at some point had "no history in gaming" because they had just started gaming as a hobby.
Do you want new people to join your hobby, or not? If you do, maybe don't act like people need to submit a fucking resume to apply for membership.
taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a "model." I get sick of wannabes who couldn't make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead.
Not only are these evil, evil vixens teasing me with their hot bodies, they're not even that hot!
I'm talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn't give the time of day on the street.
These evil, evil vixens flaunt their bodies, forcing me to think sexy thoughts about them, even though they don't want to have sex with me! It's an injustice, I tell you!
Isn't this the mild version of the logic which, in its extreme form, gave us the burqa?
I call these girls "6 of 9". They have a superpower: In the real world, they're beauty-obsessed, frustrated wannabe models who can't get work.
Um, how do you know?
They decide to put on a "hot" costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don't get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity. They're a "6" in the "real world", but when they put on a Batman shirt and head to the local fandom convention du jour, they instantly become a "9".
I've never heard anybody who's not a misogynistic asshole describe a woman as "a 9". Using the 1-10 scale for women reveals that:
1. you think women are only valuable for their appearance
2. you think attractiveness can be objectively ranked on some kind of universal scale, rather than being in the eye of the beholder
And you're accusing them of being shallow??
As if that wasn't bad enough, you're using the 1-10 scale to complain about women getting more attention than they "deserve" to get for their objective beauty ranking? Oh, I see. "Bitches be uppity", is that your problem?
They're poachers. They're a pox on our culture.
Whoa dude calm down.
First of all, I'm not sure this group of offenders you're describing even exists outside of your own head.
Maybe some women just want to dress up as a character from a movie they like (who happens to have a skimpy outfit) and go to Comic-Con, because they think it will be fun.
How is this a crime? How is this hurting you? How is this any different from what you're doing at Comic-Con?
As a guy, I find it repugnant that, due to my interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games and toys, I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence. It's insulting.
How do you know that you're "supposed to feel honored"? Have you considered that maybe these girls are just enjoying themselves at Comic-Con and don't particularly intend to make you feel any certain way?
Have you considered that maybe they haven't thought about your reaction at all?
Have you considered that the universe might not revolve around you?
Oh, and by the way: do you find it "repugnant" that "due to [your] interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games" that the creators of these things think that hiring scantily-clad "booth babes" is the best way to sell stuff to you?
Do you blame the company that degrades your culture and demeans women by hiring booth babes in order to make more money off of you? Oh, no, I see, you blame the women who are exploited under this system instead of blaming the system.
Is it abuse in the same vein as the harassment? Not even slightly.
Someone dressing up to feel good about themselves isn't the same as guys lobbing insults, threats, disgusting suggestions and the like at women.
"I'm not a misogynist, though" he insisted, backpedalling furiously.
Case in point: there is a website called Fat, Ugly Or Slutty that catalogs insults, harassment and verbal abuse from male gamers to females on Xbox Live. Reading through just one page of the site made me ill.
This "geek culture" -- the one you're so proud of, and so keen to defend from "poachers" -- has a sickness.
Even you admit that harassment is a worse offense than being a "poacher". So why are you more focused on the poacher "problem" (which I'm not convinced is a problem at all) than the harassment problem?
The big brother in me wanted to go pound the crap out of the thirteen year olds who think it's cool or funny to demean women for sport.
The "big brother" in you, right. Women are weak and need your protection?
"White Knight"-ing is a more subtle form of sexism, but it's still sexism.
Is this type of harassment is deserved? Not at all. Are guys acting this way toward women just as disgusting and base as women poaching attention from our culture, satisfying their egos by strutting around a group of guys dressed in clothing and costumes from a culture filled with men they see as beneath them? Absolutely.
"Just as" disgusting? You just said the harassment was far worse, now you're calling them equivalent.
How do you know she sees you as beneath her? Your amazing telepathy again? It sounds more like you see her as beneath you. Maybe you're projecting your own feelings onto her.
You're looking down on her because she's not a "real geek". But how do you know she's not? Maybe she likes different geek stuff than you like, or maybe she's not quite as obsessive about it as you are. So what?
I think that these things sully what is otherwise an incredible group of people and bring down a beautiful culture. I feel the same way when some guy reads about a hot comic book title sure to be a collector's item, drives up demand by buying up all of those issues and resells them on eBay for hundreds of dollars. He doesn't love the culture. He doesn't add anything to it.
Oh no! Geekdom has gotten cool! Other people -- the wrong kind of people -- are starting to like stuff that you like! If other people buy comic books too, you won't be special any more! Your identity, which you have built up based on an exaggerated sense of victimhood over buying comic books, is under threat! What will you do?
Man the barricades! We have to keep the false geeks out of the club before they ruin it by making it popular!
I hate to tell you this, but it's too late. Most geek things are pretty mainstream now. Fantasy novels regularly top the bestseller lists, TV is full of shows like Dr. Who and Game of Thrones, and at least half of the top-grossing movies of the past few years have been about either wizards, robots, or superheroes.
Comic-book geeks and mainstream movie fans are watching exactly the same stuff these days. And guess what? Comic-Con caters to both groups.
But go on yelling "I'm a True Fan! I liked it before it was popular!" if that's what it takes to make yourself feel special, I guess.
All he does is make scarce a resource that we want and love, in the name of profit.
I hate poachers. Pure and simple.
So if you hate poachers, why single out women? If your problem is people who are "not true geeks" (which I think is dumb, but whatever), then why not write the article about "poachers"? What does being a woman or not have anything to do with it?
Oh right, it's because you're a sexist idiot.
The growing presence of these Olivia Munn types in the geek community is creating dialog that isn't helping anyone. You've no doubt heard about a young journalist named Ryan Perez who did something stupid. Really, really stupid. He "called out" Felicia Day on Twitter,
And instead of blaming Ryan Perez for being a misogyinst asshole, you're blaming "the growing presence of these Olivia Munn types". Right. The misogynists aren't the problem, it's the women who pushed them into misogyny who are the problem. Sure.
asking if she really contributes anything to geek culture other than being a celebrity.
"Hey celebrity! Do you really contribute anything to our culture of celebrity-worship other than being a celebrity for us to worship?"
(Two more paragraphs in which Joe magnanimously allows Felicia Day into the cool-geeks club).
But then, you have these models-cum-geeks like Olivia Munn and practically every FragDoll. These chicks? Not geeks. I think that their rise is due to the fact that corporations are figuring out that geeks have money, and they want it.
Oh no, the horror! Corporations that want your money!
Unlike Marvel, DC, Wizards of the Coast, Games Workshop, Blizzard, toy companies, Hollywood movie studios, ComicCon itself, etc., which are not corporations that want your money, they're charities run purely for the benefit of glorious Geek Culture! Right? Right.
You're being incredibly protective of a "culture" that mainly revolves around mass-marketed entertainment products you purchase from corporations. And you have the gall to tell some people that they're Not Doing It Right? That they're not allowed into the club?
But they can't abide putting a typically geeky face on camera, so they hire models to act quirky and sell this marketable geekdom. So, I can understand why someone completely ignorant could look at Felicia Day and see a pretty woman who is making one heck of a career starring in roles celebrating fandom, and mentally file them along with the fake geek G4 hostesses. Ryan Perez is a shoddy journalist and failed to do any research.
Not like Joe Peacock, Arbiter of Geekdom! You've done the "research" so you are qualified to decide who is and isn't allowed to be a geek.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the concept of "geekdom" started by people who were sick of being kept out of the Cool Kids Club?
Now that geekdom is cool, popular, mainstream even -- you're going to turn around and tell some people they're "fake geeks" and can't be in your club? You're going to have, what, entrance requirements? Ideological purity tests?
Remember what happened with the pigs at the end of Animal Farm? (If you can stomach a book that doesn't feature wizards, robots, or superheroes, maybe you should read it someday.)
He knee-jerked his way into temporary internet infamy. I think he was an idiot. But I can see why he bubbled over.
There's no doubt about it – girls in geek culture have it hard, and it's probably going to be that way for a long time. At least until men stop lusting after women (so, like, never).
You're certainly not helping.
But that doesn't mean that women aren't welcomed and accepted in geek culture. Women elevate the culture, and thus, the content. And, I'll admit, you ladies are much nicer to be around.
Putting women on a pedestal: Also a form of sexism, by the way.
However, you "6 of 9s" out there? You're just gross. There's an entire contingent of guys in geekdom who absolutely love you, because inside, they're 13 year old boys who like to objectify women and see them as nothing more than butts and a pair of boobs to be leered at. Have fun with them, and don't be shocked when they send you XBox Live messages with ASCII penises.
Don't go out with those jerks! They're not Nice Guys like me!
Waah! Waah! Why do girls go for jerks who don't respect them and ignore us Nice Guys?
Those of us who actually like substance? We'll be over here celebrating great comics, great games, great art, great movies and great television, because we're actually attracted to a completely different body part: the brain.
You like a thing. Good for you. Liking a thing isn't really a "culture". It does not entitle you to special privileges. You don't get to decide who else is or isn't allowed to like that thing.
Maybe you should try not making "I like a thing" the whole basis of your identity? Just a thought.
(P.S. here's another response to Joe Peacock's post which is probably a good deal more constructive than mine.)
I can has internet community?
Flashback to 1995. I was in college but I was terrified of starting conversations with strangers, so it was hard to meet people.
When the internet started going mainstream. I was like "Cool! the Internet! I can use this to bypass my social phobias and make friends with people who share my interests!"
In the 17 years since, I've done that... maybe once or twice. That's all.
I always hear about how people have found great communities on the internet, and I am envious, because it sounds cool and I've never been able to do that.
I basically don't socialize with strangers on the internet. I talk to people I already know, or I send some terse emails to set up a face-to-face meeting.
I never decided not to socialize -- I just never figured out how you're supposed to do it.
I've tried many times to join gaming, programming, and comic forums -- Storygames, RPG.net, the Warmachine forums, the MSPaintAdventure forums, the Ubuntu user forum etc. Here's how that always goes:
1. I lurk for a long time deciding if the forum is interesting and trying to get the vibe and learn the lingo.
2. I finally work up the courage to post, agonize over my username, and spend hours carefully crafting my first post.
3. Zero replies. Nobody cares.
4. I try posting replies in some active threads. They are ignored.
5. I make a post that accidentally touches on some controversial subject in the forum. It gets fifty replies, but none of them are engaging with what I said, or with each other -- everybody just showed up with an axe to grind and used the thread as an excuse to re-post their favorite rant.
6. I read some other threads more carefully and discover that almost nobody in the forum is responding to anybody else in a constructive way -- it's not a conversation, just a series of people who come in, state their opinion on (or off) the topic, and leave.
7. I give up and go back to lurking.
Not sure what it was that I expected to get out of posting to forums, but I never found it. The internet is littered with abandoned Jono forum accounts with like six posts each.
Even at its best, text-based communication on the internet lacks body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, so it's a very poor aproximation of actual human contact. With forums, it's even worse, because you don't even know who (if anyone) you're talking to. It's like standing in a pitch-black, crowded tunnel and trying to introduce yourself to a bunch of invisible people who may or may not be listening.
I recently tried to engage with Hacker News after they linked to one of my posts. I thought I could contribute something to the thread since they were talking about my article, but... no. It was the exact same thing as every other forum.
I never figured out how to use "social media", either. I tried Twitter a few times but I wasn't getting anything out of it. Maybe I just don't know how to engage with Twitter, but to me it feels like a crowd of people all shouting for attention, none of them listening to each other. It's worthless for having a conversation or making any kind of meaningful connection. These days I only use my twitter account as a mirror of my RSS feed, to push out links to these blog posts.
I've been working full time on my own solo projects since leaving Mozilla. It's lonely! I wish I had some kind of professional community to be part of. I had a great one at Mozilla and I'm feeling the lack.
I know the "Mozilla community" is something that exists outside the company... but I don't know where to find them. I mean, I would know what IRC channel to go to for any technical question I want to ask, but I have no idea how to find Mozilla community members just to hang out, talk, build relationships, ask for general advice, etc.
I'm really curious to hear from anybody who has successfully found (or built) a functional online community. How did you find this community? How do people interact with each other there? What do you talk about? Do you meet up in real life or is it online only?
Let Go of your Nerdrage (or: Why the 'Worse' Technology Wins)
I just finished a small PHP project for my wife's family business. I've tangled with this codebase before. Like many legacy PHP projects, it's a nightmare of copy-pasted code, misspelled variable names, multiple versions of the same file living in different subdirectories, load-bearing posters, etc. I'm not sure the original developers knew what a function was.
Years ago, when last I tangled with this codebase, I raged at it for days. I'm afraid I was rather unpleasant to be around. I raged at the barely-competent contractors who had hacked it together with no regard for readability or maintainability, but the greater half of my ire was reserved for the design of the PHP language itself that leads inexperienced developers to sail onto these reefs.
PHP is infuriating to good programmers because it's a fractal of bad design. Many of its features and standard library functions are flagrantly misdesigned for no reason. Design trade-offs I can forgive, but things like the inconsistent capitalization and order of arguments across PHP standard library functions is just wrong. There's no advantage to it - it wouldn't have cost them anything to apply some consistency to the standard library, and PHP would be a lot easier to deal with if they had. You can hammer in nails with the side of it, sort of, but why not use a tool that's designed right in the first place?
And yet! PHP is quite possibly the most successful programming language in history, if you count by number of projects written in it that are actually used every day. Maybe Excel macros, if you consider them a programming language, could give PHP a run for its money. I used to think that PHP was only popular because it comes pre-installed on most web servers, but that begs the question of why PHP was in so much demand that web hosts would include it. Despite its manny flaws, PHP runs most of the web.
Obviously there is a huge disconnect between what programmers think is "good" and what customers want.
"Good" to a programmer means clean, elegant, orthogonal, modular, easily maintained, well-documented. No extraneous moving parts, any subsystem can be swapped out and replaced, interfaces behave consistently, and all actions are reversible.
If the technology that nerds thought was good won in the market, we would all be running FreeBSD, or better yet, Plan 9, on our reduced-instruction set chips (the Intel x86 architecture is hopelessly crufted up with obsolete backwards-compatibility modes). We'd be running programs written in a beautful language like Erlang or Haskell, and instead of the lousy hack that is the World-Wide Web, we'd be connecting to Xanadu with its bi-directional links and live transclusion. If HTTP even existed, we certainly wouldn't be using it to cram rich application interfaces through port 80! That's designed for hypertext only, dammit.
Instead, the average computer is a jumble of commodity hardware running IE (or, these days, Chrome) on top of Windows (probably XP) in order to connect through HTTP to Facebook (built on PHP) and log in using cookies (a hack to get around the statelessness of HTTP) to look at YouTube videos (using the proprietary Flash plugin because the browser fails to support video natively). To a programmer who lets themselves think about it, this is a tottering Jenga tower of kluges on top of kluges.
The nerd favorite loses every single time. From Windows to the Web to PHP, the worst technology (from a nerd perspective) always wins.
There's a piece of wisdom among marketers: the customer doesn't care how "good", in some abstract sense, your product is. They only care whether it solves their problems.
Notice "solving the customer's problems" doesn't appear in the list of things a programmer thinks are good. That's because most programmers are mainly concerned with how hard it is to fix bugs in their codebase; somebody else in the company gets paid to worry about customers. But a definition of "good" that doesn't consider whether it solves customer problems is fallacious, like a definition of "price" that doesn't consider how much somebody's willing to pay for something. The programmer's idea of "goodness" is really more like "technical purity".
Is there a pattern to the "worse" technologies that end up winning? If I squint I think I can see one.
If you already had DOS, it was easier (and much cheaper) to run Windows on top of DOS than to switch to a Mac. If you were already using a web browser every day it was easier to use a web application than to install a desktop application even if the webapp wasn't quite as good. And if you were already hosting an HTML website and needed a few dynamic features it was easier to drop some PHP tags into an HTML page than to rewrite the whole thing in a Python web framework.
All of the "worse" technlogies offered something very important: an easy upgrade path from something somebody was already using. The klugy solution can be bolted on to whatever you're already running, and it might not work the best and it might not be pretty, but it lets you get your stuff done. The technically pure solutions ask you to throw everything out and start from a clean slate. No wonder they're not popular!
Of course the current popular trend is mobile-phone apps. Which are horribly designed from a software architecture perspective. Phone apps are the ultimate in siloed functionality: they're mostly single-function and there's no way to get data from one to another, so you're putting your whole UI into a whole different mode for every feature you want to use. Plus you can't link to them so discovery is hard, and on iPhone Apple has a stranglehold over the sole distribution channel so they get to decide what software you are or aren't allowed to run.
It's all terrible, but having these features on an object that you already carry in your pocket is convenient enough to overwhelm the drawbacks for most people. Apps, like Windows and PHP, are a bolt-on to something people were already using.
This time, when I approached the project for my wife's family business, I kept all this in mind, and tried to make peace with PHP. I still wouldn't recommend choosing PHP for a new project, but there's no sense nerd-raging about it. Their site is done in PHP, they needed some features added, and I could either do them in PHP or I could refuse to help them at all. I took a deep breath and accepted it. It's not like rewriting their website in Python is going to save the polar icecaps, or even get the business a single new customer.
It's just software.
And that is when I realized that, in Brian's words, I have rejected software as a path to enlightenment.
My suffering came from attachment to the idea that people "should" be using something that fits my idea of well-designed. I am learning to let go of that attachment. People use what solves their problems, and their problems are not the same as my problems. The market will always be dominated by stuff I think is terrible from a technical perspective. I'm now trying to make peace with that fact. It doesn't matter what software other people choose, compared to the important things in life, like how people treat each other. This is a big change in my attitude towards programming work. Past Jono from five years ago was all about the technical purity.
Beautiful and well-designed code is better than crufty and unmaintainable code, all other things being equal, but we shouldn't think of beautiful code as an end in itself. We've got to remember that it's still just a tool. Whether beautiful or ugly, it ultimately has to serve a human purpose or it's a waste of time. Sometimes the human purpose is not served by pursuing technical purity; sometimes it's best served by just doing what the client wants and hacking another feature into their mess of PHP.
We really shouldn't look to computer code for creative expression or spiritual fulfillment. Code is ephemeral. I mean, yeah, all human endeavor is ephemeral, but code is even more ephemeral than that. If you paint a picture or write a song it can be enjoyed by future generations. Your most beautiful code probably won't even run five years from now. It will just be ones and zeros rotting in an archive somewhere, broken by some operating system change or browser upgrade, unless somebody cares enough to maintain it.
Lately I'm thinking I want to start a sustainable business of my own so I can be self-employed. That will mean wearing two hats - programmer, but also small-business manager. When I face choices about what language to use or what platform to develop for, I can listen to the programmer and take the technically pure choice, or I can listen to the businessman and follow the users.
So, it's like, I hate smartphones, I hate "social networks", but that's where a lot of the potential users are. If it's a choice between hating smartphones or becoming successfully self-employed, maybe it's time to let go of my hate.
Teaching Programmers, not just Bro-grammers
I instantly fell back into the rhythm of teaching. Oh yeah, I remember how much I used to enjoy this! And the people are pretty cool. So I'm continuing to do it, for the time being. I didn't want to give them false expectations so I told them very explicitly that if I get into grad school, or if the Studio Xia Chinese game starts taking off, then I'm outta there.
So I've got a part-time job with very flexible hours; I can go in and teach for a couple hours one or two days a week and write a few assignments for their curriculum. It lets me pick up some extra money and more importantly gets me out and connecting with humanity on a regular basis, so I don't become a total hermit.
The students mostly look up to me since I used to have the kind of job that they're all want -- they're trying to break into the field that I'm trying to break out of. I am reminded of that kung-fu movie trope where the retired sword master is all like "Do not follow in my path, it leads only to violence and death" and refuses to teach students.
I don't want to crush their dreams. So I try to give them a neutral picture of what it's like, the good and the bad.
The class has about 20-25% women. Which is a really low number, but sadly, it's better than a lot of programming groups I've been in, which have been 100% dudes. Programming is still an extremely male-dominated field. As much as some people have tried to blame this fact on women just not being interested, I think the culprit is sexism, which still exists in both blatant and subtle forms. Sure, we like to think we're enlightened folks and beyond all that, but sadly we're not. For sickening examples, read the experiences that female game developers reported in the #1reasonwhy hashtag recently.
I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. I want to help make the class a welcoming and egalitarian environment, and I want to encourage the women in the class to keep pursuing this as a career and not to get discouraged and drop out. But at the same time, I don't want to treat the women differently from the men. It would be damn insulting of me to assume they need extra help because they're women!
I talked to Alexis about this dilemma last week, and she told me some facts about stereotype threat. It's a phenomenon where a member of a group that's stereotyped as bad at something (i.e. "Women are bad at programming") get really nervous about confirming the stereotype, which reduces their performance in a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. It's been experimentally confirmed again and again. But experiments have also shown ways to mitigate it.
For instance, she said, getting people to talk as individuals about their personal goals and their reasons for wanting to take a class seems to reduce the effects of stereotype threat. And recognizing that not everybody communicates the same way, and that some students who need help might be really shy about asking questions for fear of sounding stupid.
The book Whistling Vivaldi is supposed to have some good insights for helping teachers mitigate stereotype threat, so Sushu and I have added it to our reading list.
So, I'm trying to get to know the students as individuals (luckily it's a small enough group to make this feasable), figure out their learning styles and their goals, and gauge what kind of help they each need. Students have a wide variety of backgrounds. Some have advantages that others don't, and it's got me thinking about privileges that male programmers take for granted.
Over the years I've gradually been learning to recognize my own privilege and how it's helped me get where I am. Like, because my family was (barely) able to afford a computer for me when I was a kid, I have a lifetime of tinkering experience to draw on. Just because I look and sound like a stereotypical computer programmer (young, white, male, communicates in sci-fi and video-game references), nobody ever sees me at a software company or a tech conference and questions whether I deserve to be there. If I wasn't any of those things, I would have had a steeper hill to climb.
The thing I want to talk about isn't any kind of blatant "get back in the kitchen" sexism (though that does exist in parts of the industry, no question). No, the thing I've noticed is a much more subtle phenomenon. It's not intentionally malicious but it still contributes to making programming culture exclusionary.
About the feeling of being overwhelmed by jargon: Programmers use tons of it. They redefine perfectly ordinary words ("function", "object") to have extremely specific technical meanings. Programming depends on precision of thought and so itthis lexicon of jargon is neccessary; without it, it would be impossible to communicate with enough precision. Problem is that programmers take the jargon for granted, forgetting that a listener might not know what ORM stands for, or might misinterpret "object" as its normal everyday meaning.
I told the class that the feeling of being overwhelmed by unfamiliar terminology is totally normal for programmers. I encountered a ton of brand-new bewildering gibberish at each new job, even after years in the profession. There's always a moment of panic: "They're talking about jQuery what the hell is jQuery oh no I don't belong here they're going to figure out I'm a fraud!" That feeling never quite goes away, but it gets less over time.
There's two ways of dealing with this: You ask "What's jQuery" and reveal your ignorance, or you fake your way through the rest of the conversation and then look up jQuery next time you're alone at your desk.
Now I think asking "What's jQuery" is the healthier course of action -- better to ask and look stupid for a moment than to not ask and remain stupid forever -- but it took me years to get comfortable with that. If you're already unsure of your social status in the group, then displaying your ignorance is really scary.
So to tie this back to the gender issue: women are less likely than men to have grown up in a social group that used a lot of technical jargon. They're also less likely to have been socialized to be assertive: our culture rewards a certain amount of cockiness in boys but punishes the same attitude in girls.
As a result, the kind of breezily overconfident, unthinkingly jargon-heavy communication style favored in male-dominated programmer culture can be quite exclusionary. If you're not used to the jargon, and you're worried about stereotype threat if you admit you don't know something, and you were raised not to fake confidence about stuff you don't know... well, I see how it can feel like a hostile environment, even if nobody engages in overtly sexist speech or harassing behavior towards you.
Programmers hold a lot of the levers of power in our modern age. Software runs ever more of the world. If the programmers are are mostly young white upper-class guys from San Francisco then most software will get written to reflect the interests and the unconscious assumptions of young white upper-class guys from San Francisco. So it matters great deal whether we make it easier or hader for people outside that demographic to become programmers.
My hypothesis for the day is that can, and should, make programmer culture more exclusive for people from different backgrounds, by doing things like being aware of diffrerent communication styles, not using jargon in a way that locks people out, not shaming people for not knowing a jargon term, etc.
I would love to hear your feedback on this theory, especially from women programmers but also from women who have taken programming courses, worked with programmers, or otherwise experienced programmer culture.