Through this process of building my own software credo, I’ve been taking liberties with the Unitarian process of building your own theology. For this post, I’m taking an ultimate liberty and switching the chapter on examining my personal theories about “ultimate reality” to examining my concept of the ULTIMATE NERD.
To begin this exercise, I’ll examine my take on the stereotype of nerd and “ultimate nerd” during these various phases of my life:
- As a child
- As a young adult
- As a Computer Science major
As a child
Let’s just get this out of the way, because we all know it’s coming: If you grew up in the U.S. during the ’80s, it’s highly likely you share a youthful vision of a definitive nerd with me.
It’s quite difficult *not* to associate “nerd” with the nerds portrayed in the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.” The stereotype was pretty abstract for me and didn’t change that much for a long time. As I got older and went through high school and college…well…the first round of college, a nerd meant an unattractive man with glasses who liked computers. There’s no depth to this stereotype, but that was to change…
As a young adult
If you lived in Atlanta or even possibly other places in the Southeast during the 90’s, chances were that your ISP was Mindspring. This had a big impact on my ideas about nerds. As I began to cultivate a healthy respect for computers and even began dabbling in programming, Mindspring became it’s own cultural nexus in my hometown of Atlanta. I swear they must have blasted the lunchtime 80’s radio show, House of Retro Pleasure, at lunchtime in their offices since half of the song requests came from Mindspring employees. Calling their tech support was fun!!! Nerds were no longer the cardboard cutouts of my youth. They were now friendly, vibrant people with enough intelligence to work with computers. My vision of the ultimate nerd switched to a guy my age, slightly gothy with a dark sense of humor.
As a CS Major
AND THEN…I enrolled in a CS program. Did I think of myself as a nerd in my Programming 101 class? Not really. I was learning C++ and conquering Computer Architecture but there was always that guy in the class who had owned a Mac or Commodore since he was 4 years old. It is really hard to claim street cred when you are the only girl in a class and struggling to make a B (sometimes I made A’s but not always). This eventually changed when I attended a Grace Hopper Conference and saw a presentation on what we see when we think of “nerds.” I realized, I had assumed for many years that to be a nerd, you have to be male and/or have snuggled up to a computer like it was a security blanket every night since infancy. It took this presentation to help me let go of those particular stereotypes.
“Nerd” is definitely a stereotype and a label. As with any stereotype, it can be used for good or for bad, but in my case, I see it as a positive label and one that I’m happy to own.
I believe a nerd is someone with a deep understanding of technology, but it doesn’t end there. A nerd is someone who has a deep understanding of technology and who also understands the connections between technology and real life. As for “deep understanding of technology,” that can be parsed forever and I’m sure there are plenty of nerd fights about what’s more technical. I’d rather focus on the second half of this because it means wanting to share technology with others. What good is all of the technical knowledge in the world if you’ve locked yourself away, sneer at everyone you see as “less technical” and refuse to explain anything to them. Good luck with that.
A nerd is someone who gives their Mom an iPad or who loves making crazy websites and having their friends play with said crazy websites. They might wear glasses or they might not. They might be transgendered or they might be a family guy who wears khakis and a plaid shirt everyday. They might live in Silicon Valley, Conyers, Georgia or Mozambique, and keep in mind, this is just my version of a nerd. Yours might be different.
The Ultimate Nerd
An ultimate nerd is someone who embodies these qualities I consider to be “nerdly,” and takes them further. Ultimate nerds not only have a deep understanding of technology and a willingness to share it, they change what’s possible and they don’t have to put people down to do it.
This significantly narrows the field, but that’s ok. There are plenty of asshole nerds out there who have dazzled us with one thing or another while treating the people around them horribly. I demand more than that from anyone I consider a leader or “ultimate” anything.
While “nerd” is a label and a stereotype, it holds relevance for me because it describes something I found in myself at the end of a wild and uncertain journey. The idea of an “ultimate nerd” points me towards places I want to go in my career but haven’t yet reached.
In my next credo post, I will indulge in labeling a few people as “ultimate” nerds. Hopefully, they’ll be ok with that.