That’s It, I’m Gonna Become a Nerd (+ about Girls in Tech)

My Gender Studies book said something I actually agreed with: that both at home and at work, women avoid tampering with technology if something breaks, and instead let a man fix it. The book says technology tends to “freeze” gender relations – men know technology, and women are dependent on help from tech-savvy men.

The book seems to say that it’s only cultural, and girls would be more technology-capable if only culture didn’t associate technology with masculinity. But I don’t think so. There is a lot to be said about interest for the subject.

When I was a kid, I never really got into technology, computers or anything like that. I wasn’t too interested, and I always felt somehow afraid of touching technology. Like it was too hard and I can’t possibly understand it. Well, I took a calculator apart once, wanted to find silver paper inside batteries, and stuck a needle into the electrical contact, but that’s it (and it was probably dangerous). But why did I think technology was so hard? It’s not. If a 13 year old kid can learn it and become an engineer in the end, why can’t anyone else? Sure, IQ varies and IQ matters, but even a little intelligence should be plenty to learn at least SOMETHING. Like how to hang up/change a ceiling lamp without being electrocuted.

Here’s something funny: I have a master’s degree in Materials, Energy and Nanotechnology. My boyfriend has a Bachelor in Latin, Bachelor in Art and some education in English Literature. Yet he knows a lot about computers and can always fix things and get things to work, and I didn’t know what a CPU was until a few weeks ago. Turns out he read about computers ever since they were available, because it’s fun and you can do cool stuff with them.

Feminists say girls don’t do technology because they only see men doing it, and not women. Because they have no tech-literate female role models. But now that I’ve seen Tim Samaras and my own boyfriend excel in electronics without any formal education in it, I feel pretty damn inspired to do the same. It doesn’t matter if I don’t become great at it, it’s supposed to be FUN. The fun is supposed to come both from the nifty results, and the process of mastering something.

That’s one thing I feel girls need to overcome: fear of failure. Girls tend to be more fearful on average, and according to some reports, give up more easily when things don’t go their way academically. And boys are more energized by challenge and want to see where the “adventure” ends… Why should girls not just do that? Why be filled with negative feelings when something is hard? Why think of something as a problem, instead of an opportunity? Is something terrible gonna happen if you stop worrying/being frustrated, and try harder/different methods/just have fun with it?

No, nothing terrible is gonna happen. And therefore I say I’ll become a nerd. Well, to an extent. Down with technological illiteracy, there is no excuse for it.

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36 Responses to That’s It, I’m Gonna Become a Nerd (+ about Girls in Tech)

  1. Scott Vater says:

    I’m sorry…but how do you have a masters in a field even remotely related to nanotech and not know what a CPU is? How did a central processing unit never come up when discussing or learning this area?

    Just curious.

    As far as the actual topic goes…technology is mad easy to learn. I do a lot of PC work. I build my own PC’s for gaming and general use. Hell, my main computer is WATER COOLED if you can believe that…radiators, fans, tubing, all that jazz! I’ve told people that it’s too easy if you actually CARE to learn. Like, I never tell people how to fix their own computers because if I did I’d start losing money when I do it for people I know.

    I mean, people ask me to change or upgrade their RAM and I can charge $50 easy…even though it would take them all of 5 minutes and it’s virtually impossible to mess it up. Hell, even building your very own PC has become a walk in the park. Most tedious task I find when building a PC isn’t even actually building it but having to install all the software…can be such a bore!

    But of course, I’ve always grown up around technology. I was the kid that liked taking stuff apart when I was younger and all that. However, even with my vast knowledge and expertise I think a lot of the less tech literate people don’t know how to do this or that because they simply don’t care. Why learn how to build a PC when you can just buy one? Who cares HOW it works as long as it doesn’t break? Really no different though from anything else I suppose. Most people don’t know how a car works or how to fix them and those, I feel, are much ingrained in peoples lives…and have been for many more decades at that! The fundamental way most people get around and live their lives. Without them you’d be useless. Yet they wouldn’t know how to change their oil if their lives depended on it. It’s actually quite worrisome thinking about it now…

    You know how many times I’ve had to show my mom how to simply download an app to her smartphone? Something that, curious enough, she really has no problem doing on her computer.

    Ehhh…learn it. If you care enough about it you’ll pick it up right away. I’ve read your blog long enough to know that you’re smart enough for it!

    • emmatheemo says:

      Nanotechnology has more to do with how materials’ properties change when they become really small, and what we can use this for (ex: catalysts). It has very little to do with the insides of a regular computer. Sure, we use various programs when we study materials, but it doesn’t mean we’re obligated to know about hardware to pass all the tests. On the other had, I know about the electron microscope, so I’m not all dumb 😉

      “Who cares HOW it works as long as it doesn’t break?”
      Exactly. And here lies the danger. If you can’t fix it yourself, you always have to pay tons of money so someone else can fix it. Of course, not everything can be fixed by yourself, but one should be able to do something. Sometimes no one is around to help you, too. And it looks especially lame for me not to know this stuff, despite having a fancy STEM degree.

      And thanks for words of encouragement. I didn’t have interest in this stuff before, but now I do.

  2. Liz says:

    Materials engineering was my favorite class in college, Emma (I might have mentioned that before). Materials and chemistry “clicked” with me in a way some other types of science didn’t (mechanical sciences, like first semester physics, in particular).

    “That’s one thing I feel girls need to overcome: fear of failure. Girls tend to be more fearful on average, and according to some reports, give up more easily when things don’t go their way academically. And boys are more energized by challenge and want to see where the “adventure” ends… Why should girls not just do that?”
    I think it’s just less in them to be really really passionate about most things (exception perhaps social type sciences). I think a guy is far more likely to still feel passion for something after failing numerous times…a girl is more likely to say, myeh, that’s enough. If you don’t feel passion to do something, you’re (general ‘you’) not going to continue doing it without reward. Perhaps I’m projecting, but I feel this way and I’m pretty sure that’s the norm. I’ll figure something out if I have to (say, something breaks and my husband is deployed…I learned a lot that way). Now, my kids are getting to the age where I just ask them to figure it out so I’m probably lazier still.

    • emmatheemo says:

      ” If you don’t feel passion to do something, you’re (general ‘you’) not going to continue doing it without reward. ”

      True, there’s got to be real interest in there. But if that’s in place, then failure shouldn’t deter someone from doing it, even if it doesn’t become a career. Doing the thing would be a reward in itself.

      However, I met more than one person whose interest in something was spoiled forever because the teacher was terrible and only punished them, and never rewarded. That’s harder, IMO, to overcome, than simply not getting a good grade right away and having to try harder.

  3. Liz says:

    Just one more thing…
    I’ve read that male sex hormones are the biggest factor in the development of the parts of the brain that handle things like formal logic, analysis, and so forth (also spatial reasoning, direction sense and hyper-focus). So it isn’t surprising that women are less represented in those fields. Furthermore, women who are good enough to make a career out of it will be atypical.

    • emmatheemo says:

      Would this not matter only on top levels though? From what I read, the average man outperforms an average woman on mathematical reasoning and certain spatial tasks. The average woman outperforms the average man on perceptual speed, verbal fluency and mathematical calculation. These average differences are typically small, but there are more genius men than women, so there will be more guys at the top levels.

      However, I’m not talking about being the best in my post. I’m just speaking of being technology-literate at the lowest, and being somewhat good at best (enough to be useful). I don’t see a good reason why a normal woman can’t fall into this range, if she had interest and actually tried.

  4. Clarence says:

    Emma:
    I don’t know what Eivind thinks but to me you always have been a nerdgirl. And I mean that in a very, very, good way. It’s the way you write, and what you write about.

  5. Subliminal Portal says:

    As fast as computer technology is evolving, it makes me wonder how anyone of either gender can keep up with the latest changes. Too bad dental technology couldn’t evolve as quickly. The dentures and false teeth industry would go right out of business, because we’d have tooth regeneration by now.

    • emmatheemo says:

      Lol, that would be nice. Now I wonder why some technology evolves quicker than others. Are there reasons other than the scientific ones?

      And yeah, I heard someone with career in IT needs to be up to date with everything, all the time. It sounds hard as hell. Good thing what I’m trying to do is voluntary and done purely for fun.

    • Herman Robak says:

      Depends on whether you are in end user sales/support, or on the development or admin side. To the average consumer and the retail clerk, I suppose the new stuff really looks NEW. Whereas old hardcore farts tend to think “same old shit, in new wrapping”. Sure, it’s faster and smaller than yesteryear, but that’s typically the biggest difference from a tech’s viewpoint.

      Re: dental work… Yeah, I’m underwhealmed by the crude, manual state of the art in dentistry. That sure needs fixing! But only silicon technologies have obeyed Moore’s law. Those who apply Moore’s law on people or on non-silicon technologies invariably fail!

  6. Liz says:

    How is your nerdification plan going, Emma? 🙂

    • emmatheemo says:

      Slow, my man says my knowledge of computers is in the 80s so far.

      • Liz says:

        Can’t be, we didn’t even have the internet then. 😛
        Good luck, Emma…keep at it.

      • emmatheemo says:

        No internet, but there were computers 🙂 And that strange IBM vs Apple fighting.

      • Subliminal Portal says:

        Actually, Emma, there was Internet back in the 1980s. It just wasn’t available to the general public until August of 1991; and when it became available to the general public, it was very primitive back then compared to now. You didn’t have YouTube, PayPal or anything fancy like that. You just regular websites that had a very Plain Jane appearance to them. Back in the 1980s, only Federal government officials had access to the Internet, and it was only used for government-related purposes. I believe 1969 was the year that the Internet was invented. If you ever meet anyone who tells you that they had Internet access back in 1973 or 1986, chances are that they were probably working for the United States Central Intelligence Agency or another American government agency of similar purpose. I believe that the United States of America was the only country that had Internet before 1991. Russia may have had it when it was still the Soviet Union because of the Kremlin’s covert espionage operations, and possibly the People’s Republic of China had it also before 1991 for similar reasons as the Soviet Union.

      • emmatheemo says:

        Thanks for the info. I knew internet existed a while before the 90s, but it only became available to regular people in the 90s somewhere 🙂

      • Subliminal Portal says:

        Oops, sorry, Emma. I made a typographical error on my last reply to you. I typed, “You just regular websites that had a very Plain Jane appearance to them.” I meant to type, “You just had regular websites that had a very Plain Jane appearance to them.”

      • caprizchka says:

        At least you don’t have to worry about punched cards, like I did in the 70’s.

        Just to be difficult, there is a good reason for “girls” to avoid technology and that is that they often distract the men to the point that creatures like me end up actually doing a lot of extra work and grow up despising the flirty “helpless” interlopers.

        It can also be demoralizing for a man to realize that he’ll never get to fix your computer and thereby earn your favor. Besides, who will make the sandwiches and get the coffee?

        Of course, that doesn’t apply in your case because you have a man who wishes to ensure that you won’t have to rely on a(nother) man to fix your computer which is touching in its own way. You in turn can go help women fix their computers so that they don’t have to rely on men either until eventually one can’t really tell the difference between men and women at all. Not that that would ever happen so I am assured.

        Just the same, I refuse to learn how to change a tire and will take my chances that this obstinacy won’t cause me to be stranded in the wilderness. Nonetheless, I eagerly soak up every lesson to that effect and could probably write a manual on how to change a tire today from memory complete with a dozen useful tips. I was always a sucker for that sort of guy whereas the tech guys were terrified of me (for good reason).

      • emmatheemo says:

        No, I don’t think me learning about computers will lead to a revolution leading to an androgynous world 😉 If I end up helping a woman fix her computer, she will probably act the way I used to act – just wait for it to be fixed, without diving deeper into understanding of the methods.

        And my man wants to teach me these things because he finds these things fun, and would like to discuss computer stuff with me if I could understand it and respond in a knowledgeable manner.

      • emmatheemo says:

        Why do you refuse to learn how to change a tire? And why were tech guys terrified of you for a good reason? 🙂

      • caprizchka says:

        It is a survival strategy. I am of the school of thought that it is normally best policy not to abandon a disabled car, or to get down on one’s knees before (invisible) predators voluntarily, nor to be perceived by other women as the “man” who is then on the hook for all repairs for “the team”. This strategy is not effective for all persons and is unlikely to remain effective for me. Meanwhile, I enjoy traveling and am still alive.

        When a woman invents something, several possible scenarios ensue, and some of them are quite destructive. Naturally, this is hindsight. At the time, I just thought my peers were “jealous” of my brilliance. I hadn’t realized that I was being used as a weapon by some persons further up the food chain while being mentored by others (who were not afraid of me). Not all weapons are obvious–even to the weapon itself. Some influx of women into a male environment is like seeding it with attractive land mines that just seem to beg to be touched. This is a threat to the survival strategy of many of the tech workers of my era. Perhaps by now they’ve figured out which thing is a land mine, which is an attractive plaything, which is a tool, and which is simply another human being whose job it is to place landmines, all company rhetoric about “teamwork” to the contrary.

        It sounds like you and your man are working to make a good team. People who care about each other make good team members. People who are afraid of each other don’t. Sometimes fear is the right survival strategy provided one doesn’t just succumb to learned helplessness.

      • emmatheemo says:

        Good point about the survival strategy. And since I never fixed anything for the “team”, I couldn’t have predicted that this could happen. However, I have other skills and you’re right, if you start to give give give, people often get used to it, and give nothing in return.

        And I’m still not sure I understood what you are saying about tech women. How have some been landmines in your experience? Is it about sexual harassment accusations?

      • caprizchka says:

        I think that the sheer unpredictability of women is huge especially for men who have been living like monks and haven’t seen a woman since fashion last changed. I would not say that tech women are different from other women that way. It all depends on how long they have been in tech. Rather, I was referring to the difficulty that tech men had in distinguishing between the various types of women. A lot of such men went into tech in order to get *away* from women. Now there is no escape.

        I remember an Indian guy who had just arrived in California who methodically made a pass at every woman in the company and I was brought into human resources to be questioned. Naturally all testimony was confidential.

        Poor guy! He lost his job and was actually sent back! I’m pretty sure I know which cream puff issued the damaging testimony. But she got her comeuppance. She was “laid off” shortly after an incident where the company was treated to the spectacle of her designer underwear and no one dared look or say a word to her about it as usual.

        I love the phrase, “lay off”, because if it hadn’t been for that “lay off”, more men trying to get laid would have been “offed” and more deadlines would have been missed. This way, no lawyers were required. But it was pretty dicey all the way around.

        To complicate matters the IT manager was having an affair with her, his wife was friends with the owner’s secretary, and the lead salesperson (the only female in sales and one who was also willing to utilize every asset she had) had just learned that her brand new husband had dated her. If it weren’t for that lay off the company could easily have gone out of business either from a lawsuit from miss lacy thong, the IT manager quitting, or the lead salesperson killing her. It is a wonder any work was being done at all!

      • Liz says:

        Heh, caprizchka, they were still using Fortran and punchcards when I was in the engineering program at UF in the early 90s. Hard to believe, init?
        Useful! 😛

      • emmatheemo says:

        What are those mysterious punchcards everyone is talking about?

      • Liz says:

        Emma, here is a link with pictures.
        (Used this in 1993, feels like five lifetimes ago)
        http://www.herongyang.com/Computer-History/FORTRAN-Program-Store-on-Punch-Card.html

      • emmatheemo says:

        Interesting stuff.

      • Herman Robak says:

        Don’t be ashamed that your comprehension of computers has not gotten past the 1980s. That’s when the computers began wasting the gains from Moore’s law, in earnest. Back then, booting times could be short, and user interaction could be instantaneous, too. And that was on computers that did less than a thousandth of the computation per second than that current ‘puters perform. It makes you wonder what kind of mind-boggling busywork modern software endulges itself in, doesn’t it?

        Ok, ok, I’m not being entirely fair. Multi-tasking and virtual memory are not the bestest friends with real-time performance, and we care more about the former than about the latter, most of the time. It’s one of those pesky “worse is better” trade-offs… But it makes embedded systems and micro-controllers more alluring to me, now that there is a growing cottage industry for them.

  7. caprizchka says:

    Liz, I believe you neglected to place the phrase, “Trigger Warning” in front of that link. LOL. I thought that they were dead!

    Emma, Imagine 500 of those things and one is missing. We put magic marker designs on the sides of “decks” of cards to help determine if one was out of order or missing. Whoever put the mainframe into an endless loop would incur the wrath of the whole floor. Fortran is its own hell. COBOL, ALC, and RPG on the other hand can drive one mad–from sleep deprivation. Now you know what happened to me. 🙂

    • emmatheemo says:

      Lol! Well in a modern computer, you can push a specific key to end the program, if you’ve accientally written an infinite one. What did you do if this happened with punchcards?

      • caprizchka says:

        What did I do? Well I would apologize to the *man* whose job it was, sheepishly, and flirt like crazy–if I was “the culprit.”

        Since everything was done in a queue with various priority codes (that us junior programmers weren’t allowed to know) the magic of how to change one’s place in the queue wasn’t distributed. The only way us programmers would know what had happened was that suddenly everyone on a terminal would start yelling because they would slow to a crawl (no one was being processed), and one of the poor “systems” guys would make the announcement while trying not to incur the wrath of the senior programmers who would suddenly realize their jobs weren’t being processed at the proper priority.

        The lesson there is that as more women got into programming, the guys in “systems” were the hot shots with their fingers on the action but also taking the heat. Nowadays, of course, everyone is everywhere.

      • Subliminal Portal says:

        Emma? You’ll get a kick out of this video. It relates specifically to what everyone here is talking about on your blog page.>>>>Click onto http://youtu.be/Rhc0Rl5_5Ps

      • emmatheemo says:

        Haha 🙂 Funny video, thanks.

  8. Subliminal Portal says:

    I’d say that the most hilariously bad movie ever made about computer technology in the history of American cinema was “Evilspeak” with Clint Howard. I think the idea of an evil spirit coming out of a computer screen is a little far-fetched and downright ludicrous. That movie is now even posted on YouTube for people to watch.>>>Click onto http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIE0BQNGckE
    You’ll definitely get a good, long chuckle out of some of the reviews that are written about this same movie on the IMDB movie website.>>>Click onto http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082346/
    I liked the 1983 film “War Games,” but somehow computer technology doesn’t make a very good vehicle for horror films. Of course, “War Games” is a science-fiction movie, so the use of computer technology as a vehicle in that film was a good fit for that movie’s plot.

  9. Pingback: I Built a Computer | Emma the Emo's Emo Musings

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