Blog Feature

By: Jennifer Devitt on July 19th, 2015

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Are terms like "nerd" or "geek" discouraging today's youth from careers in technology?

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Revenge of the Nerds movie (1984). If you follow tech news, something you see a lot of articles about is either encouraging kids or women to code or cyber bullying. Is it possible that the approach to encourage careers in technology or coding is spurring a rise in cyberbullying? Even if unintentional?

Now, I am not saying that technology industry leaders are encouraging cyber bullying, but let's take a minute to take a look at a few things. I started thinking about this over the weekend while watching a local news broadcast. During the broadcast, there was a segment about an upcoming Chicago festival. The festival is "Geek Fest". It hit me all of a sudden that a title with "geek" in it may be discouraging. And, I said to Dave that if we want to encourage kids to per sue careers in technology perhaps we should stop demeaning them by using terms like "geek". Let's take a look at a few terms that are often tied to technology careers or programmers, shall we?

1. Geek. Part of the definition of geek is as follows: "unfashionable or socially awkward". Yes, I understand it also includes "a digital technology expert" as well.

2. Nerd. This definition can either be "stupid, irritating or unattractive person"  or "intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a non-sensical hobby or pursuit".

Now, if we take a look at the thesaurus and search "nerd" let's see what we come up with, shall we? The first synonym is "geek". Then if you look further you will see all of the unflattering terms also associated with "nerd" or "geek". To name a few: dunce, weirdo, silly, fool, dweeb, goober, goofball, jerk or nitwit.

Take a few minutes to think about those terms. While many would not consider these "bullying terms" others would. Now, I am the first to admit that when I was a kid we freely threw around terms like this and were not necessarily being a bully.  As a parent, I do at times think that political correctness prevents kids from developing thicker skin or help them learn to let things roll off their backs. Not everyone you encounter will be kind, but not every term is meant to bully either.

But if we are trying to encourage today's youth to pursue careers in IT, technology, coding, programming or engineering should we always lump them with terms like "geek" or "nerd"? Kids today are all looking for social acceptance. No one wants to be teased by their peers. In today's tech age where kids have smartphones in middle school they are more immersed in technology then ever before. Why tarnish or snuff out any interest in a potential career path by placing a label on it. Many athletic kids are also interested in technology. I know, because our son is. He was a hockey player until 2 years ago and is a baseball junkie. But, he also is interested in tech devices and has dabbled in programming. But, I also know that he has hesitation due to peer pressure. He does not want to be known as a "geek" or a "nerd". He just wants to be accepted like everyone else. So, while there are all sorts of concentrated efforts to encourage tech careers in kids, perhaps we all need to rethink how we label individuals in this arena. Let's not diminish the efforts of code.org or  khanacademy.org. by placing labels on the individuals who flourish in these positions.  Take a minute and consider what first pops into your head when you think of someone in the technology or IT field? Sure, they are all typically intelligent, sometimes introverted or shy. But tell me you can't find the same qualities in many other fields? If you took the time to get to know these individuals you might also find they are funny, athletic and more social than you realize. We are all different. What makes us good at our jobs, should not be a negative label.

So, I encourage all of you fellow tech industry individuals out there, think about the labels you use. While you may not find it offensive, that middle school or high school kid with a interest in your field might just shy away for fear of being labeled a "geek" or a "nerd".