The Lonely Geek Advantage

    A few months ago my brother was in town and we spent much of our time tinkering with a new lighting system for my garage man-cave, tracking down some Ethernet wiring problems, learning how to edit video, connecting an old computer to an old television to display my website analytics, and a few other projects.

    Geeky stuff.

    How much did we enjoy it? A lot. My brother’s visit was the highlight of my month. Everything we worked on had a functional purpose, but the reason we allocated our leisure time to it is because it was fun.

    As a result of tinkering on stuff with my brother, I learned a boatload of new and useful things. Some of those things will be directly useful to my job in the future and others will form patterns that will be indirectly useful. Every time you learn a new thing it creates a template for more easily understanding future new things. So I came out way ahead.

    Now to my point.

    In the comments to my recent(ish) post about the unacceptably low ratio of women in technology, some of you advanced your own crackpot hypotheses for why it is happening. One of the most provocative ideas is that men spend their free time learning new things in tech areas because they have some sort of baked-in interest for it. Women, so the sexist hypothesis goes, do not share the same degree of natural interest and therefore learn fewer techie things because their interest is limited to what they need for the job. 

    Hold on, I need to take a brief detour for political correctness:

    Note: When one says men or women as a group behave differently it says nothing about individuals within the group. I know that. You know that. Everyone knows that. No need to explain it to me in the comments with an angry tone.

    Does a “natural” interest in geeky things give men (on average, not as individuals) an advantage in tech fields because of all the self-learning in their leisure time? If such a gender difference exists, we can’t know what percentage of the explanation is genetic and how much is learned behavior. And I’m not even sure the question makes sense, since DNA never acts alone; it is always a partner with the environment. It makes no sense to say the engine of a car is more important than the drive train if you need both to be a functioning car.

    Keep in mind that this blog is not about advocacy. I’m genuinely interested in learning what percentage of the gender imbalance in STEM fields represents something we can or should fix. Should we be aiming for 50-50 parity?

    Bonus question: What the hell is a personal preference if other people can change it for you?

    Suppose we learn that the reason women are underrepresented in tech jobs is that society’s negative influence on their career choices starts as soon as babies can focus their eyes and identify gender. We are a copying species. We identify the group that is most like ourselves and we follow their example. Can that cycle be broken as long as adult women are stuck in a cycle of modeling behavior that does not make geeky-learning seem womanly?

    And what if we could change the preferences of young girls during childhood so they have more geeky interests later in life. Is it ethical to do so? Or is that just brainwashing?

    In Top Tech Blog, a new camera will let a dog take photos automatically based on its level of heart excitement. I can think of no better way to gather photos for a collage of other dogs’ asses.

    And someday, thanks to this new technology, future generations will be able to see history – and even human evolution – as a time-elapsed video.

    In good news for alcoholics, Google is rolling out self-driving cars in some places soon.



    If there is a better college graduation gift than my book, I haven’t seen it. I mean that literally. If you need corroboration for that point, here are several hundred people who would likely agree.