Newsflash: people who don’t like computers prefer non-geeky workspaces

According to a recent study at the University of Washington, people who aren’t really interested in computing science are even less interested if asked about it in a room with science fiction paraphernalia, games, and soft drink cans. Apparently some of these non-technically-inclined people are women. Glory be, we have a great discovery!

Actually, not really, at least not in my uneducated opinion, with which you are free to disagree…   

You see, I am of the belief that people who are interested in technology, who excel at it, have certain kinds of minds. Regardless of gender, they are people who like science, enjoy science fiction, and like different kinds of games. People who don’t have these traits might be interested in other things: medicine, law, psychiatry, or something else.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that all computer people are stereotypical geeks. But I do think a significant majority are: both men and women. I look at the desks of the twenty-something women at work and see anime characters, Hello-kitty plushies, chinese puzzles, strange high-calorie/high caffeine candies, and toy robots. I am doubtful that this is protective camouflage, because most of the guys desks are largely without ornamentation. I don’t see pictures of pastoral scenes or elegant tea sets.

I think everything reasonable to encourage women (and men) who are really interested in technology, computers, and science to pursue their interests is worth doing. But I really do *not* want people who have no interest in the kinds of things that make good technologists pursuing careers they have no aptitude for. I’ve seen people who should have been accountants, history teachers, or truck drivers become computer people, and I’ll tell you it isn’t a pretty sight. They have no finesse, no talent, no skill: just rote procedural work and a total inability to resolve anything they don’t have a formula for.

So here’s my suggestion: worry about how people can deal with logic puzzles and english language pseudo code and other base elements of computing. Look at how we can identify people of any gender who have these natural aptitudes, who get excited more by the problem and the beauty of the solution than in the billing rates or the mathematics of it, and give them access to interesting challenges. My suspicion is that the vast majority of them regardless of gender will prefer science fiction posters and games over tea sets and colour draping any day.

In fact, maybe a good test of man or woman is to expose them to a typical nerd workspace: if they play with the toys and use the nerf gun to shoot down the tower of pop cans, they should consider a career in computing. If they tsk tsk and begin hanging tasteful watercolours of lakes at sunset, they should go straight away into accountancy or law 😉

2 thoughts on “Newsflash: people who don’t like computers prefer non-geeky workspaces”

  1. Quite so!

    I find the idea that women reject technology careers because they are “put off” by people who play games, have science fiction books on their desks, and drink Coke instead of cappuccino to be rather demeaning… to women.

    Obviously, if a workplace is sexist then that needs to be worked on, but the study isn’t talking about male technologists hanging pictures of beach babes and hurling sexual insults at the female technologists. If a person can be put off from a career simply by the style of furnishings in the office, maybe they aren’t that interested in the career to begin with.

    I will only consider a career where the offices are configured according to principles of Feng Shui… and then only if all the employees wear pastel colours and drink fruity beverages with small umbrellas.

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