Nerd Rising: I.T. School Teaches Social Skills to Tech Students

16 Sep

Well, I made it home in one piece, thankfully without the walk I was expecting. My crisp new pay cheque found its home in my bank account and I’m once again on top of my world, despite some pretty unpleasant feedback on yesterday’s post. The castigation levelled upon me by you, my dear readers, is today nothing more than fodder for mild amusement on my part, but once upon a time sentiments like “eat shit and die” or “quit whining and read a book” would have crushed what tenuous grasp I held on the concept of self-worth. For you see, my friends and critics, I was once a walking stereotype; a bespectacled and buck-toothed partaker in Magic tournaments and fantasy role-play; a reciter of Monty Python quotes and an avid fan of all things Star Trek. Yes, I was a nerd.


I know I’ve discussed nerd culture at length in the past and I don’t intend to retread ground, but during my morning research I came across an article that addresses, indirectly, some of my more critical observations of the nerd community, as well as the nerd phenomenon as it relates to the larger framework of our society, so I figured I’d dip my toe back into the Geek Pool one more time.


Like I said before, I was once a card-carrying member of the Nerd Brigade. I could tell you the exact dimensions of the U.S.S. Enterprise; I had serious conversations about whether Greedo or Han shot first; I wrote a fan-fiction post-apocalyptic vampire novel; a friend and I went to a Halloween party as the Boondock Saints. I played collectible card games; I went to LAN parties; I even read the entirety of Robert Jordan’s aptly-named Wheel of Time series (so called because the whole story went in a circle and, in nine or ten thousand pages, never went anywhere). I did all these things, and I’m not proud of much of it.

enterprise schematicWhat I am proud of, however, is the fact that despite all these tendencies that would otherwise have me outfitted with a pocket protector and laptop bag (years before laptops were commonplace; I’m old), I never really fell head-first into the full stereotype. Some of that had to do with my choice of wardrobe – no ratty Mac polos or Spawn teeshirts for me; likewise no too-short jeans or orthopaedic shoes. But mostly, it had to do with the fact that I’ve always been good at talking to people. Okay, I might talk too much and use too many five-dollar words, but the point is I’m generally well-liked socially. I can mingle with just about any group of people and find some common ground. I’m not trying to toot my own horn; most people are capable of at least a base line of charisma and sociability. My point is, typical “nerds” sometimes lack even the base line of social skills.

Sounds like I’m overreaching, doesn’t it? Being too mean?

Check this out.

For those of you too lazy to read the whole article, here’s the summation. Neumont University, colloquially called “Geek Heaven” by its students, specializes in turning out highly-trained I.T. experts into the work force – according to past trends, over 90% of the graduating class (only 59 elite students) will waltz right into a high-paying computer job right out of school. Pretty sweet deal. Even sweeter if you happen to be a nerd, because at a school full of introverted computer programmers that features about thirteen female students of 266, you’ll feel as at home as you would in your mom’s basement with a fridge stocked full of Mountain Dew and a family-size bag of Funions.

mountain dew

Sorry, sorry. I’ll try not to do that again.

But joking aside, the really cool part about Neumont University is this: they’re perhaps the first educational institution to directly deal with the less-savoury elements of nerd life. Apparently, students are encouraged to start social groups I.R.L. (In Real Life) and are actually required to take courses with names like “Collaborative and Interpersonal Communications” that focus on, again, real-life interaction as opposed to chat rooms, IRC or World of Warcraft tribes. According to professors, employers are thrilled with the technical prowess of Neumont grads, but haven’t been as pleased with their decided lack of social skills, so the University instituted what basically amounts to Real World Interaction Boot Camp in order to shore up the students’ social ineptitude. Professors are even given a carte blanche to make students close their laptops during class to encourage the notion that a world exists outside of their little screens. Or maybe it’s muscle memory – close the laptop enough times and it becomes habit. It’s like riding a bicycle. Or farming for experience points, if you prefer.

warcraft tauren

I have to give credit to the female population of Neumont as much as the profs. One brave young woman posted a thread on Neumont’s online community regarding – and I quote – “offensive odours”. Now, this is basically a taboo topic within the nerd community itself – people outside the loop comment on the distinctive scent of unwashed skin and Cheetos at the latest Star Wars showing or whatever, but from what I’ve been able to gather, the nerds with hygiene issues (and that’s not all of them, just the odoriferous minority) either don’t notice or don’t care. This girl actually opened a dialogue, and was followed up by a response from Stacy Hughes, the school’s communication manager, who made this outstanding observation:

People (who probably just get busy and distracted by their passion for coding) need to remember to take care of themselves as well as they care for their machines.”

nerds need love too

Good point, Ms. Hughes. Framing the criticism within the rhetoric of computer upkeep is probably the best way to get through to these people. The only thing I’d do differently is maybe have some hot nerd girl (like one of those ladies from G4 or something) come in and do a talk about how real-life women really dig smart guys as long as they’re clean and can talk about something other than quotes or 4chan memes or the latest Sam Raimi project. Hell, I’d show up for that talk, and it doesn’t even apply to me (contrary to certain popular belief, I’m very clean and rather charismatic in person).

kristen holt g4 hot nerd

I said before that I was once a nerd. I still have a lot of friends who are nerds. Brent and Adam at Two Assholes are perfect examples: yeah, they have nerdy interests, but Brent is an accomplished writer with a wealth of pop-culture knowledge and Adam is not only a lawyer by trade but also a computer wizard. He and my band mate “Guitar” Sean, who in addition to being a smoking guitar player is also a computer whiz, spent three hours last night helping me find drivers to get the wireless internet up and running on my brand-new laptop (it’s like having my own personal Geek Squad). There are plenty of nerds out there who have a great deal to offer the community at large and to individuals, be it personally, professionally or even (gasp) romantically, and I for one salute the good people at Neumont University for being perhaps the very first organization to start helping these amazing people discover the suave, debonair – or at least socially acceptable – public and private self-images.

nerd gets girlWhat do you think? Do you figure it’s fair to make people be social even if they don’t want to? How far is too far? Is this kind of mandatory exposure going to help these people socialize, or are they going to rebel against it and become even more introverted as a result? I want to hear your thoughts on this. Hopefully this time there will be less castigation and more opinion, because frankly I’m still a nerd at heart, and I do blog for a living – Moot and Mule, I’m looking at you specifically – you better watch what you say, or you might just find some scathing retorts on my personal blog. At the very least you’re totally not invited to my next Warhammer tournament.

Just kidding. Did I mention I play guitar? /saving face

guitar hero not real music

2 Responses to “Nerd Rising: I.T. School Teaches Social Skills to Tech Students”

  1. Jodie September 16, 2009 at 9:04 PM #

    I have a very interesting sociology text book that covers each question you just asked. We are social beings and it is actually very unhealthy for people to have no human contact no matter how introverted.

    Personally I have loved people who were socially stunted for being nerds. And that was more because people didn’t accept them so they never had the chance to develop socially. It’s kind of hard to be out going when you’re getting shot down all the time. Especially, if you never were natural at talking. As well I read a study at one point which illustrated that most people would rather work with someone who had mediocer technical skills but were great to get along with. So really those manditory courses put the “Nerds” way ahead of the game. They’ll have amazing technical skills but they’ll also be personable.

    I loved Star Wars, quoted Monty Python and watched every Star Trek Next Generation episode.. Am I a nerd? I never thought I was.


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