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Ask Slashdot: Rectifying Nerd Arrogance? 823

An anonymous reader writes "Like some Slashdot users, I began attending university last month for computer science. The experience represents my first time away from home and I'm almost constantly with my peers, many of whom are also computer science students. Recently, I have become cognizant of the many negative opinions associated with a 'normal' person's perspective of what a nerd is like. Conversing with my college computer science peers (many of whom are quite nerdy), I have noticed that many of them are extremely arrogant. Upon introspection, I have come to the realization that I am also very similar to them and am very curious, but worried. I have noticed similar personality characteristics on Slashdot. Where does this nerd arrogance come from? How can it be rectified? I am concerned that, if I do not abolish these annoying tendencies, I may have trouble later on in life with my career and relationships. Has anybody run into problems in life with the arrogance that seems to be so prevalent with nerds? If so, how did you handle the situation?"
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Ask Slashdot: Rectifying Nerd Arrogance?

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  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:08PM (#41765967) Homepage Journal

    I have noticed that many of them are extremely arrogant...I have noticed similar personality characteristics on Slashdot. Where does this nerd arrogance come from?

    In literature, this type of arrogance is attributed to bureaucrats and technicians.

    The reason is that they are masters of the machine, whether a political/paperwork machine or the literal machine.

    This gives a lot of power to someone, but it's all negative power. They have the power to say no, or to wreck things, but don't yet (or perhaps never will) have the power to create.

    I think you will find that, on Slashdot and in the world, those who have actual power (more than negation) tend to be confident, proud and perhaps "arrogant," but not in the way a lot of internet users are.

    The people who are most arrogant in the way you describe are the frustrated ones who have a lack of options, and to compensate, create an inflated sense of self-importance which they refresh by imposing their will on others.

    It's no different than any other kind of power abuse. Some fields (law enforcement, computing, bureaucracy) tend to attract more of these people than other fields do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:08PM (#41765973)

    Don't forget also: nerds have had to exist their ENTIRE LIVES in an educational system designed to move at the pace of the slowest fucking retard.

    When they were finished with the 2nd grade reading material, most of their peers were barely 1/4 through.
    While their peers were struggling with multiplication, they were chafing at the bit to move through long division or onto something really fun like geometry.

    Not only that, the "insecurities" are founded further by a society that, while they were excelling academically, were busy worshiping the sub-par IQ thugs from the football and assketball teams who will mostly grow up to be in and out of jail. So for doing the things society told them (verbally) to do, they were then derided while those who acted in opposite manner were rewarded.

    "If you're an amazing nerd, people will put up with your crappy attitude at work, but if your kind, decent, patient nerd, people will beg their bosses to have you on their team."

    Hint: if nerds had been treated decently and given the ability to operate on their own pace during the screwal system, we'd probably have a lot more kind, decent, patient nerds. The school system trains them to be defensive and constantly beats them over the head not just with the fact that others move on a slower pace, but that they will be held back to that pace.

    To quote Quicksilver (from Marvel Comics): "It's like standing in the slowest line in the world, ALL THE TIME."

  • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:25PM (#41766367)

    The problem isn't the major, the problem is the combination of youth and a little knowledge. Most 21-year-olds are just knowledgeable enough to be cocky, but not knowledgeable enough to appreciate the fact that they really don't know shit.

    The major has a lot to do with it. CS (and IT) give rapid feedback on being right or wrong: those who tend to be right all the time often get cocky. This is fine until they think that because they are right about CS/IT, they are right about everything. Being in the top 1% of tech wizards doesn't make you an expert in politics or telling jokes, etc: this is where people get a reputation for arrogance or cringe-worthy ineptness.

    Wall Street used to joke about "dentists from New Jersey:" a class of intelligent technical people who would confuse their specialist knowledge and track records of accruing money with general expertise in investing. They were the dumping ground for the worst financial toxic waste that banks needed to get off their books.

  • A tiny bit of Logic (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:26PM (#41766373)
    Nerds tend to have more logic and less social understanding. So a nerd might be running a company and say "fire the bottom 10%" this is logical and in theory the correct idea; but they forget that it will freak out the other 90% into thinking they are next and probably be worse than just keeping the useless 10% or at least shedding them in a less efficient but more tactful way.

    Another good example of this is how so many IT departments make rules that treat the employees like children. It is a fact that most employees, at say an insurance company, would cause many disasters given unlimited access to the various company systems. But they often take this fact way too far; extending it to issuing Blackberries that are horribly crippled (no internet access even through wifi) or not letting managers deploy systems for their department. Again this often backfires and results in their employes referring to IT as the department of NO; so the managers and whatnot end run the IT department and outsource things like a sales management system or a new time management system. I experienced this first hand a while back when I was giving a presentation of a system for a company. Early in the presentation the network connection went very weird. The IT head had a shit eating grin on his face. I then switched over to a cellular connection(very rare at the time) and the presentation went smoothly while the IT guy frantically pounded on his keyboard trying to figure out where my internet connection was coming from. It was clearly his goal to keep the work in house. The people who did hire us showed us all kinds of tricks they had to get around IT. This was a major company and these were top guys. The problem was simple they couldn't out logic the IT people; but they could outsmart them.

    The last place that this logic really gets companies in trouble is that IT people become religious about their favorite technology. I have met Windows zelots, linuz zelots, Novell zelots (the worst), Sun zelots, even adabas zelots. Often these people have mastered some technology, been certified up the wazoo, and now have final say in decision making. So some little snot nosed kid comes along and says "Hello you are still using Novell? Time to move on." And poof it is the snot nose who moves on. Can you imagine arguing with someone with 20 years Novell experience under their belt? Even now in 2012 I see companies deploying Novell into new departments.

    BTW Novell gives administrators stunning abilities to control the user experience. There are few better systems for treating the users like infants.
  • by mikael_j ( 106439 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:27PM (#41766411)

    Meh, pulling DIMMs at least implies a little knowledge, when I did tech support there were people who called in to complain about how they had to cut parts of the connector on their network cable off to make it fit the RJ-11 connection on their DSL modem and what a bunch of idiots we were because it still wouldn't work even though they had "fixed" our "defective" hardware...

  • by rtkluttz ( 244325 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:35PM (#41766543) Homepage

    Its not always what it seems. Some people have extra sensitve arrogance alarms. I think in a large portion of the cases, people with a degree TECHNICAL skill feel less of a need to participate in politics. This gives the illusion of arrogance when it actually is not. A technical wizard in some area is likely to say 1) xxx is what I believe. 2) yyy is why I believe that. Beyond that, there is no discussion that will change anything unless the other party proves yyy is incorrect. They have no interest in discussing why they should ACT as if xxx is not true unless it is actually proven to not be true. Prove otherwise the geek will likely say "Awesome" and move on to the next thing. Its not arrogance, its fact until proven otherwise and you can take it or leave.
    TLDR: Facts or GTFO

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <> on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:47PM (#41766775)

    After living for many years in Cambridge, I have become accustomed to this attitude. I want to make a T-shirt "I act like I am smarter than you because I am. I go to MIT".

    "...and can't read." :-)

    The full joke from which that came involved somebody in the "10 items or less" line in a supermarket in Central Square (roughly halfway between Harvard and MIT, although a bit closer to MIT), where somebody's explanation was "either they went to MIT and can't read or went to Harvard and can't count". Not entirely fair, as you can get a literature degree from MIT [] and you can get an engineering degree [] or a science degree [] from Harvard.

  • by RandomUsername99 ( 574692 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @12:49PM (#41766809)

    <my opinion>
    The type of arrogance is quite different. The philosophy student might be more overconfident in the reasoning behind their opinions, but it comes across as aloofness, rather than the aggressive a need to put other people down that many socially feral nerds have. It's the very reason that I won't attend any of the local *n*x user groups, or anything of that sort. There are only so many "loudest nerd wins" type arguments over pedantic, trite issues I can sit through, when they should be having reasonable and friendly discussions and sharing knowledge... building a community rather than a weekly assembly of petty arguments.

    This is especially apparent to female students, as they often bear the brunt of these tendencies.

    I work in a large university, and through some basic empirical research, I can tell you that the general *perception* here is that both engineering and CS majors have the largest percentage of arrogant, dismissive, and socially clueless students. In my experience, the near opposite is true with professors. I find professors of the humanities to often be extremely aggressively arrogant, and technical professors to be pretty nice.

    My theory is that many of these students, who are naturally interested in technology, would quite likely be active in either online forums/chat, or online gaming, which both tend to be socially aggressive environments that do not always favor reason and humility, and quite possibly would have gleaned a lot of bad social habits from those environments. This is probably also the case with the people that they tend to hang out with.

    Now that we're generalizing, I found engineering and CS students that I can happily converse with far more frequently than business school students.
    </my opinion>

  • by rijrunner ( 263757 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:00PM (#41766995)

    The Latin term for this is Pons Asinorum.

    Essentially, there is a weed-out mark in most higher abstract thought processes where people are either capable of getting it, or not. It inherently develops a us/them dichotomy.

  • by McSnickered ( 67307 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @01:07PM (#41767137)

    I usually ignore the "Ask Slashdot"'s, but this one really resonated with me...

    25 years ago as a college freshman, I went in with a thirst for knowledge and above average ability in math/sciences. I had also been involved in competetive athletics since 7th grade. My college freshman experience was that there was more chest-thumping and overt general nastiness in my physics and calculus classes than I had ever experienced in athletics. Trying to get help in the computer science lab first required getting talked down to by the lab's equivilent of Comic Book Guy.

    It was a HUGE turnoff. I ended up changing my major to a non-tech field which was a mistake. It turned out OK for me though - I graduated, got a job, found that I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped, went back to graduate school in a technical field and had a great experience (no chest-thumping this time, people seemed to have grown up), and got into a career that I really enjoy.

    Yes there are jerks everywhere, but I found "nerd arrogance" to be particularly annoying. I think that as you get through the weeding-out classes you'll have a better experience.

  • by jmerlin ( 1010641 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:00PM (#41768097)

    I will recount my experience.

    Spend high school overachieving (probably at the expense of social development)

    I didn't overachieve in High School because I realized how pointless an effort that was. There were only 2 things I cared about in High School, and that was Computer Science and Math. I realized this by about grade 5.. At that time, there was a little orange book called "Games in Basic" on my teacher's bookshelf. I picked it up and started reading it one day and was fascinated (we had a PC with Windows 3.1 and I could easily boot into DOS and code up basic games). She saw me reading it and said "I bought that thinking kids might like it but nobody but you has ever read it, so you can have it if you want." So I took it home and went through all of the exercises in it (just basic word games, input a number/word, output a response, etc). At that point I was hooked. When we finally upgraded to Windows 95/98, I started playing around in VB, eventually installing my father's copy of VC and learning C. This is where my time not in school was spent (split between that and playing games). I quickly realized I enjoyed this more than just about anything else, and so I did it. I taught myself VB then C then x86. By the time I could actually take a CS course in High School I was a junior, and it was an entry-level Java course. I still learned things -- data structures and some algorithms, but the majority of the syntax and other things I was quite familiar with already. Of those two categories I cared about, I maintained a 95%+ average. I didn't apply myself in History, English, other sciences, or any of the nonsensical electives we had to take. I saw no reason to, and I didn't care that I was just outside the top 10% mark in my school, nobody I knew was as good at Math or CS as me, so as far as I was concerned, I was the valedictorian. When I later spoke with people in the top 1% including the actual valedictorian, the arrogance they exuded was astonishing, as if they had accomplished something worthwhile.

    work hard and get into a great college, get knocked down a peg when you realize that you're either somewhere in the meaty part of the curve among other prospective engineers, or that you'll actually need to *try* in order to get that A for the first time in your life

    I didn't work hard to get in a great college, but I still managed to, even with my crappy GPA (something like 3.4 in HS), get a scholarship to a local university. I really wanted to go to Stanford or MIT, but the money just wasn't there, and a huge student loan wasn't something I could justify. So I majored in CS, an obvious choice, and figured that this 4-year degree would do nicely in the real world, where experience is more important anyway. I realized pretty quickly that the CS curriculum there wasn't challenging. I could read through the texts and learn what a course would teach me in a few days, and would end up bored sitting in a course going at a snail's pace for the rest of the semester. On the other hand, math courses were actually quite challenging. So 3 semesters in I switched from CS major to Math major and still took the interesting CS courses in my electives (compilers, AI, operating systems, etc). The math courses were a fair bit more difficult, especially more abstract courses, but the only time I actually had to really try to get a decent grade was when I finally started taking graduate courses. There's just too much information to keep in one's head to fully understand why a proof is valid (it doesn't just span that chapter in that book, nor even that entire book, but rather the past 3 years of courses of abstraction). Needless to say, in my spare time, I was still hacking around in CS and my brain was already prioritizing CS-useful math (including things like Abstract Algebra, Number Theory, Probability, etc), but the rest was reserved for actual CS work, so I wasn't to interested in pursuing an M.S. in math. No CS c

  • by LF11 ( 18760 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:09PM (#41768223) Homepage

    When I was growing up, I figured computer programming would be a semi-marginal field. Of course, all these people growing up with computers would be as interested in them as I was, to make them work better for us?


    Now I get paid a ton of money anywhere I want to go to be a computer programmer, in any job or sector I might desire. The average computer user is probably more ignorant of how computers work *now* then the average computer user 10 years ago. It amazes me that people do not care about how these marvelous machines work, but they don't.

    Creepy, when you think about it. But it pays the bills.

  • by lahvak ( 69490 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @02:38PM (#41768673) Homepage Journal

    Is it stupid to assume that the intelligence (or stupidity) has the same mean as median?

  • by heckler95 ( 1140369 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @03:10PM (#41769197)
    It sounds like you were able to avoid some of the more common pitfalls. Kudos on that. I was always pretty sure I'd stay on the individual contributor path, climbing the technical ladder and writing code for the rest of my career... until I wasn't. At one point, I got a taste of management and became hooked. It rivaled the feeling I got 20+ years ago when I wrote my first program in AppleSoft BASIC and filled up the screen with random colored boxes... I felt like a master of the universe. As much as I have enjoyed commanding electrons to do my bidding, leading a team of talented individuals and pushing them to exceed their perceived/self-imposed limitations, and accomplish something as a team that you never could have done yourself, has also been very rewarding and pushes me to expand my expertise beyond my comfort zone. Now that I only really write code for fun, I think I enjoy it even more than I did when I was getting paid for it.

    The other day, I came across a site, [] that is a free course on computer architecture. In it, you build up a computer system from simple Nand gates, up through an ALU, CPU, Memory, and then the entire software stack, from machine code, assembly (via an assembler), high-level code via a compiler, etc. I took a course like this in college and it was another great "Aha!" moment for me where the connection between software and hardware (and eventually the basic physics of semiconductors) all came together for me. It was great to work through the hardware part of this course again (I got through it in an afternoon, but I was pretty addicted once I started). Give it a look, I think you'll enjoy it.
  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @03:36PM (#41769603)

    You missed the 4th group:

    1. Think you know everything.
    2. Think you know nothing (or very little)
    3. Realise that everyone else know nothing as well.
    4. Realize you know something, and others may (or may not) know something/nothing about it.

    Second there are _two_ types of knowledge: The first is intellectual knowledge, the second is experiential knowledge.

    i.e. A person can tell you everything there is about drumming but you will _never_ be good at it unless you practice at it for hours.

    i.e. As a man you will _never_ know what it is like to have a child.

  • by SuperTechnoNerd ( 964528 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @03:44PM (#41769715)
    " It amazes me that people do not care about how these marvelous machines work, but they don't."

    Not even in the slightest.

    But they bitch and moan when stuff does not work because they screwed it up. And throw their hands up in the air because they haven't got a clue. Then you try to explain some things to them so this does not happen again (and again) and they just plug their ears, walk away. Then they come back in a few minutes and say "Did you get it working yet?" Of course I did you twit. If you would watch, listen and understand you could too.
    Like my tenant, I went over 1000 times over the last 10 years how to burn a CD. He still calls me when he wants to burn a CD. I explained to him the best course of action after this long is to stop trying. He agreed because it's just too complicated and he is not a "computer guy" like me.
    I just hope stupidity is not contagious.
  • by Rakarra ( 112805 ) on Thursday October 25, 2012 @07:53PM (#41772305)

    I didn't apply myself in History, English, other sciences, or any of the nonsensical electives we had to take. I saw no reason to, and I didn't care that I was just outside the top 10% mark in my school, nobody I knew was as good at Math or CS as me, so as far as I was concerned, I was the valedictorian. When I later spoke with people in the top 1% including the actual valedictorian, the arrogance they exuded was astonishing, as if they had accomplished something worthwhile.

    This is hilarious. Does this count as cognitive dissonance?
    Are we being trolled? It's great, I wish I could favorite this post.
    It should have been modded +1, Funny. The +1 Insightful mods are just disturbing.

    I also have made a decision already, and that's to never become a manager. I don't want to manage people, I want to be an engineer.

    I was always a programmer. I was a good organizer, I ran computer labs at school. The last quarter I was promoted to be a manager. Horrible horrible.
    Engineers, programmers, etc, often don't make good managers. They're different skillsets. Plus, if you really like tinkering, hacking, programming, you just get a hell of a lot less time to do that as a manager.

    Once I graduated and got a real job, I made sure "manager" was not one of my goals.

Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.