And the home computer has me on the run.
May 23, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Are my odds of working in a technical field substantially lower because I don't "buy into" the lifestyle?

I have a hard time articulating this question, so let me explain. Since graduating from univesity with a "soft science" BA, I've learned to value technical skills and abilities. I work at a neuroscience lab. Some researchers can do it all: operate the machinery, process the data, run stats, build computational models, etc. Other researchers seem to be "area experts" that have to ask others for help with some or all of these tasks. I've developed a lot of respect for the former, not as much for the latter.

I've been learning to use the tools we have at work: scientific apparatus, data analysis software, stats, and so on. I really enjoy it. Sadly, there's not much room for growth in the research assistant world. Most places it's a temporary position on the way to grad school. Were I to leave or be let go, I doubt I'd be able to find a similar position, I'm just aging out of it. I've been hoping to make a lateral move and explore tech-y jobs that aren't explicitly connected with academia. I have a long way to go, since my skills are developing, but also highly specialized.

In any event, I've been talking to former classmates and acquaintances about what's out there, and one thing always seems to stand out: I'm amazingly technophobic. I have zero interest in consumer electronics. I don't own an iPad, iPod, or an iPhone. I barely even use my cell phone, certainly not for web-surfing or recording video. I drive without a GPS. I don't chase benchmark scores. I have no idea what's happening in the CPU market. For a long time I resisted buying a big-ass flat-screen TV. I'm not on Live, or Steam, or WoW.

This makes it tough to talk to techies I know, who are eager to show off their new cell phones and other toys. I like things nobody's getting excited about, very bread-and-butter, rudimentary things everybody already knows. I think SQL is cool. I get a kick out of frequency spectrum analysis in Matlab. I think it's fun to learn about log-linear modeling in R. Somebody showed me Processing the other day — my first reaction was "I want to learn it!"

To sum up, I feel like I don't have much in common with techies. We have a hard time finding topics of common interest. Given the tightly knit professional communities in the tech world, I feel that lacking techie "cred," like being able to chat about some cool new Android app or whatever, could be a serious professional impediment. Are my worries irrational? Are you a technophobic techie? What was your experience like?
posted by Nomyte to Work & Money (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I dunno, I'm a software engineer and basically spend 0 time doing "geek stuff" in my off-hours, unless I'm working on one of my side-projects. No comic books, few gadgets, no videogames, no anime, no sci-fi, no D&D. You're far more likely to find me reading a book, going to improv classes, playing music, checking out a gallery, or hanging out with my friends. You should open your mind; a lot of techies are far more well-rounded than you would think. If you want to connect with them, connect with them over something that you are into, and don't make a big deal about the things you aren't into.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:29 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]



In any event, I've been talking to former classmates and acquaintances about what's out there, and one thing always seems to stand out: I'm amazingly technophobic. I have zero interest in consumer electronics. I don't own an iPad, iPod, or an iPhone. I barely even use my cell phone, certainly not for web-surfing or recording video. I drive without a GPS. I don't chase benchmark scores. I have no idea what's happening in the CPU market. For a long time I resisted buying a big-ass flat-screen TV. I'm not on Live, or Steam, or WoW.


I know several developers who are this way. They're quite successful. Personally, I am a tech obsessed non programmer who does the businessy/producery side of the tech biz. It takes all kinds. If you love programming, you have a lot in common with developers, if that's your question. I love talking about the future of social media, but I've sat at lunches in which people discuss specific ColdFusion functions and you can see the wheels of emptiness whirring in my brain.
posted by sweetkid at 4:32 PM on May 23, 2011


Most "nerds" I've worked with are not really very nerdy. I'm pretty sure this will not be a problem in the long run.
posted by GuyZero at 4:32 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm a professional programmer who spends his off-ours in a punk rock band. I don't talk about it at work much.

You'll be fine.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:36 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a bit like smoking, I think. Or, rather, like smoking was in the 80s or early 90s or thereabouts. If your boss and some of your coworkers [smoke | talk geeky] and you don't, you'll miss out on some of that bonding time that could help your career intangibly. But it probably won't keep you from getting jobs, unless you run into a really bizarre interviewer (not impossible, of course), and there are plenty of shops where it won't matter at all.

And, on the flip side, you could end up in a situation where the traditionally "geeky" types are perceived as kind of annoying and your lack of geekiness is an asset.
posted by gurple at 4:40 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, it does suck to interview with any orgs that *are* interested in all that stuff when you really aren't sent into convulsions as they tell you all the toys you'll get to play with.

On the other hand, I worked on a dev team that had many corner case personalities. All were devs or DBAs, but one was a drummer and huge movie fan, another was a home theater fanatic, another was all about ultimate frisbee and never talked about work outside of work, another just spent time with his family and went to concerts with his wife all the time, and then there was a scoutmaster who looked like he just walked out of the woods every morning.

My advice (which is undoubtably autobiographical, but...) is to cast a suspicious eye on places that emphasize fitting into their culture or look disappointed when you aren't excited about their hobbies. Life's too short to work with people who can't deal with exceptions, and diverse teams are GREAT for morale.
posted by circular at 4:42 PM on May 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a designer and programmer by background, but a product manager by title now. The programmers, analysts, and designers that work with and for me seldom talk about technical things unless we're in a meeting or conversation about technical things. I cook and have recently returned to photography. Several of the people in my department are seriously into music or are actually in bands. We talk about movies, sometimes TV shows - common culture things... There are plenty of topics to interact over. I wouldn't say it was a "necessity" that someone was a "techie" to fit in with a technical crowd.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 4:43 PM on May 23, 2011


I'll add to the chorus... professional software engineer who likes film photography, riding bicycles and hiking on my personal time, haven't played a computer game in years, don't own a TV, fond of paper maps. Where I work, I'm not alone.
posted by normy at 4:43 PM on May 23, 2011


It won't professionally affect you directly. But don't be standoffish about it. Be able to at least talk naturally with co-workers about their interests as well as yours. Unless you don't want to make friends at work.

Heck, 4-5 years down the line, you may have to upgrade your TV, your phone (I don't have a smartphone either), so a bit of this knowledge may be of some practical use too.
posted by FJT at 4:54 PM on May 23, 2011


I know a fair number of techies who are into the hard-core sort of stuff you are, and explicitly reject a lot of the more mainstream consumer tech stuff, for various ideological reasons. I.e. they'll only use open source stuff, so apple products and most other mainstream consumer electronics or software are out. They are kind of allergic to social interactions, so won't use mobile phones or IM. They don't own TVs because they don't like tech they can't rip apart and reprogram. Etc.

To some extent, I think they actually get MORE respect from other geeks because they won't "sell out". If you really cared, you could repackage your lack of interest in consumer electronics and popular software as some sort of ideological thing, and that could work well for you. But honestly, I don't think you'd have a problem just being yourself.
posted by lollusc at 4:54 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


My game design and production friends play very few games. My friend's Dad used to work in the TOP SECRET parts of Boeing working on god knows what kind of future tech, but he didn't have cable or a TV.

Point being: You'll miss out on some of the 101-bonding stuff, but provided you're a nice enough guy, you'll do just fine. Common interests are a good social shorthand, but they rarely create lasting relationships.
posted by GilloD at 4:57 PM on May 23, 2011


If you were interviewing to be a system administrator, I'd say you would probably have trouble "fitting in." But you work in a bio lab and are looking for something "techy," and it sounds like you're looking for something in scientific computing/data analysis/statistical modeling/etc. When you're a grownup, you tend to leave your hobbies at home and not foist them on people in the workplace. I don't know who has jailbroken their iPhones in my lab and who hasn't.

That said, people who don't really use their cell phone and regard times where using it is necessary as a huge burden can be somewhat annoying in this day and age. I'd sort of play down that aspect, because your willingness to use a cell phone and answer may be perceived as creating burdens for your potential employer.
posted by deanc at 4:58 PM on May 23, 2011


And I'm the complete opposite. I'm a sales and marketing guy that generally has nothing in common with other sales types. Most of my friends are stereotypical geeks in typical geek jobs, unix admins, web developers, etc. I'd much rather spend the evening messing with Python than thinking about sales and marketing. It takes all kinds. Don't worry about it.
posted by COD at 4:58 PM on May 23, 2011


Depends on the company. Start-ups and actual "tech" companies tend to be extremely rigid about wanting someone who does nothing but more coding in his spare time, and yes having other interests will absolutely be held against you and you will be called not a good "personality fit with the team" and all kinds of other weaselly terms for "we hate and fear those different than us." I'm sure this isn't the case at every single company, but I've certainly seen it enough for it to be a pattern.

However, companies of all types hire programmers. Big mega-corporations that do something else as their actual business tend to be much more diverse and accepting of different personalities, in my experience.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:59 PM on May 23, 2011


You'll be fine. Two different people independently nicknamed me The Technological Luddite because I don't have an iAnything, I have an old cellphone that I make phone calls on roughly once a month, I only use a GPS (and it's more trail-oriented) for some navigation of poorly-mapped back roads, and I don't have an HDTV. I do have an Xbox. Not an Xbox 360, but an Xbox. I bought it to play the Buffy game, okay? I'm generally paranoid about The Computer is Your Friend and don't think that automation will automatically solve people problems. I won't chase gadgetry.

That has stopped nobody from referring to me as the Lead Nerd in phone meetings when I have to shred some vendor's crap implementation of something and point out where precisely they screwed up. The people who will judge your technical merits on the number of gadgets you own are not as important as the people who will see you for your worth in the technical realms you do real work in.

Ten different gadgets count for nothing compared to a single instance of "Hey, that thing you keep bumping up against, well, I had a few hours open this weekend and did this thing in Python. Here's how you use it."
posted by adipocere at 5:02 PM on May 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone geeks to different things, so you're not the mayor of Simpleton.
posted by scruss at 6:28 PM on May 23, 2011


Then perhaps I'm the mole from the ministry?
posted by Nomyte at 6:40 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't fuss myself with fancy phones and stuff like that. But I do have a polite interest in the various thingys my associates have, because these thingys are actually interesting, in their own abstract way. This does not mean that you have to feel compelled to own the same stuff.
posted by ovvl at 6:42 PM on May 23, 2011


I like things nobody's getting excited about, very bread-and-butter, rudimentary things everybody already knows. I think SQL is cool. I get a kick out of frequency spectrum analysis in Matlab. I think it's fun to learn about log-linear modeling in R. Somebody showed me Processing the other day — my first reaction was "I want to learn it!"

I'd rather hire someone who was interested in these things than in fancy phones. I like my fancy phone, but it's just a phone, you know? Talking about it is boring.
posted by grouse at 7:01 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm amazingly technophobic. I have zero interest in consumer electronics. I don't own an iPad, iPod, or an iPhone. I barely even use my cell phone, certainly not for web-surfing or recording video. I drive without a GPS. I don't chase benchmark scores. I have no idea what's happening in the CPU market. For a long time I resisted buying a big-ass flat-screen TV. I'm not on Live, or Steam, or WoW.

None of this makes you technophobic, and I'd avoid using that term to describe yourself.

All of the things you list are true of me, yet I'm a senior developer with many years experience in a highly technical field. I'm a geek and a neophile, but I engage in things for their utility, not because they're the latest 'must have' fad.

Different people geek differently. If you have marketable skills, and are good at your job, you should be fine.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:22 PM on May 23, 2011


It really depends on the random group of people you end up working with. In my last work group I felt totally normal not being a hardcore device and gaming nerd. In my current work group, I feel really left out a lot of the time. Luck of the draw.
posted by troublesome at 8:51 PM on May 23, 2011


I'm a professional software developer and am very much like you. I have no interest in gadgets, still don't have an HDTV (or cable), don't even have a cell phone. I've never felt the least bit out of place in the tech world. The new-school geek things like smartphones and hardcore gaming are definitely more popular, but there are still plenty of people interested in old-school geeky things like recmath, programming languages, music, etc. I doubt you'll have any trouble.
posted by equalpants at 9:24 PM on May 23, 2011


Geekiness is an attitude, a way of life, not a particular subject area. There are maths geeks, computer geeks, music geeks, psychology geeks, gamer geeks (card and tabletop and war and computer and console and many, many others), gadget geeks, programming geeks, design geeks, art geeks, knitting geeks, cooking geeks, wine geeks, chemistry geeks, biology geeks, physics geeks, literature geeks, history geeks, language geeks, lingusitics geeks, politics geeks ... I could list a thousand.

It's about curiosity, it's about interest, it's about passion. It's an approach to life. Many of the most talented and awe-inspiring geeks I know are not just programmers or developers or statisticians or doctors; they're also musicians, artists, writers, chefs, winemakers, foodies, athletes, and activists.

I myself am a geek of many colours: I study winemaking, I cook, I knit, I play clarinet, I play games, I write, I take photographs, I program in a number of languages, I wear corsets, I play games.

What I don't have is a TV (or want to watch anything on one), a games console, up-to-the-minute laptop (2008) or pc (mostly 2007), iStuff, a GPS, or a desire for those things. I'm certainly not technophobic, although I'm not fashionable either. I don't lack for career opportunities or friends, so I really wouldn't be worried.
posted by ysabet at 2:32 AM on May 24, 2011


I think there is a huge extent to which what you are seeing (hardcore tech-hobbyists and/or bleeding-edge tech purchasers) is at least partly an age-based phenomenon. I saw this illustrated when I went out to lunch with an old friend of mine (he and I are both @40 years old, and high-level IT admins at a huge corporation) and a couple of new guys in his department (both of them about 23 or so). While my friend and I typically discuss home maintenance, his kids, and other grownup stuff, these two youngsters were nattering away about rooting smartphones with dual-core processors and a whole mess of stuff I do not have the time to keep up with anymore. Just one datapoint.

Here's another datapoint: I have been in IT for 12 years, and now belong to the most high-level non-managerial group in my Fortune-500 employer's IT division. My peers and myself are the guys who write the documents and do the research and work directly with the development teams at our Fortune-500 IT vendors and suppliers. We all own houses and most have kids. We don't have time for all those toys and games anymore.

I also have owned my own IT services business for six years, and have two employees doing tech-support work for my clients. In interviewing, I had one prospective hire brag to me about how he had computers in every room of his house all networked together and how he built his own server and all this kind of stuff. I was unimpressed because I find such antics superfluous and amateurish. Technology is a tool, and those who treat it as a toy in their personal lives may not take it seriously enough in a business environment, in my opinion.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 7:22 AM on May 24, 2011


I'm a neuroscientist. Most of the folks I know in neuro labs care a lot more about the function of the apparatus(es) they use for work than they do fun or ancillary gadgets. If you get excited about using R, MATLAB, and Processing, I can't imagine any lab in need of a tech giving two mouse turds about whether or not you jailbroke your iPhone.

Disclaimer: I personally am into various stripes of techno-geekery. Since my lab is dry as a bone, almost everything we do is computer based, and I dig figuring out new ways to rock the lab boxen from elsewhere, wire em' up together, etc. However, I'm really the only one in my lab like this. Even in a computer based research outfit, there's not a predominant techie culture. Granted, it may be different in 'industrial' science, but I doubt it's an issue.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 4:29 PM on May 24, 2011


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