Incompetence of the Nerds

programmer cup

Back in the olden days, I worked for a software company. That means I worked with programmers. Not all the time, every day, but often enough, e.g. when the paths of the marketing department would cross into their hallowed territory. Or during Thursday afternoon wine and cheese in the lobby.

Programmers were, and are, an arrogant bunch, based on a notion (now canon) they are the smartest people in the world. I suppose we can’t blame them for this; we gave them monstrously high wages for typing in a bunch of arrows and letters and numbers and made one of their own the richest man on the planet. We never bothered to ask if this was, to use old Martha Stewart parlance, a “good thing,” we just kept buying expensive crap that didn’t work and needed to be upgraded five minutes after we paid $1000 for it.

So having had enough of this, I will posit to you today, the contrarian position that a) programmers are not only not the smartest people in the world, they are b) lazy.

First, let’s tackle point number A: Not long ago I had a conversation with a friend who was teaching humanities classes at a career college. She is a lovely person, accepts everyone in that way that brings out your best work, and liked her job. But, she was having trouble with one particular group of students.

Now, it is important to understand where she was teaching. Her position was in a school in Rockford, Illinois, a city that is often (not this year, thank you former presidential chief of staff Chicago Mayor Rahm Immanuel) the top spot for homicides in the state of Illinois. Students who attended her classes frequently had to talk with her about late assignments or missed class periods because they had to bail a family member out of jail at 3 a.m., or were working two jobs just to keep from getting evicted from their crappy apartments. Many of these young adult were going to class, doing their homework, taking tests to get out of the ghetto and stay out of the ghetto, at the same time the ghetto was still grabbing onto their shirt tails. They had humble and simple goals: graduate and get a job as a veterinary or pharmacy technician, or maybe a medical assistant. Something with benefits that would pay the bills. Good, hard-working kids.

But, N-O-O-O-O-O-O ….  these were not the students with whom my friend was struggling. It was the IT guys. They didn’t show up to class, they didn’t do the assignments. They didn’t care. They did just enough to squeak a passing grade. Why? Well, she said, it wasn’t important. “It’s not relevant to my life,” they told her.


The Creation of Adam  by Michelangelo

Oh, goody. The “smartest” people in the world can’t even get through a class where they are asked to listen to Beethoven, learn the names of a handful of architectural styles, look at a painting or two. Clearly, not the smartest people in the world. In fact, I shall put them on the other end of the intelligence spectrum, and I’ll use an even older term: fools.

Of course it’s not their inability to learn that makes them stupid. I’m reasonably sure if a gal who lives next door to a crack house that got firebombed the night before can show up to class and do the assignment, Mr. Smarty-pants C+++++ can, too. No, it’s the horrifying  fact they cannot see their own imbicility. This is a different type of idiocy, one that goes far beyond simple IQ, down the path of dangerous, and as we’ve begun to see, well into psychopathy. Mr. C++++++++++++ is, quite frankly, too dumb even to recognize the humanity of which he is a part.

This, I think, answers a) quite well. Can’t recognize what makes humans human, you ain’t smart. Done.

On to point number B (I do this on purpose you know): programmers/IT persons, are L..A..Z..Y. I know what you are saying. “I stayed up all  night on the robot team project!”  “I stayed up all night playing [insert latest game here] and still made it to class!”  “I got a job in a lab !” “Someone pays me $100,000 to do my job, I am not lazy!”

Well, retorts do not make an argument, so let’s look at facts. Remember the Target data breach, the largest hack in American history? The story from the spectacular minds in IT at Target said they had a warning system in place but it didn’t alert them when gazillions of bits of customer data was getting sucked out. Okay. So let me see if I understand this correctly. The master geniuses, in the class of the so-called smartest people in the world, set an alarm. Now, I’m no genius myself, but when my kid’s smart phone died in the night, he was late for class because THE ALARM DIDN’T GO OFF. If the electricity goes off in the night, and your alarm clock is plugged in, you’re going to be late for work. If you forgot to wind your alarm clock, you got up late. This is not a new problem. Hell, this goes back to pre-electricity days!

Clearly, then, we are not dealing with a “smarts” problem; this is a lazy problem. If you are in charge of the intimate and secure financial details of millions of loyal customers, and you get paid six figures to keep secure the intimate and secure details of millions of loyal customers and you brag about your job to yourself and all your extended relatives at Christmas dinner, your job is far beyond just hoping the alarm goes off. Your job is to walk the fences. Everyday. Twice a day, if necessary. Your JOB is to keep secure the intimate financial details of millions of loyal customers, idiot.

This doesn’t just happen in high profile data cases. Just this morning my husband went online to take care of a required action for employees at his company. This particular thing is done every year by thousands of workers, all in a relatively short period of time. And humans being humans, many wait until the last few hours. But could he get on? Oh, hell, no. The system was down. Now, this is not a public system, it is in-house, and not important to the outside world. But it is extremely important to the individual employees because it affects their work schedules for an entire year, and if their personal data isn’t entered, it can get really, really ugly. In the 24 years he has worked there, the system has had no problems. Until today. Somebody screwed up. Some individual who always thinks himself the smartest guy in the room is copping an excuse right now. And he doesn’t give a damn what happens to the guy on the other end of the system. LAZY.

So, is this just bitching? Not really. Our inability to honestly look at the attitudes of programmers and how they affect us is genuinely dangerous. Think about it: should individuals who cannot tolerate a semester of lessons on the emotional expressions of humanity, our beauty and our griefs, be entrusted with our social lives, our healthcare records, our communications, our bank accounts, our national security?  Should men who blatantly dismiss the contributions of others (“I can do your job with my hands tied behind my back and my eyes blindfolded,” one programmer told me) and cannot identify an irony (the license plate on his new Fiero said “FIERO”) be given the detailed and vital digital details of our precious and valuable lives?

That stuff bothers me. But there’s one still bigger that bugs me more: Bill Gates. In the past couple of years he has decided to promote a long-time family passion, using his great billions given to him by us. He is, based on dinner table conversations with his father about a much discredited 19th century minister-turned economist, worried about overpopulation. He has a plan, of course, which may include using vaccinations, among other methods, to control the number of births on Planet Earth. This is ambitious for many reasons, not the least of which is, “who died and made you God?”


This is disturbing. (You are disturbed, aren’t you?) Bill Gates is not known for his “people skills.” His assumptions about over-population are based on incorrect mathematical data. Why does Bill Gates think this is okay? Maybe it’s because he didn’t show up at humanities class at Harvard to learn what makes humans human. Or maybe because nobody in his hoity-toity private school bothered to smack him upside the head and say, “Get over yourself, boy!”

So, okay,  what do we do about this? Well, first we think before buying the latest contraption that costs more than a month’s worth of groceries. And when we can’t get along without those machines, we think hard about whether we will support dehumanizing causes promoted by rich programmers and equally vacuous government types. Just because they are smart in one area, doesn’t make them smart in all, nor do they have a mandate to control large portions of human life just because they have the money or power to do so. We also need to re-think about our school curricula, and the obsession with STEM programs. Our job is to raise up a generation of humans, not machines, even while we learn to live with the machines. (Classical and Charlotte Mason methods do this.)

We also need to insist on humility from those in the IT business. We must hold them accountable for their mistakes. If necessary, we must re-educate (actually just educate) them. They should be sent to “humanities training,” the way some folks need to go to anger management classes, or drunk school after a DUI arrest. “Jimmy, do you understand where you made your mistake?” “No?” “Well you’ll have to do the lesson again until you get it right (dammit).”

It occurs to me now maybe the problem is that none of these kids ever owned a chicken. Chickens require daily care. They are also unpredictable enough to put you in your place. They are funny and without a doubt will show you why they cross the road. I can tell you, from experience, they cross the road when they don’t have a good, well-maintained, checked-everyday fence. When that happens, they wreak havoc on the neighbor’s garden and your relationship with the neighbor, or they go rogue and you lose your daily egg supply, usually to a predator. All of which happened at Target.

The old adage is true: good fences make good neighbors. Good neighbors check fences. Good neighbors care. Good neighbors are human. Good neighbors are relevant.


(A note to my family and friends who are programmers: We’ve had this conversation, as you know. Therefore, you may rest assured you are not in danger of being spirited off in the middle of  the night to theatre camp.)