View Full Version : Calling all computer geeks!

Cathy C
09-30-2005, 08:37 PM
(meant in a very loving sort of way... ;) ) I almost posted this in Tech Help, but it's a story issue, so I figured this is a more appropriate forum.

My latest WIP has a female 20-something daughter of a hardware legend (sort of the Bill Gates of hardware). But she writes software --- down and dirty binary language for security systems, etc. That's not the issue, just the background.

What I'm looking for are some character traits of true geekdom that seem to cross over gender. What sort of places would she hang out on-line? Are there any quirks that I should give her --- habits, food choices, etc.? I've heard that there are some strange coffee tastes of code writers, but I don't have much info. Any web links or the like? She's not a big on-line gamer or RPG player. Code is her true love.

Any help appreciated! Thanks! :D

09-30-2005, 09:25 PM
Well, I'm a female software developer. I don't drink coffee (and I'm not the only one--people here drink everything from water to pop to juice to green tea) and I haven't seen any weird coffee flavours in the company kitchen. Many of us (male and female) are gamers--sorry, but that's a common topic of conversation. I know my colleagues pretty well, and I'd say we tend to be introverted, have at least one university degree, and make a good wage. Apart from that, there isn't anything we all have in common in terms of habits, food choices, hobbies, etc. You won't find all female (or male) programmers hanging out on particular online sites, for example. I don't hang out on any sites related to programming unless I'm at work. I spend most of my surf time on gaming sites and here at AW.

Be careful not to stereotype. :)

I think you'd be better off trying to figure out where a security expert would hang out, rather than a female programmer or a "geek". Security experts would tend to hang out on different sites than web developers, UI developers, and those with other specialties. She might hang out where hackers do.

Maybe azbikergirl will weigh in--she's also a developer. Feel free to PM me if you want to verify anything you write against the exciting and absolutely gripping life of a female programmer!!! ;)

09-30-2005, 09:28 PM
Cathy, are you familiar with the Brunching Shuttlecocks? They're now defunct, but Googling some of their articles may give you some highly entertaining ideas. (They once did a flow-chart hierarchy of relative status among types of SF writers that was genius.)

Added: I misremembered slightly; it's The Geek Hierarchy (I just remembered the parts about writers for some reason). Abridged version here (http://www.brunching.com/geekhierarchy.html).

09-30-2005, 10:59 PM
I"m a long time geek, more into management now than coding.

I think I'd decide what her personal character traits are. Is she compulsive or easy going? Is she married having to divide her attention or zeroed in on a project? Is she working for a small company where her work makes a daily impact on overall productivity, or is she one of a group of ten thousand programmers trying to figure out how to hide an entire flight simulator game into a word processing program?

Also, what do you mean by security. Security happens at so many levels and in so may ways, it may help to know exactly what she is securing and from whom. (hardware, software, operating system, intrusion detection, vulnerability assessment etc.). That said, the story is more important than the details.

Jolt Cola is always a good stereotype. I don't drink coffee at all, but when working on a crisis for two or three days straight I've downed a few bottles of Jolt.

I wouldn't pay much attention to the whole Brunching Shuttlecocks thing, it doesn't relate at all to true geekdom.

Good luck,


09-30-2005, 11:03 PM
Hi, I'm also a female software developer. If you're trying to figure out how the "geek" experience would shape your character, I think you'll need to determine what her school experience has been especially if she's still young. Was she a geek in high school? I'm assuming your character is smart. She probably excelled in math and science. Some engineers I know shunned everything non-science related; I took the approach of "engineering is not my life" so I was also interested in other subjects like english and art. She might be good in all subjects or just the ones which interested her. Being female and blowing away everyone else's test scores will affect how she's treated, especially by boys who might feel threatened or intimidated. She might try to compensate by acting more feminine, or by trying to be "just one of the guys" to blend in.

Rather than "geek vs. non-geek", you might also want to consider "engineer vs. non-engineer". Engineers think differently than people in liberal arts. An engineer (male or female) tends to approach problems analytically, loves to find out how things work, and hates unanswered mysteries. An engineer will happily spend hours (or days) tracking down a one-line bug for the satisfaction of finding the answer.

There's also "software vs. hardware". Hardware people tend to underestimate the amount of time and effort it takes to write software, while software people usually have no clue about how the machine works. ("How many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb? None, that's a hardware problem." "What scares a hardware engineer? A software engineer with a screwdriver.") Most people joke about the differences, but sometimes the there's conflict. She might have some issues with her father about it especially if he's dismissive of what she does. Did she follow him into the business because she wanted to or was she pressured?
Interests? I know many female engineers. Several paint in their spare time, one lady knits and gardens, others sing in a choir. Some sew, some decorate cakes, I make cats and dragons out of polymer clay, and one day I might actually get my novel written. ;) One lady I know is a published poet. Many are married with several children. It's the whole "is work my livelihood or my life" question. If your character is very much into coding, she might write her own programs in her spare time. She'd also read the literature to keep up with the latest advances in the industry. Things change very fast. Most engineers I know are avaricious readers in many subjects, especially speculative fiction.

09-30-2005, 11:06 PM
Watch Chloe in "24".

And don't write her like that.

Cathy C
09-30-2005, 11:34 PM
Thanks, guys! This gives me some super things to think about! :D

Afraid I don't get network stations, Richard. I've never seen 24. Pity. I hear it's quite good. But you did give me some good ideas, so thanks a bunch!

09-30-2005, 11:34 PM
[QUOTE=TheIT]An engineer will happily spend hours (or days) tracking down a one-line bug for the satisfaction of finding the answer.

You're lucky, you're not as compulsive as some us. It has nothing to do with the 'satifaction of knowing' for some of us, it's the torment of NOT knowing why something keeps crashing - keeping us awake - that forces us to find the answer. Oh yea, and bosses sometimes add a little motivation.



10-01-2005, 12:19 AM
To answer your questions about female computer geeks. I'm one at work (it's my job) and at home! :)

And to describe my character; I am more of a loner, however I enjoy people when they are around. I'm always looking for the latest in hardware and software technology. I enjoy talking about every aspect of computers, but my friends are limited in this field, 'cause it's not their thing. So no need to bore them, other than my co-workers. I love it when a family member needs a computer repaired, I enjoy troubleshooting, and ripping their computers apart and piecing them back together to make them work again. Gutting out any piece of equipment is thrilling for me. I love the specs of computers and love to challenge the engines, especially the new ones. I'm not a software developer, but I thrive on learning new software. My software collection is huge, and I'm always hungry for more. I'm not a manual queen, I just find my way around. I know software developers who's traits are very similar to mine. Maybe some of these traits will help develop your character.

Good Luck!

That's my dime on it!

10-01-2005, 12:39 AM
[QUOTE=TheIT]An engineer will happily spend hours (or days) tracking down a one-line bug for the satisfaction of finding the answer.

You're lucky, you're not as compulsive as some us. It has nothing to do with the 'satifaction of knowing' for some of us, it's the torment of NOT knowing why something keeps crashing - keeping us awake - that forces us to find the answer. Oh yea, and bosses sometimes add a little motivation.



Oh, I've had my share of "point of honor" bugs, too. You know, the ones where you don't know why the code's not doing what you think it should be doing but you're going to figure it out if it kills you, and it becomes a point of honor to find a fix. Luckily not all bugs reach that stage otherwise I'd never get any sleep. The "happily" was sort of tongue-in-cheek; I might be cursing the computer while I'm trying to squash the bug, but I'm still enjoying the hunt.

The best developers have what I call the developer spark, and I've seen it in both men and women. There's something within them which detests an unsolved problem or a messy situation so they'll go all out to investigate what's wrong and provide an elegant solution. Bugs offend their aesthetic sensibilities. The best developers learn how to think outside of normal parameters to flush out problems - the "if it didn't work that way, well, let's try this instead" attitude rather than letting the bug stop them cold. Tenacious, very determined, and usually very helpful to others if only to share the "wasn't that a nifty bug?" discussion.

10-04-2005, 09:03 AM
My partner is a software engineer and spends all his free time moderating his operating system (some version of linux), trying to recreate a game he originally played on a mac fifteen years ago, and hanging out at message boards talking about how to moderate his operating system. He also uses these message boards when at work for advice whenever he hits a problem. If you'd like me to find out the names of the sites I'd be happy to ask him.

He loves talking about computers, doesn't drink coffee, and when hanging out with other geeks will show off new software/hardware. It can get very competitive. He only has one computer and no server, but I'm sure that's coming next.

The female geeks I've met tend to talk less about computers in casual conversation and are not as competitive about the quality of their personal devices (iPods, laptops etc).

All the computer geeks I know dislike Microsoft passionately. There are always stories going round about software lecturers who drink coffee straight from the plunger because it's faster that way.

10-04-2005, 09:10 AM
She'd probably listen to Rush.

10-09-2005, 05:54 AM
Female Geek here, but it was something learned not inherent.

During my tenure of professional geekdom (I am now a volunteer geek for non-profits while being a mom) I was a minority where I worked. Women were not unwelcome, but the guys, man, they couldn't handle a woman who looked like one working along side of them. I was routinely nicknamed Scully where ever I worked due to a passing resemblence to Gillian Anderson. And yes, we had department field trips to see the last "Star Trek" film when it opened. Sci-fi is a very large part of the computer workplace.

The women I worked with had one common characteristic, they took no crap. You could not be thin skinned, quick to be offended, or be a cryer to survive in that atmosphere. You had to give as hard as you get.

Coffee? Most of us drank coffee, very large cups of it. Our anxieties were focused on watching our jobs be outsourced.

I have mountains of stories from the geek-front. You are welcome to PM me with any questions.


10-09-2005, 06:01 AM
She'd probably listen to Rush....the band, not the comedian.

10-15-2005, 10:56 PM
If she's a security expert and software writer, you can't go wrong by reading about famous hacker/security expert Kevin Mitnick and seeing what sorts of traits, habits, etc. he has. Geekitude is not very gender specific, by which I mean that female geeks are not that different from male geeks in terms of their habits, clothing, etc. I know a ton of geeks--software engineers, roboticists, etc.--and I've never seen a female geek with a hairstyle that required any work at all; the "long ponytail" look is common. The one female geek I know with great-looking hair just naturally has thick black hair that grows in fat curls; all she has to do is let it grow. Female geeks with very short hair (e.g. pixie cut) are rare, perhaps because maintaining very short hair requires frequent haircuts. They usually just let it grow and cut off a few inches whenever it starts annoying them/getting in their way.

The key to both their clothing and their hair is that it requires as little work as possible. They are interested in other things, and if clothes/hair takes more than 0.01% of their time, it's too much. That's why "fashionable geek" is an oxymoron. They all seem to either pay no attention to their clothing (hence the "jeans + t-shirt + long-sleeve button-down shirt worn unbuttoned" look, which is as common among women as among men) or to dress in a slightly quirky way (unusual colors, eclectic, like they fell into the laundry basket and came out with random garments sticking to them). Geeks of both genders usually look slightly rumpled; when they look polished, it's because they have a presentation to give for NASA or some other funder. When female geeks dress in a polished way, they rarely seem to wear heels--usually it's black flats, or some kind of space-age looking shoe with a heel as wide as the shoe. In my experience, they also don't wear makeup unless there's a reason (e.g., some outside funder to impress), and then they don't wear much makeup.

Again, the key is not wasting time on things they're not interested in. This rule applies to food, too: if they can have a microwave next to their computer and put something in the microwave without taking their eyes off the computer, they're happy--that's what they're like in "work mode," anyway, i.e. when they're really focused on what they're doing, either out of interest or because they have a deadline. However, if they have time, like any other human being they enjoy leaving their workplace for a stroll over to the nearest cafe, just to air out their brain (the stroll, and not the coffee, is the point: being outside, possibly running into fellow geeks they know, etc.). They also go to restaurants near their work a lot, because it's very common for them to work late and they wouldn't waste time actually preparing their own food. A restaurant dinner usually provides leftovers they can microwave for lunch the next day. Obviously, there are exceptions--I know a male geek whose major hobby is gourmet food; he makes things like farfalle pasta with truffles and real, hand-grated parmesan for his one-year-old child--that's his definition of "mac and cheese"--so you can imagine what he makes for himself. But geeks who don't yet have families are usually as I just described above.

In addition to the sci-fi interests some other posters have mentioned, there is a sizeable contingent of techno fans among geeks. I know a geek who drove five hours to go to a rave where a favorite DJ of his was "spinning" (the verb for what DJs do), and then, post-rave, turned around and drove right back home to continue working on a project whose deadline was two days away. Working around the clock is common. This goes along with what I said earlier about food, clothes, etc.: geeks often neglect their bodies. The basic requirements of the human body, e.g. food, sleep, clothing, are often overlooked by geeks of both sexes; the body is a minor annoyance, something uninteresting that requires care, and they give it only the bare minimum of care in order to devote as much time as possible to the geeky things that interest them.

One odd detail: when I worked at a university that's famous for its computer science program, I saw a lot of female geeks who looked like they had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). PCOS doesn't always manifest visually but when it does, the woman is overweight with bad skin, greasy hair, and some facial hair (I don't mean beards, but prominent hairs on the chin or cheeks or a sort of "furry" look between the chin and neck). PCOS is a hormonal imbalance whose main effect is to cause fertility problems, but in some women it creates this distinct physical appearance. I don't mean that a lot of the female geeks looked like this, just that the proportion of women who looked like this was markedly higher among the geeks of this college campus than it is in the general public. I have no idea why, although the physical appearance problems of PCOS are no doubt aggravated in geeks by their generally bad diet and neglect of their bodies. Also, it may be that women who look like this might gravitate towards geeky studies and geeky careers because popularity/success among geeks is not dependent on being good looking; geekdom provides such women a safe harbor they can't find in everyday society.

10-15-2005, 11:02 PM
is she one of a group of ten thousand programmers trying to figure out how to hide an entire flight simulator game into a word processing program?

AHAHAHAHAHHAA!!!!! That is absolutely brilliant.

10-15-2005, 11:16 PM
All the computer geeks I know dislike Microsoft passionately.

Oh yes, that's a big deal. Microsoft is the Evil Empire. Bill Gates is Darth Vader. And geeks are either Mac fanatics or Linux fanatics, though there is no particular rivalry between those groups--they are united by their common hatred of Microsoft.

Psst: I know a geek who works in computer defense and has the federal government as his company's biggest client. The word among his people is that the humongous blackout in August 2003 that put 1/3 of North America in the dark happened because the utility stations in question operate on a Microsoft Windows-based system; normally their computers sense when problems are happening and switch things around--for example, if there's a huge power draw in one area, they switch things so that area is drawing its power from several different sources instead of just one--but their servers got hit by the Blaster worm, which attacked Windows systems, bringing them down so they couldn't do this switching anymore. And voila--one enormous blackout.

A lot of geeks suspect that this was what happened (see http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0312.html) and assume it was hushed up by the government; my friend says they're right, that is what happened. This blackout, to geeks, is just one more example of why Microsoft is evil.