Friday, February 24, 2012

Being a Geek and Looking the Part

I used to be very sympathetic to people who don't understand computers and if someone asked me to help them with their computer I would only do it as a favor to them. Then during college I started doing it for money because I really needed the money and helping with computers was something I could do easily.

I got out of the habit of charging for computer help until recently. What happened was that I had to take my car to the shop for an oil change. While I sat waiting for them to do the oil change, I kept hearing my dad's voice in my head, reminding me that I could save $50 if I'd just learn to change the oil myself.

My dad's right, and I know that changing engine oil is basically as simple as unscrewing  a cap, draining the old, and pouring in the new. Not a big deal and yet it's actually worth $50 for me to not have to do it.

You probably see the connection.

Car mechanics don't hesitate to charge people $50 for basic, simple tasks, and a lot more for complex ones. They don't ever wave your money away and insist the job wasn't really very hard so they don't want to get paid. No, if you walk into the garage then you're paying money to get back out, no exceptions. And cars are, unfortunately, very important in life. Without your car, you can't get to work. You can't get back home. You can't do shit, in some cities.

So I don't think of myself as just a girl who happens to know computers any more. I'm a geek. I've spent a lot of time learning what I know. Mostly it's been fun because I happen to enjoy it, but there have been whole weeks of frustration too.  So if someone approaches me with a computer and asks me to fix it, then they're not getting away without buying me lunch or paying me or something. And I'm okay with that.

I don't have a garage like a car mechanic does, so I have found that to be identified as a geek, you have to pander a little to what the world thinks a geek looks like.  For me, that means I need to wear geeky glasses, which is easy because I need glasses anyway. But when I go to the optometrist, I am sure to choose geeky frames. Unfortunately, right now that also means that I am choosing hipster frames because hipsters are looting geek culture left and right but that's okay because I can offset it with the second trick of wearing geeky t-shirts. Yes, happily there are many online stores now that offer t-shirts that basically advertise that you are a geek. Video game shirts, snarky computer jokes, you name it. Even better is the fact that nearly every major open source project has a Cafe Press store so you can get really obscure and start wearing Drupal shirts and Wordpress shirts and Dropbox shirts. People know those names, and if you're weird enough to wear their shirts then you must be a geek!

A few girl friends have asked me why I defeminize myself that way, but I don't see this as a gender issue.  I don't look like a boy, I don't lose touch with the fact that I'm a girl or try to hide it. But whether you're a male or female, if you don't look like someone who knows computers then you're not going to get random requests for computer repair jobs.  Are the glasses distinctly male? I don't think so. Am I wearing them only to advertise my own geekness?  Yes, I am, because believe it or not I don't really identify that much with the glasses frames I wear. I will gladly choose frames just to suggest to people that I'm not a typical computer newbie.  The t-shirts are also not distinctly male, especially since most online stores have women's cuts and sizes. And I would actually wear the t-shirts no matter what. They represent the things I'm interested in.

Basically it's like this. If you walked into a car garage and the mechanic was wearing a business suit and sipping tea, you might think twice about having him work on your car. We all know what car mechanics are "supposed to look like".  Same for geeks.

So anyway, need computer work done?  Pay me, I'll do it.

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