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The Coming of the Nerdettes and Linux's Big Chance

The Coming of the Nerdettes and Linux's Big Chance

A recent Newsweek article about women grabbed the attention of many in the Linux community. In the story, titled "Revenge of the Nerdette," the author points out that attractive women are no longer scared to show their geeky side.

By Katherine Noyes
06/16/08 4:00 AM PT

Given the heavy proportion of males in the Linux world, we here at LinuxInsider have trouble resisting any topic that brings females back into the picture.

Imagine our glee, then, when we spotted mention of a recent Newsweek article titled "Revenge of the Nerdette"! Indeed, some of us fairly fell off of our pink leatherette chairs.

The article, which was published last Monday, argues that it's increasingly being viewed as possible for women to be both geeky and sexy, and for attractive girls to be good at math and science. Smart, attractive women are no longer afraid to show their geeky side, it suggests.

The article was picked up on LXer, where -- as one might expect -- reactions were both hot and bothered ... so to speak.

Obsessed With Sex Appeal

"Why can't they just focus on why they chose to become engineers/scientists instead of tagging on the sex appeal marketing bs," wrote pat.

"Sorry girls. I have long agreed with your point of view, but, dammit, there's a substantial body (sorry) of your gender that will not let sex appeal die (thankfully)," shot back billbar.

"How about every time we hear of women in engineering, computing, etc. we DON'T go 'ooooh' and 'aaaah' as if we secretly believe women are not capable of doing these jobs," wrote jacog. "I think the mere fact that this article was written is offensive."

One takeaway was summed up by garymax: "Be respectful and kind to the women in your life because one day, they just might be your system administrator!"

A Question of Choice

What do others on the Linux community think? Are geek girls on the rise? Can girls really code? LinuxInsider couldn't resist asking around.

"What sort of question is that?" shot back Ellen Spertus, an associate professor of computer science at Mills College and part-time software engineer at Google who was the 2001 winner of the Silicon Valley "Sexiest Geek Alive" pageant. "Of course, girls and women can program. How many thousands or hundreds of thousands of positive examples do you or your readers need before you or they will believe it?"

A better question, Spertus told LinuxInsider, is whether girls and women want to become computer scientists. "The answer for most of them, unfortunately, seems to be no," she said.

'Sexist Colleagues'

"One reason is the sexist attitudes held by your readers and other men in the field: that women don't belong in computer science," she charged. "Another is students' belief that all of the computer science jobs are being offshored.

"A very talented student I knew decided to major in nursing instead of computer science because she knew she'd be able to get a high-paying secure job as a nurse," Spertus added. "She was right: Nursing grads make more than computer science grads. They're also not constantly having to prove themselves to sexist colleagues."

What say you to that, dear readers?

'One of the Guys'

"I guess I've never understood the problem in the first place," Gerhard Mack, a Montreal-based consultant and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider. "Being a geek guy for me means that I prefer functional to the purely aesthetic, so I've never been able to stand unintelligent girls in the first place."

Few things are "more irritating for me than a girl who can't talk about anything other than clothing or gossip," Mack added. "I've always found that groups of geek guys tend to accept girls as 'one of the guys' and join in."

Geekiness "is no longer looked down upon," added Foogazi blogger Adam Kane.

"There have been a lot of guys in the past few years that have broken the mold and proven that they are both nerds and cool, good-looking guys. I think women are starting to see that too and are now not afraid to show their geeky sides," he told LinuxInsider.

'Technology Circles Care Not'

"There's no such thing as a woman who isn't sexy, in technology or not," Slashdot blogger yagu asserted.

That said, however, "in any workplace, I've seen anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent women in technology teams, and it's stayed consistently in that range" over a career spanning some 25 years, he said. "It's not clear that the skew in percentages is any kind of discrimination as much as it is choice."

Women in technology seem to be "no more or less competent than the men," yagu told LinuxInsider. "I've seen amazing talent in both women and men in technology. I've also seen amazing incompetence from both."

Talented people in technology are quickly recognized for their competence and rise to the top, he said: "Technology circles care not whether you're man or woman."

How 'Bout That Linux?

Shifting back into less incendiary terrain, a post on the Linux Loop last week provided more food for thought by suggesting that Apple's and Microsoft's current preoccupation with maintenance releases might mean Linux now has a big chance to leap ahead.

"I think the article makes a good point; however, it's also important to note that the big companies like Apple and Microsoft are never standing still and simply only working on maintenance releases," Kane pointed out. "The advantage they have over Linux is that they are big, focus-driven companies with many employees and departments or teams. There is a team at Apple and Microsoft that handles maintenance releases, and there are also teams that handle work on future operating systems, like Windows 7."

It may be "a bit much," then, to say that Apple and Microsoft are standing completely still, he said. "However, Linux does have the opportunity to sprint ahead of Apple and Microsoft, because essentially, Linux has an unlimited number of employees due to the open source aspect. Linux distros just need to stick to the Linux Standards Base and round up all developers for a focus-driven meeting."

Tortoise and Hare

Indeed, "Linux is the tortoise to the MS/Apple hare -- slow, steady, nonstop development," Slashdot blogger mhall119 added. "Linux isn't ever going to sprint ahead of the likes of Windows and Apple, but eventually both will fall behind Linux. I don't think now is any different from this time last year, except that both Microsoft and Apple are coming off a sprint and gearing up for a new one."

Teisberg "bases his argument on the observation/theory that both Microsoft and Apple are somehow mired in some fatal misstep with their products," but that's not the case, yagu added.

"Apple continues to make rock-solid choices with their OS, and the results are stellar," he noted. Microsoft, meanwhile, "owns the market. Any company would love to have the 'failure' that is Vista!"

Future Irrelevance

Ultimately, "Linux has to keep on doing what it's been doing, continue to improve on an excellent base, attract commercial development for products consumers can't live without, and cultivate followers outside the geek community," yagu concluded.

"Eventually Microsoft as an OS will become irrelevant when the Internet blurs the lines between OS, applications, browsers, and services enough that the OS is almost superfluous," he said. "When this is true, Linux/Unix-like characteristics (reliability, cost, etc.) will emerge as true competitive traits and bring Linux closer to the main stage as an OS of choice."


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