Friday, October 17, 2008

Pink Slip to MIT: stay as nerdy as you are....

I saw in The Boston Globe the other day that there are some MIT students who are trying to de-nerdify the schools reputation.

A six-minute, student-produced webcast called MIThBusters that is posted on a university site features sorority girls, bare-chested male cheerleaders, and students taking part in athletics and the arts. On the school's admissions site, some students candidly chronicle their lives in blogs to attract an array of potential applicants by showing how well-rounded they are.

What are they thinking?

This is the school, after all, that - as the article points out - has an a cappella group called the Loga-rhythms. And "a model railroad club that meets on Saturday nights."

Not to mention a school that has graduated an awful lot of the fabulous techies I've worked with over the years.

Yes, many (most) have been true nerdy geeks, the geekiest of nerds.

But they've also (most) been really smart, really good humored, really nice, really interesting, and really fun to work with.

Sure, there have been a couple of exceptions where either the weirdness factor was too hard to overcome, or where the person was out and out nasty-crazy.

But mostly.

Bill. Frank. Steve. Kendra. Caren. Mike. Fred. Another Bill. Another Bill. Tony. Dave. (Note to T: no, not that Dave.)

I know I'm missing some names here, but some of my most enjoyable times at work have been working with, or just plain hanging out with, MIT grads.

No, most of them weren't ultra-smooth, ultra-cool, ultra-hip, ultra-well-dressed.

But then again, neither am I.

My MIT buds were just unfailingly smart and interesting, though. And really good at their jobs.

Frankly, I don't see the attempts to normalize MIT will get all that far. After all, even the sex advice column in the newspaper is called "Talk Nerdy to Me."

"You're just surrounded by so many people here who like to be nerds that if you don't embrace it, you're ostracized," said Christine Yu, a former homecoming princess from West Virginia who inserts geek humor and science analogies as often as possible into the weekly column. "In high school, I didn't really identify with my more nerdy side. MIT has brought it out."

And MIT is the home of the nearly 20 year old "Nerd Pride" movement.

"We're not normal, and we like it that way," [one student interviewed in The Globe article] said. "To some extent, the world misunderstands us."

Well, normal is over-rated.

As the father of the Nerd Pride movement, professor Hal Abelson says, of those trying to un-nerd MIT:

"Oh, they're just being stupid.

"I already got in trouble for saying once that well-rounded people are pointless. A nerd is somebody who's intensely interested in something and works hard at it. That's one of the things that makes MIT great."

Hal sounds like my kind of guy.

I vote for keeping MIT as nerdy, geeky, dorky as it is.

The world doesn't really need any more ironic, hip, cool, well-dressed posers, does it?

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