Boo’s Field Guide to Nerds (part 3)

The IT Professional is so closely related to the 3D Animator that it is often presumed the two are the same species. Also characterised by poor eyesight and non-existent social skills, these Nerds are as irresistibly drawn towards glowing computer screens, dusty motherboards and long pages of code as Environmentalist Nerds are drawn to organic food outlets.

Popular wisdom dictates that the IT Professional is the crème-de-la-crème of all Nerds. When two women grasp for a suitable insult for a single man in his 30s, one will often add the caveat ‘…and he works in IT’. The other woman will need no further explanation. Despite this common prejudice against him the IT Professional is an optimist, and is a regular fixture on the online and speed dating scene. Research has not been completed on the ratio of IT Professionals to regular jobs in this milieu, but early figures show that this ratio is high.

The BBC sitcom The IT Crowd is a sentimental portrayal of the species, and should be considered as an introduction only. Although highly detailed with regard to props and costume, this show depicts the IT Professional with a ready wit and charming demeanour – two traits not often associated with the profession. While IT Professionals are adept at programming languages such as Java, C++ and Perl, the nuances of the English language are often lost on this unique species. It is at times best for them to communicate in the vernacular of code and mathematics, the mode in which they feel the most comfortable. Some IT Professionals take this idea to its logical conclusion by removing the front-end, or user-friendly interface of their computer to type code directly into the machine’s heart. To other Nerds, this is an affecting sight.

One area of communication at which the IT Professional does excel is that of games (see the later ‘Habits and Preferences’ section). When not toiling on his indeterminate work tasks or shyly approaching virtual women in a non-threatening environment, IT Professional plays games (otherwise known as Gaming, a subtle, but important distinction to this species of Nerd). Rather than playing traditional games of dice, cards or chess, in keeping with his respect for technology the IT Professional prefers the online gaming world, where role-playing, first-person shooter and real-time strategy games are enjoyed late into the night.

In appearance, the IT Professional is easily identified as one of two extremes:

1. Slight and Weedy
2. Tall and Massive

With some minor variants eg Gangling and Knock-kneed or Squat and Hirsute. It is suggested that his sedentary lifestyle and unwholesome diet has led to this clear split in form, although some radical theorists put forward that as the IT Professional is already genetically disposed to one or the other, his entry into the field of IT is somehow inevitable. Unlike other predominantly Caucasian Nerd species such as the Birdwatcher or Tinkerer, the IT Professional hails from all continents of the globe and comes in all colours of the rainbow.

The IT Professional scorns the straightforward simplicity and all-in-one design of the Mac, and concerns himself only with the PC platform. This gives him the chance to configure the back-end of his computer to track NASA communications, eavesdrop on shipping movements or program his mobile phone to ‘talk’ to his microwave and heat the evening’s frozen meal. He is most content when surrounded by not one but many unsightly grey monitors and whirring towers and will dedicate rooms of his department to ceiling-height servers with flashing lights. Rather than organise his equipment to fit around himself and his activities, he is happy to wedge himself behind this apparatus, and as a result is often hard to locate.

It is interesting to note that despite all the literature written by and about the IT Professional, no-one knows what a person working in IT actually does. Despite encompassing fields as broad as programming, working on the help desk, computer science and software engineering, to the layperson these could all be in fact the same thing. While the Birdwatching Nerd is eager to share his knowledge with the uninitiated, the IT Professional enjoys this division from his contemporaries, and secretly rejoices in the frequent eye-rolling and tsking from his family when he is unable to respond to the polite inquiry ‘what do you do’.

In this way he is perhaps the most elusive of all Nerd species, despite his broad distribution. It is the lifelong desire of the IT Professional that this knowledge of his species never be brought to light.

The issue of French Horn Players has already been covered on this blog in detail, so it is not necessary to delve much further into this topic. Needless to say, these rugged individualists can retain strong nerdy characteristics from the amateur player up to the professional.

Although the rare anomaly exists (as demonstrated here by John Entwistle), the sight of a person clutching a French Horn is intrinsically funny to the non-French Horn player. Thus this instrument will always exert a strong pull to Nerds the world over, and should be discouraged by parents early on should they wish their offspring to have any normal kind of adolescence.

The French Horn Player is closely related to players of the bassoon, oboe, euphonium and other awkwardly-shaped instruments. Tuba Players are sorted into their own subspecies owing to the ridiculous noises emitted by the instrument, the extreme inelegance and impracticality of the case as well as the strong connotations with Neighbours alumnus ‘Harold Bishop’.


When nerds express

Over summer I experienced a Brush with Music.

Did I turn the radio on, I hear you ask? Buy a new CD? Attend a chamber music recital? Nay – you may put your sardonically cocked eyebrow away. I decided I was going to sing in public. Not only that, but I decided I was going to sing a composition of my own creation. A pal asked me to MC her wedding with Jules, a friend’s partner, and we wanted to make it a challenge by pooling our talents of music and writing.

What a lot of fun it was! Once we met up for our jam session, the whole thing came together remarkably well. I wrote the lyrics to three songs, and Jules picked out some tunes on his guitar. One song we wrote I just started singing off the bat! A tune came out of my head! Me! I would like to say we were a howling success, but once the time came to sing, the PA system let us down a bit and much of the nuance of my carefully crafted lyrics was lost in the echo-y acoustics. I probably looked a right twat. T’wouldn’t be your modest narrator otherwise.

But the whole episode made me think twice about my humble musical origins. Could I have done any better with my choice of instrument? Is there anything I could do with the growing number of songs sitting in my bottom drawer? Could I call upon my rusty talents and give it a bash?

From the age of six, I learnt the piano from a lady around the corner, Mrs Moloney. This was all about mucking around on the plethora of giant Casio keyboards she had in her back room and getting up to no good with my best bud Cilla. The only gettin’ down and groovin’ that happened was when we realised the Casio had the same riff as ‘Da Da Da’.

Later, things took a turn for the much worse when I decided to learn the French Horn. This phenomenon happens in most private schools, when they look at their prospectus and realise that phrases like ‘full symphony orchestra’ are on it and seek to pad out their feeble line-up. Most kids remain impervious to their offers of cheap tuition and rented instruments, because I dare say they know better. However in the hope of being unique and interesting, the weaker amongst their number say they’ll give the Euphonium or Piccolo or whatever a crack.

I am not raving – if you ask any software developer or engineer what instrument they learnt when they were younger, they will reply ‘French Horn’, ‘Bassoon’ or ‘Tuba’. Don’t believe me? There are no exceptions to this rule. I know at least two animators who learnt the French Horn. I recently saw a weedy, bespectacled Chinese boy struggling with his unwieldy French Horn case on a crowded tram while his mate huffed and pretended not to know him. I felt for the little chap, but was willing to bet that inside his schoolbag was either a giant graphing calculator, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, a sketchpad of purple-haired Manga girls with big breasts or all three.

So for years too long I lugged my attention-grabbing case on sweaty Ventura buses, out on the Glen Waverley line, on family holidays and even to Year 8 camp, where Nicky Ramsay (the daggiest girl in our year) and I unexpectedly delighted the troops with our Clarinet/French Horn duet of ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, which we hadn’t intended to be funny.

I first learnt the instrument from Mrs Washfold, one of those small, pursed, humourless women you only find in all-girl’s schools. Boy, did she have it in for me. Only now do I realise it was my lack of dedication to practice and ‘tude in general. She harried me into the school orchestra which was led by Miss Remfry, whom it was rumoured went mad, locked a student in a cupboard, and was sent to a lunatic asylum. I doubt this was far off the truth – all the music teachers at my school seemed completely, illogically, nuts.

Mrs Washfold would often shout and gesticulate if I was even five minutes late to a group practice, then spend our private lesson playing mind games. When I broke down in tears one day under her bullying and confessed that I’d got my first period that morning, she spent the rest of the day being alternately solicitous and pulling me aside to loudly whisper if I needed any Panadol. I still cringe at the memory.

Once Mrs Washfold decided she could teach me no more, I continued to be a dork. I felt I had to persevere with that spit-soaked instrument, and moved onto private tuition with Pru – a batshit-crazy sporter of woollen jumpers with busy farmyard scenes and a dirty mouth (Brahms was dismissed as a ‘total fucking Nazi’). Her claim to fame was playing on not only The Man From Snowy River soundtrack, but Whispering Jack by John Farnham. She used to bring in his CDs to play to me. The full story of Pru is a whole other blog post, but suffice to say her tales kept my friends entertained for at least five years. ‘You’re the Voice’ makes me a little physically sick when I hear it now.

After all of this palaver – how much musical information do you think has sunk in? Not very bloody much I can tell you. I can across some info recently on Devo’s unusual time signatures and was fascinated. Is that what those numbers are called? And can you change it in the middle of a song? How about that. I never learnt to play a bass line, I never really got the hang of sight-reading and I certainly never arranged any music of my own. Either I’m musically thick (possible), or it could be that the AMEB’s idea of Contemporary Popular Music includes tunes like ‘Fascinatin’ Rhythm’ and ‘It’s A Raggy Waltz’.

So. We can conclude that there are some dorky instruments that no sane person should go near as a teenager:

1. French Horn
2. Bassoon
3. Tuba
4. Harp
5. Mountain Dulcimer
6. Bagpipes
7. Accordion
8. Harpsichord
9. Flute
10. Oboe

And that there are some that are moderate to very useful, and will allow you to do cool things when you’re older like join bands and put tunes to your songs, should you write any:

1. Guitar (acoustic, bass, rhythm etc)
2. Drums
3. Saxophone
4. Trumpet
5. Trombone
6. Piano
7. Clarinet (for jazz purposes only)
8. Violin (same, bluegrass)
9. Banjo
10. Kazoo/gumleaf/harmonica

It’s a goodly list, and one I think worth presenting to my niece, who is only 10, and has recently started at a posh private school. I will have a very suspicious eye on her music teachers let me tell you.