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Introduction

Sixteen years ago, I fell in love. The man of my infatuation was a Dutch-born petroleum geologist with the Pillsbury doughboy physique, cool wire rimmed glasses, a broad smile, broad shoulders and a very warped sense of humor. They say that opposites attract. If we were classified as pooches, I could be best described as one of those mouthy little Chihuahua types and he, the lovable quiet Saint Bernard.

When we married on March 1, 1985, his close friends giggled at me, "You know, you’re marrying a computer geek." I was in a state of denial, until I witnessed computers take over our home. During our first year of marriage, I witnessed how strong the Force had to be -- to keep my husband from touching those slippery keys of his Radio Shack Color Computer keyboard.

But the Dark Side beckoned and the honeymoon wore off. He sneaked back on the computer. At first, his after work activities seemed harmless. I thought to myself, "This will change after the birth of our first child." A beaming father, he stayed off the computer for the first six weeks and then crawled back on. So, I kept myself busy with two more babies -- exposed to personal computers in vitro, a freelance writing business, teaching, public speaking and several whirlwind international journeys.

In 1994, my husband left the corporate rat race as a staff geologist to consult from home. More computers took up residency. At one point, our house contained in excess of one computer per capita. Were we becoming a little wired up? Were we the only ones with personal computers in every other room in the house? Did we have a problem?

Then I realized. We weren’t employed in the computer/information technology (IT) world. What were the lifestyles of the computer professionals really like? Sure, manufacturers were producing computers with bigger hard drives, more memory and faster micro-processing speeds than ever. But what impact were personal computers having on people’s lives, now that they had become ubiquitous, both in the workplace and at home.

Being the first woman engineer to graduate in Bio-Resources Engineering from the University of British Columbia, I recalled how first year peers were transformed into proverbial stereotypes by the time they graduated. Surely, computers were influencing our lives. Are we justified in saying that all computer geeks and nerds are a bland, boring, and anti-social lot? Are we running technology or is technology running us?

Why are so many people interested in what I have to say? There’s no other study that I am aware of that has focussed on the impact of technology on our personal lives, especially after 5 p.m. The richest man in America, Bill Gates, C.E.O. of Microsoft, is undeniably a computer geek who exemplifies how much power technology has on the bank account. As America’s middle class shrinks, we see an emerging and powerful techno-class. According to Statistics Canada, between 1989 and 1998, computer-related jobs grew at a whopping 100 per cent, the fastest growing job segment in Canada employing 326,000 persons in 1998. There appears to be no slowing down. Like in the United States, the average Canadian IT worker earns 64 per cent more than the average employed Canadian. Salaries south of the border are in fact even more lucrative than in Canada. So what do these jobs entail? How do IT professionals play and spend their money? What are their likes and dislikes and could you really become one of them?

Is it really that great to be a computer programmer? You will find out the pro’s and con’s of this profession and even read about burnt out computer professionals and why they left.

Then there’s the issue of love. You will want to read this book, if your significant other is into computers. You could become another computer widow or widower and find out how couples have dealt with the computer at home. And you’ve probably heard the rumors that cyberspace has become a breeding ground for sex, love and passion. Is there something about your partner’s cyberspace life you should know?

If you have never touched a computer keyboard or are thinking about buying your first computer, this book is for you. Maybe your children and grandchildren want you to buy a computer so you can play computer games, but you have no idea what welcomes you. If you are an educator and you want to help your students, maybe you will want to read what parents have to say about fostering computer intelligence in children or how present computer professionals developed the skills they use in today’s work environment. You may even be surprised by what today’s computer professionals have to say about what they feel educators should be focusing on at school.

And if you fear technology, you will read this book and find out that you’re not alone. For those of you who already thrive in the techie world, and are curious as to where you fit in amongst your peers, you’ll enjoy this book. If you have a business that is looking to sell products and services to computer professionals and users, whether it be computer hardware, software, financial planning or insurance, read this book and find out who your customers are and what they want. You might find some of the insights in this book useful for your sales and marketing plan.

Over 800 individuals were directly contacted for this survey. Some 426 completed survey forms showed some interesting results:
  1. A computer professional’s age and education credentials had little to do with his or her annual salary. Individuals under 30 years are earning six-digit incomes, while several individuals over 50 years have never made six-digit incomes.
  2. People who did not work 9 to 5 in the IT world were equally likely to spend time on the computer after 5 p.m.
  3. Ten per cent of respondents slept in the same room as their computer. The highest number of personal computers per capita reported was 40. About 24 per cent of men and women surveyed have taken a laptop computer into bed with them. Forty per cent of computer professionals take their computers on their holidays with them.
  4. Blue was reported to being the favorite color of computer users, followed by green, red and then purple.
  5. There is a higher probability that a computer user lives in a household with a pet, rather than a child.
  6. Even though some individuals had worked over 10 years in the computer industry, they strongly believed that computers were evil.
  7. Not all computer professionals believed that putting children on computers at an early age was the best thing for them to develop the skills needed for the information age.
  8. The extroverted personality types were more likely to succeed in the computer world than the introverted personality type.
  9. Computer widows and widowers who were still married, often did little to change their home life situation.
  10. Seventeen per cent of men and 20 per cent of women prefer spending time on their computers over indulging in sex or chocolate.

The Research
From January 1998 to June 1999, individuals were contacted directly by e-mail and telephone or interviewed in person. The ongoing survey was posted at www.geekculture.com/. The 60 plus questions that make up this survey, were selected to determine people’s comfort zones, why they liked computers, their perceptions of themselves and their peers, the personal relationships they sought and what they valued, their lifestyle, how they felt about using computers, success and their careers.
Conformity was not what I was looking for, so I sought out individuals who worked in the high-tech world under different circumstances, in different areas of specialization, at different times in history, at different levels within a corporation or organization or were self-employed and entrepreneurs. The questions on the survey were developed with help from friends, computer lovers, computer training instructors and the media.

I did not hesitate to e-mail Bill Gates at Microsoft. His e-mail, published in a weekly local newspaper column is [email protected] Gates did not respond. My ego was deflated, but my feelings weren’t hurt. I didn’t think it would be fair to exclude Steve Jobs. So I visited www.apple.com and sent an e-mail request directed towards management. They did not respond either.
They were other celebrity techies I tracked down. For aeons, IBM ran one-page ads profiling some of their brightest software stars. With job titles like ethical hacker, three-dimensionalists, or digital conceptualist, the temptation was too great. I picked up the phone and called that toll-free number, only to be intercepted by IBM’s sales and marketing department. I explained my predicament to no avail and hung up. The question remains, "Are those people in the IBM ads real or virtual?"
I also sent Katrina Garnett, founder, President and CEO of CrossWorlds Software an e-mail message. She’s the sultry brown-eyed brunette who in a revealing v-necked black dress, appeared in 1998 on the back covers of business magazines, like Fortune. Intelligent and married with children, Garnett has become a beacon for other women, initiating her own foundation to encourage girls to pursue technical careers. Still, there was no response.

While I did not ask respondents about their salaries, I can assure you that I did procure surveys from millionaires, and hope their insights on technology and life might assist you with your future business ventures. Luddites might be shocked by some of the money that’s being made in this industry, although some of it comes from hard work, personal sacrifice and luck.
For over a year, I attended evening and weekend computer classes to stuff my brains with all I could think of – everything from graphics programs to desktop publishing to accounting. The instructors proved to be very informative and insightful.

As various stories in the media arose about computers, I took note of the individuals being quoted and sent then personal e-mails. When one individual described himself as being "a life long nerd", I knew he was a perfect candidate.

About five months into the research, I became anxious about meeting my quota, until I visited local computer user/professional groups -- Commodore users, SQL users, Corel Draw users, Mac users, Cal-PC’s users, Unix users and so forth. With the exception of one computer user group, my presence was well received.

I checked out business cards of computer consultants, posted on public bulletin boards. I also attended high-tech career fairs, in a feeble attempt to find work for myself, as a technical writer. In the cluttered hotel hallways bombarded with banners and posters, while standing in line waiting to see recruiters, I commiserated with other job seekers -- who, in the majority of cases, were gainfully employed but looking for ammunition for their next performance appraisal.

Many under-30 types, posing as serious job seekers in dark suits and white shirts, confessed that underneath their façade, they were empire builders of their own, but killing time working for someone else, until they felt ready to leave the corporate nest. For the record, I failed to find myself work as a technical writer after cruising two high-tech job fairs, but I’m happy to report that I did help one unexpectedly down-sized survey participant, find a new job.

International travel proved to be another great way to meet computer people. While waiting for baggage at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, I chatted with an athletic young tanned woman sporting a backpack clanging with cowbells. She worked for Hewlett-Packard, Amsterdam in technical support, and had just returned from a Canadian Rocky Mountain hiking trip. People lugging their laptop computers around at airports, (assuming they had a sense of humor) were approachable for interviews, prior to boarding. During one line up, I interviewed two techie students en-route home to Canada from their European summer holidays.

It was on a train ride from east to central Holland that I interviewed a trio of computer lovers. They were the only ones speaking English on the train. With his wind-blown frazzled hair and horn-rimmed glasses, the pale-faced lanky Englishman had the absent-minded professorial look. It was with absolute confidence, even though I was suffering from a cold, that I asked him if he was a university professor. He used to be. The American, who worked in a daycare, was actually more of an after five p.m. computer user than the former mathematics professor who never touched the keyboard after work. Their third travelling companion, the Elton-John lookalike, when exposed, was actually the most passionate computer user of the travelling threesome.

It took over 18 months to collect the completed survey forms, the results of which form the basis for this book. Interviews occurred in person or by telephone interviews, and lasted anywhere from ten minutes to three hours, with an average duration of 25 to 35 minutes. With the assistance of my endearing webmaster Gary, my partners at geekculture.com and Rosie X at GeekGirl in Australia, we got the word out in cyberspace and collected another 72 completed surveys.

While the majority of persons interviewed reside in Calgary, Canada (which I proclaim to be Silicon Cowtown), others reside in Australia, Indonesia, United States, England, Norway and the Netherlands. A very shy software developer on a one-year contract in Indonesia agreed to participate. Getting information from him was like pulling teeth.

The survey has a very good cross-section of computer users, from high-tech rock stars to entry level programmers, from obsessive computer lovers who require to be within a ten-foot radius of a computer monitor 24 hours a day to users who fight with their computers daily. The majority of the people who participated claimed to be a combination introvert and extrovert personality type. Those who declined to participate may have been more introverted than the rest. Some interviewees spoke in highly measured sentences with soft raspy voices and I knew that completing the survey for them was not easy; and at times, greeted with suspicion. While some individuals fall into the category of Hollywood’s version of the computer geek, others looked like they walked out of GQ or could pass as bionic Barbie dolls. Read on, about some of the findings and research, which even took me by surprise!



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