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How Nerds Changed The Workplace

Revenge of the Nerds is a gem of a movie. Released in 1984, it is a feel-good comedy that changed the fate of nerds in society forever.

In the movie, nerds are portrayed as people with gentle personalities and creative spirits. Nerds are shown to have an ability to use their minds toward the pursuit of advancements in electronics and music. They are socially awkward. More important, the movie captures an unfortunate truism–in the grand scheme of things beauty trumps brains, and lacking social skills is a liability. The movie aims to ensure that we all realize that there is something horribly wrong with mistreating nerds.

There was a time not so long ago when people were really mean to nerds. Bullies terrorized nerds with impunity. What is interesting to me is that I can’t come up with an “ism” word to describe the nature of the discrimination nerds encountered, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Watch the movie Sixteen Candles and you’ll know what exactly I mean.

I was still in high school when the movie was in theatres. I remember that we all changed our attitudes a bit toward nerds and nerdy things in the time period following when the movie was released. In fact, I might argue that clothing became quite nerdy-looking in 1984-85 and suspect it could be attributed to the movie.

I don’t think I was a nerd when I was younger, but I liked some of the things that nerds also seemed to like. This meant that I had friends who were nerds. For example, I LOVED computers. I think I was the first girl in class to have my own computer (1st a Commodore Vic 20, then an Apple IIC, and then a Macintosh). Back then, when your dot matrix printer wasn’t working, there was no Geek Squad or call centre available so you futzed around with it yourself until you got it going again, or you went looking for a nerd to help you.

I think nerds changed the workplace, to a far greater extent than they have ever been given credit for. Let me put it this way, 40 years ago, could Bill Gates, the ultimate King of the Nerds, have ever built his empire? Could he even have been able to arrange that fateful meeting where IBM gave his company the contract to write DOS operating system? After all, even though IBM employed nerds, they didn’t sit at the boardroom table. Is it a coincidence that the Macintosh and Revenge of the Nerds were released in the same year?

Even more significant, we need to look where our workplaces are headed. IT departments have exploded in size, it’s all about information management these days, and we are also on the analytics bandwagon; something you need nerds to help you understand.

It can be said that once we all realized that nerds were valuable, new policies came into force to ensure people, especially nerds, could be attracted and retained by maintaining a welcoming atmosphere. Think about it–anti-bullying, anti-violence policies–they’re rooted in the notion that everyone has to be able to play in the sandbox, regardless of how comfortable individuals are to speak up for themselves.

But then again, this was all a part of the nerds’ Darwinistic master plan, and accordingly they did get their revenge.

And it was sweet.


  1. Suffice to say, that the analogy of the computer geek as a nerd, could also be extrapolated to earlier times, when computers didn’t exist. For example, there were engineering nerds, science nerds and so forth. Nerds have been and always will be a part of us and if we really want to delve deep….we are all in some form or another, a nerd, or reciprocally a bully such as in the famous psychology electro-shock study by Milgram. I agree with you Bonni and in the old addage that success is the best revenge.

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