Diatribe

I’ve been really upset the past few days. Some people have seen it on the Twitters, but I’ve been pretty quiet about what context I’ve been in. But might as well do the full explanation. I’m in Silicon Valley (Fremont, to be exact), tho I’m now packing up my bags. I was here to take a CompTIA class covering A+ Net+ Security+. I actually don’t have the knowledge base in these areas, despite running in crowds that would find these certs a piece of cake. I’m good at teaching myself (see this other entry), but I utterly fail to take the time to do so. I also do incredibly well in standardized learning environments, despite fighting against them as a major part of my Life Objective.

So I signed up to do this bootcamp thing to acquire a baseline of knowledge to work from. I needed to know the terminology, the basic infrastructure to even know where to begin. And I did get that. But I also got a slap-in-the-face reminder of how spoiled I am in the rest of my life. Of how fucked up the world (still) is.

It was weird enough to be in a hotel instead of crashing on a friend’s couch. A hotel where they *really* want to change your sheets and towels every day. A hotel where they have a TV in every room, and play one loudly in the morning over hard boiled eggs and huge-bag cereal. I heard news reports on books, and on e-mail hacks, and celebrities. We go from artificial environment to artificial environment. There are no sidewalks, only expanses of parking lots and highways. There are two strips of grass between the hotel lobby and the gas station/Subway where we’re expected to get our dinners each day of our 10-day stay.

My classmates are from all different walks of life, from nursing facilities to military to bit torrent servers. There are a couple of us in here that don’t need the cert, are here because we wanted to learn something – most are here because it’s necessary for work or due to hard times in other professions. The ratios are skewed male, as might be expected. It’s also skewed for the South and for military. We’ve been drinking beer together in the evenings, studying, and teasing each other. We don’t talk about politics. We don’t talk about god. Yesterday, some of us went to an In-And-Out Burger since Connecticut hadn’t been before. Yes, we’re simply referring to each other as our geographic origins. Except me.

The class is a shot-gun to the test, with very little actual instruction but rather meaningless stories to fill air time while we pile through practice tests. The only two things I’ve gotten out of it are how laser printers work and how to figure out subnetting. Even the rote method I could handle, tho it’s aggravating. It’s that the instructor is so painfully a joyful participant in everything that is wrong with the world. He’s a sweetheart and he’s kind, so I don’t think he’s doing these things to get my goat, as it were. I think he’s genuinely invested in the same system that keeps him down. And it reminds me of Catholic school, of parts of my small town, of the world I fought with tooth and nail every day until the current #postgeographic enchanted bubble.

Anytime he mentions someone who does computer work, the masculine pronoun is used. Anyone who is naive in the ways of computers has a feminine pronoun. Anyone who is on a network without explicit permission is a “bad guy”, without any discussion of MAYBE the SYSTEM is the fucked up part. That playing in your environment is maybe a good thing. And when talking about protocols and using the understandable metaphor of different languages and a translator, he then makes it awful by saying English is a Good Guy language and NOT English is Bad Guy language. And then, I shit you not, explaining that people that don’t speak the Good Guy language were going to take down the network. Maybe that network was a military network. And a few minutes later making a reference to 9/11 and to be wary of leaving paperwork on desks because maybe someone on the cleaning crew wasn’t actually on the cleaning crew.

I had asked him one-on-one, while others were at break, to please not refer to EVERYONE who explores a system as a Bad Guy. He told me anyone who entered a system who wasn’t permitted WAS a Bad Guy. I told him we would just have to disagree, then. He slowly explained his point again. I told him I understood but disagreed. He explained again, nearly with the exact same wording, but more slowly. I gritted my teeth and sat down.
I finally snapped today. He said that people now get locked out of their work environments immediately when giving their 2-week notice instead of having a good-bye party BECAUSE OF THE INFORMATION AGE, not because their boss didn’t trust them. I said, no, it’s because their boss doesn’t trust them. It’s standard these days, he said. That doesn’t make it right, I said. We went back and forth for a bit. It escalated. I explained that his blanket statements, including this one, were not true and not ok. A classmate added in gender and assumptions of competence. He got defensive, saying it’s “just the way it’s done. You’ll hear this everywhere.”

Which leads us to this diatribe. THAT IS NEVER AN OK ANSWER. That is part of what leads a race to the fucking bottom. “Oh, I’ll just go along with the flow without thinking about it” is, in my eyes, every goddamn thing that is wrong in the world. We are culture. We create the things we use. We create the systems we exist in. And not taking an active role in that allows crap solutions to continue existing.

This whole experience has just been a manifestation of everything I see as being wrong with the “real” world. Teaching to the test. Ambivalence allowing bigotry to seep into the everyday language of people. Stereotyping because it’s easier than exploring nuance. And always, always, the resounding silence of people who haven’t learned yet to speak up for what they believe in. Or worse yet, haven’t yet discovered that they CAN believe in something. I’m not upset with the instructor, or the program. I’m upset with the system in which they can exist, are necessary, can thrive. So I walked out of class to vindictively ace my Net+ cert. For my next trick, I’ll do the same for Security+. And then roll my sleeves back up and keep trudging away at altering the education system through geek social responsibility and active citizenship.

5 thoughts on “Diatribe

  1. I don’t know if someone mentioned this to you, but I could have predicted your results at “CompTIA class covering A+ Net+ Security+.” Theres an understanding in most IT that people who show up with such certs probably aren’t the most creative. They probably look to authority of what to do. Then they start saying things like “best practices” like people who wrote the books are on this pedastal. Like if it comes from a company whitepaper it must be true.

  2. @Rhys Yes, some people warned me, but I didn’t think it would be *this bad*. Also, I’m stubborn.

    That said, I don’t think that’s an excuse. I expect more of people.

  3. Love the “That playing in your environment is maybe a good thing” statement. Neatly sums up how hacking is much more analogous to skateboarding than to terrorism.

  4. The vast majority of guys (not to be a dick, but I personally know no women who fit this description) who are deeply into computer science, maintain a rather autistic perspective. It’s binary, incapable of creativity, absolutely unpourous, and happy to dwell in dark rooms and cubicles alone to presume freedom to create anything as long as its with a pre-written language and only within a sandbox; the fruits of this sandbox need people like you to take their work out of the cube and give it real world applications. Maybe looking at your instructor with sympathy for his obvious developmental disability would make more sense? Your story reminds me of being gay in culinary school.

  5. The longer I spend in the working world, the less surprised I am by mediocrity.

    That’s the biggest thing I hear in your story–you’re describing the mediocrity of Anyplace, USA, and Joe T. Anybody, cert instructor.

    An old person who’s working a job that’s kind of crappy…you can imagine the vast stretches of not-very-much that he has seen. The vast quantities of not-particularly-interesting he has consumed, and filled his head with. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

    Your ideas are truly inspiring, and it’s fun to see them grow. We need people like you to bring a better standard to all the stiffs out there, too stuck in the mud to know wisdom when it argues with them in the middle of their classroom session.

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