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Turbans and Turbo Pascal – Is he a Programmer or a Terrorist?

Posted in Programming and Software Development, Technology by engtech on October 17, 2006

Family holidays are always fun. Break bread, drink wine and exchange ideas with people of different ideological beliefs where the only common thread is shared blood. It was Turkey Day in Canada not too long ago, and I saw my sister from out of town. She lives alone except for a room she sublets in her house. She is vexed because she thinks her tenant might be building a bomb.

I kid you not.

This is her shortlist of how to identify someone as a possible mole for Al Qaeda.

(After I heard the beginning of her ridiculous list of reasons I had to Google search him to find out more.)

  • He doesn’t have girls over.
  • He spends all his time on the computer.
  • He has more than three computers to himself.
  • He has a lot of electronics spread around his living area.
  • He can’t meet his friends when they call him at noon because he’d been up until 6am the night before. [1]
  • He works for the IT department of a local school.
  • He has posted on the JoelOnSoftware message boards.
  • He excelled at university courses and non-team sports like track-and-field.
  • He has participated in websites devoted to Agile programming.
  • He has developed .NET applications.
  • He is of indeterminate ethnic background with a “white-sounding” name.
  • He is a second or third generation Canadian with no accent.

Therefore, he is a terrorist. Or a crazy Unabomber, detached from reality.

I’m a bit of a weirdo. I try to avoid mainstream media at all costs. I’ve “dropped out” from the cold blue glow of network TV because they perpetuate mistaken beliefs like those of my sister. She’s a bright person with a Masters degree from a good university, yet still she had these unfounded suspicions of someone who shares her roof — even though she’s part of a discriminated minority herself.

Mass media perpetuates a culture of fear where anyone could be the next Kimveer Gill, Mohammed Abdullah Azam, or member of the Trench Coat Mafia. Turbans and Turbo Pascal meet Mazes and Monsters (without the youthful charm of Tom Hanks). Interested in computers and electronics? Socially awkward? You could be dangerous.

My sister has fallen victim to stereotyping of the worst kind, when all that was needed to put her fears to rest was to ask her poor tenant if he ever plays World of Warcraft [2]. Geeks are too busy participating in holy wars over programming languages, operating systems, web browsers and text editors. They have no time for a proper jihad.

I apologize to the bomb building cellar dweller on her behalf, knowing from this description he may very well be one of my regular readers.

[1] He would have slept through 9/11.

[2] Online gaming saps the will to move the dishes away from the keyboard. Blowing up an institution? That would mean he’d have to leave the house!

In a similar vein, can you tell a Programming Language Inventor from a Serial Killer?

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