By Ollie Mercer December 7, 2018

How To Overcome Your Nerd Status as a Programmer

Stereotypes can be a damning thing to overcome, regardless of how old you are or what position you hold in life. Of course, as a programmer, this is probably something you know quite well. From the first moment people find out that you work with computers and coding, they instantly begin to form an opinion. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a flattering one.

This is because most people see programmers as nerds. So, while they do appreciate that you are intellectual, it also means that you get lumped in with adjectives such as socially awkward, boring, obsessive, unstylish, and maybe even weird. Now, it’s easy enough to say “sticks and stones,” but the truth is, to a certain extent, how others perceive you does matter. These opinions often determine the kinds of jobs you will get and even the kinds of relationships you form.

There is also the fact that most programmer stereotypes do spring from a kernel of truth—as this scientific study shows. Scientists delved into the personality traits that did and did not correlate with programmers to see if the “nerd” stereotype held up. What they discovered was that there is a correlation between intelligence and programming. In short, the smarter you are, the better a programmer you will be. Naturally, as with most things, intelligence comes with a cost. The same study also showed that programmers with higher intellect are more likely to be introverted as well.

As you can imagine, if you tend to prefer your own company or tinkering with various systems and code, it is quite likely that people will simply label you as a nerd. Interestingly enough, though, the study also proved that programmers don’t score above average when it comes to neurotic and disagreeable traits. This verifies that the programmer-nerd stereotype is often just that.

Obviously, you can’t print out this study and wave it in the faces of all the people you meet. Not only will this be rather strange, but it will serve to reinforce your nerd image. Well, for better or for worse, actions often speak louder than words. Therefore, if you want others to think of you in a new light, you need to reinvent yourself. Below, you will find the tips and tools you need to do just that.

Take Care of Your Health

You are probably wondering what this topic has to do with your nerd status. Let’s stop for a second and discuss what most people see programmers as doing. There is a good chance that many people imagine you spending your day in a dark room, hunched over your computer for around 16 hours a day, slurping coffee and eating Cheetos.

Some of these ideas may be false, but it is also quite possible that others may be right on the money. So, ask yourself just how healthy your eating habits are. And how much exercise do you get each day? Last but not least, what is your posture like as you work at your computer? If you don’t like the answers you come up with, then you need to make some serious changes.

When you take care of your health, you start looking better as well. You may begin to lose weight, your skin will clear up, and you will have a general glow of wellness around you. The good news is that it is actually quite easy to get hale and hearty; it just isn’t necessarily a whole lot of fun. With this in mind, let’s get started on what you will need to do:

Start Drinking More Water

Try to drink at least half a gallon of water each day. In case this sounds impossible, try to swap out some of your caffeinated or sugar-laden beverages for a glass of water. Your body will thank you later.

Improve Your Diet

The main step you need to take is to cut out foods that contain additives or preservatives, as these aren’t doing your health any favors. Slowly introduce more fresh vegetables and lean meats into your meals and try to add flavor with herbs, spices, and other healthy ingredients. Don’t worry if this isn’t something you can’t get on board with right away. The main thing is that you try.

You may also want to try cooking at home more, as it gives you greater control over what you add to your food. Thus, you’ll find it easier to go easy on salt, fats, and other ingredients that aren’t great for you. At the same time, you’ll also be able to ensure that you are consuming the right amounts of healthy foods on a daily basis.

Get More Exercise

What do heart disease, cancer, thrombosis, and vitamin D deficiency have in common? They are diseases that are more likely to affect programmers because they lead such sedentary lifestyles. If you don’t get a lot of exercise, this is something you need to change immediately. You should work out for at least 30 minutes a day, three to four times a week.

Certainly, this doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym and lift weights. However, you need to do some form of physical activity like yoga, hiking, swimming, running, or anything else you find appealing. If you want to seriously trim down or bulk up, though, going to the gym can really help, particularly with a personal trainer. There is no better way to ditch the nerd stereotype than getting ripped—this goes for female programmers as well.

Sit Up Straight

The final thing you need to work on is your posture. You need to stop all of that hunching right now. Keep your shoulders back and your spine straight. To make this a bit easier, try investing in ergonomic furniture, as it eases you into a healthier posture. At the same time, if you can manage it, try to work standing every so often.

We have already covered that non-programmers have a certain idea of what programmers and developers look like. Basically, they imagine that you resemble a potted plant that has been left in a basement for too long—pale and sickly. By taking charge of your health, though, you can change all of this.

Consequently, when people meet someone who has a glowing complexion, has actual muscle tone, and holds themselves well, they won’t think of you as a nerd. They will see you as someone who respects yourself enough to indulge in self-care. In turn, they will take a cue from you and will view you in a much better, non-nerdy light.

Develop a Sense of Style

Let’s take a moment to thank Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and every other badly dressed tech icon that ensured programmers would never be seen as stylish. Well, not in this decade, at least. Once again, though, there is some truth to this stereotyping. And again, it isn’t actually your fault.

The thing about programmer fashion is that it is like any other kind of style trend—people take their cues from those at the top. So, when Zuckerberg dawned as the new tech heir apparent, complete with hoodies, flip-flops, and a careless haircut, a craze was born. Every tech guy and girl, especially those in Silicon Valley, figured they needed to look like this if they wanted to get far. Then, the media got ahold of this and, well … the rest is history. Programmer chic has been cemented, and it isn’t pretty.

This brings us to how you can change this perception for both male and female programmers. It should come as no surprise that the first thing is to develop a sense of style. Since not everyone is fashion-conscious, this may be a bit difficult.

Let’s begin with the basics. The key thing to remember is that you don’t have to get rid of all those clothes that you love. You don’t even need to stop wearing them. However, if you are headed out into an environment where you will be meeting primarily non-programmers or non-developers, you will need to step up your style game.

The secret to being a well-dressed programmer, especially if you are over the age of 30, is cohesion. This means that you need to be careful about how you mix and match your clothes. Thus, when choosing clothes, it is important to predict how certain patterns, prints, and colors will go together. While you don’t need to match all the time, focus on complementing pieces rather than those that clash with one another.

Let’s talk about how you can put this into practice. The first thing to get out of the way is colors, as these can be quite tricky. If you really can’t seem to understand how colors look together, sticking with neutrals like black, white, gray, and navy blue is probably a good idea. These can be mixed and matched pretty easily and don’t really look out of place together. To spice things up a bit, add just one other color to your outfit in the form of a tie, a belt, a blazer, or shoes.

Then, there is the question of patterns. This is usually something that female programmers have to worry about a bit more, as there tend to be more style options in the women’s sections. The key here is to always keep your patterns pared down. So, while polka dots, stripes, florals, and even animal prints are certainly acceptable, remember to pair these with neutral accessories to avoid looking garish. If you’re wearing a pair of striped pants or a skirt with polka dots, for instance, balance it out with a neutral top.

Now, let’s talk about hair. There is no denying that getting a haircut at a trendy place can put a real dent in your wallet. Not to mention, it can be quite scary if you aren’t sure of what looks good on you. Still, it is best to head to a good salon that you can afford. Ask around for recommendations from stylish friends, colleagues, or family members.

Seriously, a great haircut can completely change the way you look and will certainly make a difference in how people approach you. This is because your haircut often reflects how much effort you’re willing to put into your appearance. So, if you get a haircut that suits you and looks modern, it will go a long way.

Finally, let’s tackle eyeglasses. And no, this isn’t stereotyping. It is estimated that six in 10 people wear glasses, so there’s a high probability that you fall into this demographic as well. As a programmer, you may have noticed that fellow programmers favor thick-rimmed glasses that have become a staple for many. If this suits you, then, you should definitely go ahead with it.

If it doesn’t, though, you’ll need to find a pair that fits well with the shape and size of your face. After all, your glasses will cover your face for most of the day, which means that it is the first thing people will notice about you. Thus, it really does pay to make sure that you select a flattering design.

OK, now you know how you should dress. Still, if fashion isn’t really your forte, the reason for bothering to make an effort may be eluding you. Let’s break it down so you can get a better idea of why dressing to impress is so important.

The most important thing to understand about humans is that for all of our technological advancements, we are still basic creatures. This is why most people rely on an outdated tactic of making snap decisions when meeting people. For instance, one study showed that people were able to make judgments about a person based solely on their shoes.

Perhaps what was even more disconcerting about this experiment was that a large number of participants actually made accurate conclusions. It is probably because of this that most of the individuals that you meet will continue to evaluate you in this manner. If you want to be seen as confident, sociable, and successful, you need to start dressing the part.

Interestingly enough, though, being stylish doesn’t just impact the impressions of the people that you meet. When you start dressing well, you may actually start seeing yourself in a more positive manner. There are multiple academic studies that all point to the same thing: When you make more of an effort with your clothes, you trigger a higher level of thinking.

As you can see, improving your style is a win-win situation. On the one hand, you will influence strangers to judge you and treat you better. At the same time, you will also bolster your own confidence.

Overcome Your Nerd Mindset

If people say something about you often, there is a good chance that you will start believing it, too. This means that if a lot of people call you a nerd, you’ll probably start acting like one. The result of this may be that over the years, you have become shy, quiet, and don’t really call attention to yourself. This is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, let’s talk a bit about how you can change this.

The first thing you should understand about this article is that it is about changing other people’s perception of you. This doesn’t mean that you have to change who you are as a person. And why not, you may ask? Well, when it comes down to it, there is nothing wrong with being a nerd. In fact, it is a pretty great thing to be.

When you think about some of the most famous nerds in the world, you automatically remember that these are the people who changed the world. They have made their mark in history with their nerdiness fully embraced. You, too, are making a discernible impact with every idea that you have and every line of code that you write.

See, nerd only becomes a bad thing when other people see it as such. There are some things that society simply sees as “bad” and, for one reason or another, some of these traits are attributed to nerds. This is why your goal shouldn’t be to stop being a nerd. Rather, you need to change others’ minds about what it means to be a nerd.

Yes, to a certain extent, doing so means approaching people in a different manner. This is why you should alter the way that you dress and look to fit the occasion. There is, however, one more step to make and this may be the most important one of them all. What you need to do now is to build up your confidence.

If owning your nerd status is step one, building up your confidence based on this newfound self-assurance is the next phase. See, it is your confidence in yourself that will make people sit up and notice you, and it is this composure that will let you get your foot in all the right doors.

If you are introverted, as some programmers tend to be, this can feel terrifying to even consider. This is why you should adopt the strategy of faking it until you make it. An evidence-based study showed that it is your approach to a situation that matters, not how good you are in social situations. Consequently, if you pretend that you are confident, people will usually take you at face value.

One way to do this is to improve the way that you start and hold conversations. Most people will make judgments about you based on very limited information and cues. So, make the most of your time with new individuals by keeping conversations light and interesting.

Since it is easy to become nervous in such situations, try to find ways to prep yourself ahead of time. For instance, you may be more comfortable with speaking to a stranger if you have a few topics planned out. Or, you can break the ice with a general joke. It is all about choosing a route where you will feel most in control of the circumstances.

The takeaway here is to project confidence, especially when meeting people for the first time. Stride up to them and firmly shake their hand, make appropriate eye contact, and hold yourself well. With time, people won’t be able to remember your old “nerdy” self and will start treating you as the person that you are today.

Same You, New Image: A Final Word

When you look at all of the advice and suggestions made in this article, it is only natural to feel overwhelmed. Making so many changes can feel scary or even like you are betraying who you are. Well, there’s no need to worry about this because that isn’t what all of these pointers are about. The entire purpose of this article is to show you how to put your best foot forward whenever you meet non-programmers.

For instance, have you ever felt slighted at a job interview or meeting because people didn’t take you seriously enough? Or, maybe you have always been reluctant to ask out a guy or girl who doesn’t fall within your immediate social group. Perhaps it is as simple as being tired of being the butt of everyone’s jokes.

If you are looking for a way to transform your life without actually altering who you are, then all of this information here will help you. With this guide, you will be able to look, dress, and act the part of someone who demands respect. So, in the future when people meet you, they will see the person that you want them to, not some stereotype that they have constructed in their heads.

On this final note, Padawans, you have been taught well. The only thing that is left for you to do is to embody these lessons and go ahead and conquer the world. You’ve got this.

About the author

    Ollie Mercer

    Ollie Mercer has always been passionate about tech, with a particular interest in programming. This has given him a great deal of insight into all aspects of the tech world and what it means to be a programmer. He now spends his time sharing his knowledge and research with those just like him.