Tim Cook has taken over from Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Tim Cook’s appointment as head of Apple hangs the official "Gay people welcome!" sign above the tech-industry door – but the truth is that they have never been unwelcome here. They love us! Well, actually, they’re totally ambivalent to us. Because, in the geek world, the normal rules of society have never applied, for the simple reason that they don’t make sense.
Geeks love rules, particularly the kinds of programming geeks (such as me) that are taking over the world one line of code at a time. But we like the rules to be based on logic, or at least some sort of pragmatic interpretation of concrete outcomes based on real-world experiments (known in the non-geek world as common sense). There is no logical rule connecting sexuality to the ability to model the world as equations or untangle a sequence of user actions. Thus it is a non-factor. Noise. Safely ignored.
For many geeks this is largely how the world breaks down: things that matter and things that can be ignored. We have less interest than your classic non-geek in attributing value to non-correlated factors. The things that are important are really important. For me: prime numbers, correct use of statistics and apostrophes, the direction the content moves when you scroll, whether you always change batteries as a complete set, not verbing your nouns, and not making statements that are illogical or can’t be substantiated (ever). I care deeply about working with smart people who combine flexibility and creativity with rigorous thinking and attention to detail. I don’t care who they want to sleep with.
And yet my little company is three-for-three on the queer counter. One lesbian (me), one gay man and one asexual woman. It seems that gay men and women are over-represented in our industry in a way that can’t simply be down to not being rejected; we’re quietly, actively welcomed because the tech world is full of people who have first-hand experience of being socially excluded.
Some were too smart, some couldn’t grasp the social norms around conversation, but the majority of us spent our childhoods well outside the group. My wife is a psychotherapist and tells me that everybody has an experience of spending their childhood outside of the group, but when you’re an eight-year-old carrying a packet of cards with physics questions around in your pocket, believe me, this is a different kind of "outside".
Those who were lucky, like John who works with me, or Bill Gates himself, found like-minded folk who also wanted to roll dice or tinker with electronics. Most of us were a mix of bored, terrified and frustrated until we hit our stride in university or stumbled into the tech industry, where we met other people who were even more socially inept, and even more intellectually brilliant, than we were. Ridicule was replaced by collaboration.
It goes further than simple tolerance though. The tech industry folk I know are passionately against discrimination in any form. Perhaps out of painful experience, or maybe we’re still collectively smarting from the pointless loss of one of our most brilliant minds: Alan Turing. You can’t deny the human sadness of his story, but for those of us who value logic there’s an additional level of tragedy to the way our country treated the father of modern computing. We not only made his life unliveable – prosecuting him for being gay, pushing him to accept chemical castration as an alternative to prison – we also denied the world another 30 or 40 years of output of one of the greatest problem-solving minds in history. For being gay. That’s just dumb, and I’ve never met a tech person who wasn’t against dumb things.
It’s both brilliant and irrelevant that Tim Cook has replaced Steve Jobs at Apple. His appointment will trigger plenty of vicious debate among the tech community on Twitter, but the battle lines will be the usual ones: Apple Rock vs Apple Suck. Tim’s gay? Whatever. When’s he gonna fix the screwed-up scrolling in Lion?