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Monday, November 22, 2004
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Don't call them geeks

 

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Boyana Norris (left) and Masha Sosonkina

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Matthias Merz

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By Alyson Walls
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Matthias Merz, a researcher at the University of Mannheim in Germany, laughed and said he's familiar with the term.

"Germans also call it 'nerd'," he said. "But no one ever called me that. I have a lot of other interests. Computers are only one part of who I am."

Scanning his laptop before making a presentation at the SC2004 Supercomputing Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, Merz is one of hundreds of computer engineers and analysts from throughout the United States and the world descending upon the city this week.

The conference, which also landed in Pittsburgh in 1996, is a mecca for anyone who remembers toying with a Commodore 64, Apple IIE or Atari.


Although they don't quite qualify as metrosexual, today's techies have largely shed their "Revenge of the Nerds" persona.

When he's not busy monitoring the University of Pittsburgh's Super Computer, Joseph Lappa, a network engineer, enjoys blowing glass and biking at Ohiopyle State Park.

No, he isn't glued to the screen on off days, thank you.

"I try to avoid it," he joked.

OK, so they use words like clusterwall, interface and terabyte; we'll forgive them. Bill Gates isn't exactly a hunk, but he is the richest man in the world.

According to the Bureau or Labor Statistics, the median annual earnings of computer software engineers are about $70,900. For software publishers, earnings are $76,450 and for scientific research and development services, earnings jump to $82,270.

The conference, which ends Friday, is expected to draw thousands of participants from government, industry and research institutions in 45 states and 45 countries.

Sorry, guys. You're not likely to spot Sandra Bullock chasing down cyber terrorists. This assembly more closely resembles Matthew Broderick, a la "War Games."

Boyana Norris of Chicago and Masha Sosonkina of Iowa, were among the few women attending the conference.

The two software engineers were preparing to present a lecture on their latest research.

"I think there is a lot more encouragement for girls to get into this field," Norris said. "But I always had construction-type toys. I was always building things, so that must have made a difference."

Both women attended high schools which concentrated on math and science.

"I was in a high school of nerds, so it didn't matter," Norris said.

Sosonkina added, "I never minded. It was always cool to know more than the other students."

So ladies, instead of heading out to the same old smoky bars for happy hour this week, consider working it at the supercomputing conference.

Alyson Walls can be reached at awalls@tribweb.com or (412) 320-5638.

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