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n00b: the millennial’s point of view

What is a n00b?

Much like hacker, the word “n00b” has now been assimilated into a larger world, and its original, intended meaning has been sadly dissolved. But there are some people still alive who remember.

“n00b” comes—of course—from “newbie”, but it is decidedly not the same thing. n00b is a term standing very much in direct comparison against the l33t, creating thus a spectrum of perceived abilities.

“n00b” goes beyond merely insulting a person for its lack of experience in whatever area. “n00b” is a mark of one’s cognitive level, a comment not on one’s knowledge, but on meta knowledge, since knowing about one’s own ignorance is as important as knowing one’s own strengths in the technological sphere.

In order to better understand what a n00b really is, this author will resort to two examples from the stereotypical nerd’s life, where both n00bs and l33ts can be found.

n00b examples: Programming languages

When one first starts learning how to program, it almost always starts with very simple things, moving progressively more complex with every lesson. However, the hacker would say, the real lesson is in learning the logic inherent to programming. The actual language is merely accidental.

How, then, would one distinguish a n00b? The n00b can be seen engaging in the following:

  • Asking for specific solutions to his programming homework;
  • Asking what is wrong with my code without mentioning intended goal, plan of action, steps taken or even the console log;
  • Asking what is wrong with my code without a MWE for effective bug reproduction;

Moreover, the n00b will usually:

  • Get angry at people asking or suggesting to read the official documentation;
  • Get angry when people explain the problem without providing the answer;
  • Get defensive when asked to reason through the problem;
  • Get defensive when asked to interpret the log/console messages;

n00b examples: Video games

Video games are space traditionally filled with nerds, and so many n00b attitudes towards life itself can be understood in the context of adversarial games. Note that many of the examples below are thought in the context of a First-Person Shooter game, but are easily found in most other genres and IRL as well.

The n00b gamer:

  • Demands to know how something is done and/or which buttons to press;
  • Directly asks for the secret thing;
  • Directly asks what is the best $X;
  • Immediately floods the chat/channel with questions that have a simple yes/no answer;
  • Reacts to loss with ad hominem attacks or insults more often than not;
  • Tends to blame their teammates more often than not;
  • Looks for a high K/D ratio regardless of the objective;
  • Places “winning” as a higher priority than “having fun”;
  • Sees the Leaderboard as a series of “people” to “beat”;

In general

From the examples above we can see better what a n00b is by way of how he or she reacts to the world around them:

  • When facing a complex problem, the n00b sees only the end and nothing else;
  • When facing a complex problem, the n00b thinks only that there is one “best” and everything else is “worst”;
  • When facing a complex problem, the n00b considers not that reaching the goal might require compromises or tradeoffs of some kind;
  • When facing a complex problem, the n00b considers always that their knowledge is sufficient to reach the goal and never challenges that assumption;
  • When facing a complex problem, the n00b gets angry at the suggestion of missing (or having missed) the obvious and/or the simple;
  • When facing a complex problem, the n00b worries about abstract, easily mensurable things over complex, final, team-oriented goals;
  • When facing a hierarchy, the n00b worries about the topmost place and not the most efficient place for their abilities;
  • When facing a hierarchy, the n00b worries about being better than everyone else before being better than oneself/themselves;
  • When facing adversaries, the n00b worries only about “winning”, especially as it means everyone else “loses”;

So a n00b has less to do with one being an actual newbie and more about having a wrong beginner attitude, immediately being adversarial for the sake of winning and disregarding the opportunities—for learning, friendship, relaxing, et cetera—that being a beginner actually holds. A friendly space will always nurture a newbie towards improvement, and the n00b disregards these as signs of condescension towards them or—even worse—misplaced advice from malicious agents.

Mind you, I—as a somewhat seasoned nerd—don’t condone abuse of any kind, but I do encourage learning by doing and letting a newbie of any kind to learn for themselves as much as possible before giving out the answer. I believe in the hacker creed that mistakes and honest mistakes are some of the best teachers and breaking things to learn sometimes means breaking one’s own mind—figuratively, of course.

The n00b is directly in conflict with this view. There are no easy paths to learning and there is no “right” way to grow. But there are many wrong ways to go about improving oneself.


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