Beer & Tech Community Events

Disclaimer: I like beer. I read about beer. I make my own beer. I even go to a Benedictine Abbey once a month to brew beer with monks.

Chris shared Ryan Funduk's post describing the tech community's enthusiasm for alcohol that implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, excludes non-drinkers. Ryan makes a keen insight that deserves wider consideration - that the alcohol "fun gamut" attracts brogrammers.

Obviously, "brogrammers" aren't the only ones in our community who enjoy alcohol. Ryan correctly points out that drinking is widespread, yet "brogrammers" are, thankfully, a small though obnoxious minority. So we can ask bigger questions - What is it about alcohol that we like? What does it do to us? Then finally, how should we incorporate it into community events?

What is it about CH3CH2OH that we like?

Science!Alcohol directly affects the prefrontal cortex responsible for judgement and inhibition by prolonging the opening of chloride ion channels which floods post-synaptic cells with chloride ions so the cells cannot as readily respond to stimuli. Alcohol also inhibits dopamine breakdown which extends our dopamine system's pleasure sensations. Alcohol acts as a sedative on our entire central nervous system.[1]

Our brains need some R&R -  All of this can be especially relaxing for people (like developers?) who are constantly exercising their central nervous system; the prefrontal cortex is particularly believed to work on complex cognitive behavior like solving abstract problems. No wonder we like to give it a rest!

Alcohol is an identity microscope

True SelfAs we relax our prefrontal cortex, we also lose inhibitions and judgement.

A couple years ago I discussed this from a Christian perspective with my theology professors (over a couple pints of beer, of course!). Drinking alcohol ranges from religiously required (as in my Catholic tradition!) to socially taboo (in some mainline Evangelical traditions) to religiously forbidden (in Mormon and some fundamentalist traditions) among Christian worldviews. So, we covered lots of angles. I left with an opinion that as alcohol lowers our inhibitions, we can somewhat discover how much of our faith is just inhibitory religious codes, and how much we are actually allowing our "true selves" (as Thomas Merton calls it) to be transformed to the life of Jesus.

It's not just a religious thing. We all know "sloppy drunks", "mean drunks", "emotional drunks", "tired drunks", etc. But alcohol doesn't make us mean or angry or sexist or emotional - alcohol removes other inhibitions we pile on top of those parts of ourselves. So here's the point - if I make a sexist comment while intoxicated, I'm sexist. (For whatever definition of 'sexist' we use.) If I'm sexist, that's something I need to change, regardless of alcohol consumption.

We need to improve as a community in lots of ways, with or without alcohol.

Can we put alcohol on the same level as caffeine?

Since I'm only making my rough observations and opinions, I don't have any specific suggestions for how we should handle alcohol at tech community events. Ryan makes some good ones in his post, there's a decent little discussion going on in Mozilla's engagement-developers list, and Rob gives some good general advice.

I very much agree with Ryan and Rob. I'd like to see alcohol as one entertainment among many at technology events. It can be an aspect of any event, but shouldn't ever be the main aspect of any event. I personally will always go check out the craft and local beers available at any event. (I make a habit to try to visit a brewery and a cathedral anytime I travel.)

But what I really want at these events, and what happens the vast majority of the time, even the "party" events, is to mingle with others who are passionate about technology - no matter what drink they're holding.

Beer & Tech Community Events / groovecoder by groovecoder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
  1. So yeah – I spend lots of time thinking about beer. :)

  2. I like your very balanced point of view. From my European background, I tend to have a more relaxed and, compared to some, perhaps a more appreciative view towards sharing a glass of beer or wine in a social setting. I am happy to see that the tech sector, by and large, seems to have a similar point of view. That some people see the necessity to binge at every opportunity disappoints me, but I try to believe for most of us (you and me apparently included), it is indeed first and foremost about mingling with the passionate tech crowd, not about blindly raising blood alcohol levels.

    Fwiw, I like your idea of visiting a brewery and cathedral when traveling to new places. I’ll happily join you, should we find ourselves at the same event sometime :)

  3. Great post! I too enjoy beer or wine or hard liquor. Even with fellow geeks.

    The point isn’t so much about CH3CH2OH me thinks. It’s the culture of binge drinking and with that, it often comes hand-in-hand with having the geek get-togethers in loud bars.

    Back in London, the Python Dojo we would ALWAYS end the hack sessions “down the pub” but pubs close at 11pm and are rarely loud an makes it possible to have group discussions.

  4. I’m curious; perhaps many of these hardline drinkers are making up for a lost youth? When the jocks where boozing up, they were writing perl code.

  5. I, and lots of the folks in engagement-developers, agree that loud music is more distracting than alcohol.

    It’s worth repeating that the binge drinkers are a minority in our community – just a very annoying and obnoxious minority. :)

    Fred, if we go to Weihenstephan Abbey & Brewery in 2040 for their 1000 year anniversary, we could do both at the same time! :)

  6. I’m not technically in the tech community, but I am something of a geek, and have a high regard for a fine whiskey, beer, or wine. I appreciate alcohol’s ability to make one feel at ease and reduce stress.

    I abstained until I was 24, and in my conversion, I have discovered that it is a lot easier to make friends when both parties have taken the edge off and become more of themselves and less of what they think someone else expects of them. Studies also show that about two drinks per day will make you live longer than those who abstain.

  7. Luke -

    First of all, as a non-drinker, I would like to say that I disagree with people who talk about the exclusionary nature of drinking. I went to a seminary which spent so much time talking about things we do that were “exclusionary”, it left me thinking, “well, what can I do that isn’t in some way excluding others?” I tend to think that things like beer parties are actually *inclusionary*. Why? Because it brings people together. The fact that it doesn’t bring everyone together is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. Nothing includes everyone, but beer probably brings together more people than just about anything else. “Avoiding exclusion” usually means avoiding real community for the sake of a stilted, forced, inclusion, which usually creates a community that no one really wants to belong to.

    As for what people like about beer – I have no idea. Perhaps that’s because I’m a control freak, and am unwilling to let go. I can also be nuts without beer :) We have an open keg at our office, and it seems to work well. One of our junior engineers did a small productivity study about programming work with beer. He found out, if I remember correctly, that at two beers he was at maximum productivity, and at four beers his productivity fell through the floor.

    Anyway, at the end of the day, people are people. While we shouldn’t be explicitly mean and exclusionary, I think we need to let people be people and not worry so much about everyone’s feelings. People can take care of themselves. It’s good to bend on behalf of others, but that doesn’t mean we should live lives as contortionists.

  8. “at two beers he was at maximum productivity, and at four beers his productivity fell through the floor.”

    http://xkcd.com/323/ :)

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Beer & Tech Community Events / groovecoder by groovecoder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA