I'm a geek and like to talk about it

torstaina, helmikuuta 11, 2010

I recently read Philip Guo's "Geek behaviors present during conversations" and nearly popped a gasket at all the stereotypes I read as he stated how geeks could better interact with non-geeks.I looked over his academic credentials and they looked pretty solid but his work experience was a collection of internships and class projects. I feel like we need to flash forward by 10 or 15 years to set the record a little more straight on geek and non-geek behaviors.

The problem with the entire post is that he thinks just geeks have these social issues. The reality is that almost everyone has one or more of these same problems at some point in their lives. That's a big generalization too, but let's consider his major points in geek and non-geek roles.

Struggling with turn taking
Taking turns in conversations is not as easy as it sounds. Many factors combine to determine if talking really adds value to the conversation or is even wise to respond. Your boss may make an off-color joke that you find insulting. Do you laugh, comment that it is inappropriate or ignore it entirely and not respond? How about during a meeting when a very senior VP is talking, making glaring mistakes and not letting a word in edge-wise. Do you interject a comment, make suggestions or sit quietly? Does it really matter if you are a tech guy, a sales person or a senior marketing director? No, it doesn't because all the roles in a company, or in life, are depend upon the context of the conversation, the demeanor of the person and the issue being discussed. It may or may not be appropriate to make comments and we all have to have use our own best judgement, but it certainly isn't a quirk related to geeks.

Obsessing over correctness and completeness
Ever manage a product? Any product, like shampoo, a magazine, a small business? Ever talk with a lawyer about a contract or a patent? How about working with HR to properly document a new employee so payroll, facilities, equipment and training are all queued up for that person's first day? People who are truly great in their job tend to obsess over the details and talk about those details and ensure that the details are executed to completion. Again, geeks may deep dive on a technical process, but so do a lot of other people when it matters or when it doesn't. 

Preferring exact numerical responses
I worked with a tax preparer who was pretty sloppy and cost me money. That person wasn't very concerned with exact numbers and was happy to round off. I had a different tax accountant later who really dug into the numbers and did a great job. Bigger tax return and less likely to be audited and a better defense if an audit occurred. A company can deal with small decimals and in aggregation those values can have a huge impact. I'm always glad that someone is looking at the numbers that stretch 5 decimal places out, even in conversation when discussing dividends and interest.

Technical terms without checking for understanding
Good lord! Car salesmen, auto-mechanics, sports casters, lawyers, order entry people all have job specific (and sometimes company specific) terms that don't translate to the outside world at all. My home life has terms that don't translate to the rest of the world in an intuitive way. Using a set of terms everyday makes them a part of your life and a lot of people forget that their term is unique to their job and nobody else understands what they are talking about.

Focusing on the how rather than the what or why
Yeah, geeks like to dig in deep on how things work. Sort of like chefs, lawyers, judges, mechanics, doctors and a huge number of people that may have technical or specific interests. Ever sat around with a guy really into Dungeons and Dragons. They sometimes really go deep on their tangents. Also, some women can really talk for a long time on the impact of saying "Hi" to a person and whether it means something more than "hi."

Favoring complexity and detail over simplicity in descriptions
Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, software developers, electrical engineers, wedding planners, carpenters... blah blah blah. 

Rapidly enumerating long lists of items
I repeat: doctors, lawyers, mechanics, software developers, electrical engineers, wedding planners, carpenters... blah blah blah.I should add more though for this one. Soldiers, sports fans, comic book collectors, accountants, stock traders and um.... red carpet fashion critics.

Showing a lack of interest in outward appearances
Ever see a nurse go to the supermarket in her scrubs? Ever see that 16 to 25 year old wearing his "best" sports jersey and baseball cap on a first or second date with a girl/woman who got her hair cut, spent an hour working on her makeup, spent two hours obsessing over what to wear, looks gorgeous and they are eating at a fast food joint? Hmmm.... tell me more of how this is unique to geeks?

Evangelizing their favorite technologies
Ever talk to a tea party "member"? They like to bombard people with their political beliefs without ever realizing that you have mentally left the conversation. I picked on them because they are on an extreme, but all political conversations have potential to become a rant regardless of party. Nonetheless, they are a kind of political geek. Restaurants, over the counter headache remedies, directions to get from here to anywhere, personal illnesses and home theater equipment are all topics that can be beaten to death. I'm sure you can add a few more.

I wrote earlier that almost everyone has one or more of these "problems" (or even all of them at the same time)  through one's life. Some are just social ignorance that we live through and stop doing it as often (people will continue to dress inappropriately on first dates or special occasions throughout life, especially me).

The one thing that Philip left out though is that geeks have passion for some subjects. They can converse to a degree that some people may not find interesting. My wife, for example, cannot endure my discussions of Godzilla movies for even a few minutes. I don't blame her though. She doesn't blame me either. People with passion for anything are fun to be around, especially with others who share that passion too. We all seek out those who can geek out with us on some conversation's subject regardless of the topic. We need that kinship with other geeks to validate our passions and to deepen our knowledge. We also need to know when to stop. Like right now is long enough to talk about all this.

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