Them dames is onto me…
Well, I suppose it’s possible I’m not the only one who has discovered the superior nature and infuriating disappointments of geek-kind. Dana had one. Then she got another one. She didn’t even change the name. 🙂 I have dated guys ranging from a Ph.D candidate whose specialty is British imperialist history in Africa to an IT Manager who wants to be a tycoon to a film student. All geeks (as was everyone in between).
Thanks to geeks, I have experienced things I might not otherwise have experienced, like anime and physics lectures and Australia. And tripe and heartbreak and the Catholic church. Whee! I have read glowing endorsements of why dating geeks is a superior relationship choice to the dating of any other kind of male. I have heard complaints about why geeks deserve the isolation of living in their moms’ basements. (I speak only of males here and throughout as I am not and have never dated a female geek.)
The endorsements are usually clueless and annoying, because they are inevitably written by women who don’t know what they’re talking about. A couple of dates with someone sporting “geek chic” is not dating geeks. Geeks are not a renovation project ripe for a makeover, and no, your relationship will not centre around how fucking grateful they are that you, with your hot and juicy double-X chromosomes, deigned to stop by. News flash: geeks have evolved.
Stereotypes originate somewhere, and that somewhere is in truth. However, stereotypes only grow on what is toxic, so you don’t end up with any such thing as a positive stereotype. Or at least, even rare stereotypically positive traits are always tied to negative ones.
The Corporate Geek
Once upon a time, in office buildings, hidden away at the end of a hall, or down in the basement, there existed the Sysadmin. And sure, among them were antisocial, crotchety, unkempt, badly dressed (black t-shirts, black jeans, old runners), chain-smoking, Coke-or-black-coffee-swilling, gibberish-speaking, magic-working geeks.
And sure, one can probably find a few still today, or hybrid geeks who embody some of these characteristics. However, as I’ve mentioned before at some length, the business world has changed, and so, by necessity, have most of the people who work in it.
The dot-com brought geeks to the cultural forefront. All of a sudden it was hip to be not hip and socially awkward and casually dressed and into subcultures and have a big brain and near-robotic work ethic. Why? Because all of a sudden these folks (who were well-paid if not obscenely so before) were freakin’ rich. And were making other people rich. And on top of it they were changing the world as we know it. (Bill Gates has been the world’s richest person by a comfortable margin for over a decade, and he ain’t an oil tycoon.) And that is a helluva way to make yourself acceptable. Fashionable, even.
And so now, geeks have visibility. It’s funny to see them analyzed as part of our culture and to see what they’re “traditionally” into becoming more mainstream. The brands they favour. The tools and toys they use. The technology they explore. The games they play. After all, geeks tend to be about bleeding edge and underground and cool factor, and the toys they like tend to be expensive. Money to be made there. Influence to be spread.
In a business setting, geeks are found both as part of the corporate structure, and within the hierarchy. Foot soldiers and officers. Tech support and code monkeys. Team leaders and CTOs. There are geeks who possess both technical and business skills, but such people are rare (and, inevitably, successful). I know three. One is a woman. I hold them in the highest esteem and I pay damned close attention to them. Such people branch out from straight geek roles, since they are creative and inquisitive and they are also capable of collaborating with, liaising with, and managing people.
Of course, geek roles are not immune to the usually unwise corporate attitude of “X is good at his job. We need a person to fill Y role, which is a step up from what X is doing. X seems to get along fine with his team, so we’ll move him up into Y role and make him their manager.” (Or worse, put him in charge of something else entirely.)
Riiiight. Because taking an often introverted, somewhat antisocial person who just wants to cut code or play with technology or build the latest and greatest or be the network’s demon mechanic couldn’t possibly not be suited to managing others, or working with other departments, or toeing the executive line, or communicating with the less tech savvy.
In a situation like that, if you’re lucky you’ll end up with a geek manager whose team runs like a well-oiled machine. The geek manager’s reports will understand what and how the geek manager communicates, they will have a system for getting things done, and personalities, being similar, or at least symbiotic, will gel.
If you’re not lucky you will end up with tanking productivity and a lot of miserable people. What you’ll probably end up with is something in the middle, where the geek’s team works well and keeps the company’s functions generally on track, and emergencies expediently dealt with, but the rest of the company would rather perform a self-tonsillectomy with a chainsaw than deal with the geek manager, because he/she is a nightmare to the average joe or jane who just wants to do his/her job.
Abruptness or outright disdain, attitude, miscommunication or no communication, not following orders closely, and generally Does Not Play Well With Others. Companies that are smart have people like me and my current boss – those who can understand and gel with the geeks, then turn around and play nicely with The Business and figure out what they want or how to tell them what they can’t have. Geeks are insulated from having to deal with suits, The Business is saved the frustration of being forced to deal with people they know hate them. Productivity soars. And there is much rejoicing. Or something.
This enmity is because geeks and your average suit in the corporate world do not think the same, work the same, communicate the same, or value the same things. Ironically, if you consider the two ends of the corporate spectrum to be Geeks and Sales, the corporate spectrum would not be a straight line. It would be more like a horseshoe — the ends are not that far apart, actually, but there is an insurmountable gap between them that makes the two types mortal enemies.
No, really, there are similarities. There is a considerable level of professional confidence, which can also be tied to a degree of arrogance. A Masters of the Universe attitude towards their domains (which is to say, their respective areas of the business). There is pride of place in being the best. There is a deftness at manipulation — sales people of other people, geeks of machines and software — though also of people if we’re talking the geek manager who also has business skills.
There is high intelligence and a quickness of thought and analytical ability. Yes, being a successful sales person requires considerable intelligence. They are long-time students of human nature and learn to read people very well and know how to respond to any given situation. It’s easy, however, to write off people who are very much coin-operated. There is a high value on elegance, though the definitions of the word in their respective spheres are very different. Both types also tend to share the kinds of characteristics one finds in kids subjected regularly to the abuses of schoolyard bullies, but we’ll get to that.
Now, among geeks there are two kinds. I will use the term foot soldiers again to describe the one variety. They do the grunt work — keeping the PCs and phones and network running, writing and testing code, performing bug fixes, engineering things, creating the tangible out of other people’s ideas.
However, in this instance foot soldiers can also be managers, because the term is a personality description, not a job description. These are geeks that are happy to come to work, do their jobs, take their orders, and run with them. They don’t care how most of the rest of the business runs, and they like money and cool toys, but they’re not wildly ambitious with an eye on the CEO’s chair. (Especially since more promotion generally means more contact with the non-geek types.)
However, being content to lead does not mean that geeks simply accept any old authority that’s placed over them. In geekdom, authority is a meritocracy. Your title means fuck all if you don’t know your shit or deserve respect, whether you’re a dev project team lead or the President. If you know your shit, even if you’re the janitor, you’re in.
Then there are the Alpha Geeks. These geeks are not satisfied to follow someone else’s orders or interpret other people’s ideas all day long. These people need to build, to create, and to direct that building. These are the geeks who found companies, invent world-changing products, revolutionize how we live and work, and who are the conductors, teachers, and managers of the foot soldiers who bring their dreams to life. (It is pretty common for women to be drawn to power, and for women who like geeks, these are Kryptonite. Which colour? All of them.)
These people are brilliant, confident, ambitious, and driven. They’re highly competitive because there is immense value in being the best, and even more in being acknowleged as being the best. They have no patience for colouring within the lines and they don’t just see things they know they could do better. They then go out and do better.
Now, it’s more likely that these kinds of geeks will be possessed of multiple skill sets (I don’t just mean technically, but also tech and business, for example.) But not always. And the directness of the geek personality combined with the Alpha’s confidence in his/her abilities and drive to build and change and be the best can manifest as arrogance. (Although fortunately, the world is not only filled with Larry Ellisons…)
A good part of the problem in the whole RIM/NTP debacle was that Alpha Geeks ended up at loggerheads with lawyers (who are suits who were claiming to represent other Alpha Geeks). An Alpha Geek will be an enfant terrible. Don’t think they can be “harnessed” to build your vision exactly as you want it. Alpha Geeks will, however, build the vision better than anyone else.
Now, as I said, Alpha Geeks possess powerful attractive factors. Brilliance, confidence, success, power. Same things that are attractive about many successful people. But make no mistake, Alpha Geeks are not the same as tycoons in suits. You can’t get to them the same way as you’d get to your average executive. They’re still geeks. And geeks are different from your average guy. This is both a blessing and a curse.
The Interpersonal Geek
Geeks are smart people. (Have you ever met a truly stupid one?) And they value intelligence greatly. Geeks will keep you firmly shut out if you don’t appear to even remotely get it, whatever “it” happens to be at the time, whether business or leisure.
As I mentioned before, there’s this deluded idea about geeks and gratitude, that just being a woman and paying attention to one is enough. Not by a long shot. Geeks appreciate hotness as much as the next person, but if you’re a bimbo with big tits, expect your shelf life to be limited. Geeks have short attention spans and little patience a lot of the time. When you cease to be new and stimulating and your tapioca-level intellect starts to become an annoyance? Buh-bye.
What, you don’t think geeks would be that calculating? Calculating is what geeks do. All day, every day. And they’re not suckers. Besides, I have yet to fail to be surprised at geeks’ definitions of hotness. It’s often not what you’d expect. (That said, ain’t nobody gonna kick Angelina Jolie outta bed for eating crackers…)
Geeks tend to be the kids who were picked on and bullied as kids (for some, elder siblings provided some degree of saving grace). They stuck out. They were smarter and nerdier and didn’t necessarily care about playing physical games with a lot of other kids at recess. They didn’t necessarily care about what was fashionable or who liked whom. They didn’t respect the “culture”, and, in kid logic, that makes them ripe for punishment.
They also seem to be more likely to just take it, rather than fighting back. (Granted, if you’re set upon alone by a group of kids, there’s not much you can do.) As adults, though, geeks like these still bear evidence of how they grew up. People they dislike or who they see as fitting certain types, they really dislike. They tend to be shy and paranoid and have trust and self-esteem issues.
They can also be the ones developing more serious problems, turning the damage inward and becoming self-damaging, or, sometimes, outwards, and exhibiting sociopathic tendencies. If it is driven home to someone enough times that he or she is not part of The Group, then the person will start to believe it and view The Group as not only different, but alien and something to be eradicated.
As a result of victimization, geeks will have a vicious intolerance for bullying of any kind, of abuse of power, or of those perceived as weaker getting preyed upon. There is a bond among those who went through it, and there is a lingering streak of bitterness that surfaces from time to time. Fortunately, to paraphrase Gabe from Penny Arcade, once grown up, geeks run shit.
Given how geeks communicate, or don’t, they tend to be less likely to get help for these issues as well. They may become more prone to escaping problems into alternative environments (e.g. gaming addiction), or fulfill the dark loner stereotype. Combined with the kind of creativity, intelligence, and technical know-know geeks tend to have, bitter geeks can be kinda scary. But that, ladies and gents, is why the world has MacGyver. (Sexiest geek ever? There’s an argument to be made there…)
The geek sense of humour generally leans toward the viciously witty, the dark, and the sarcastic. Share that and you’re a good part of the way there. Of course, sharing the sense of humour also requires a degree of understanding. See above about “getting it”.
Geeks are also very passionate. They invented hyper-focus, and passion is an element of that. They love to discuss the things they’ve discovered, or that they’re into. Their capacity for in-depth detail is staggering. Whatever you do, don’t get a World of Warcraft gamer started talking. You’ll regret it, believe me… Fortunately, there is some balance to the hyper-focus in that when not in that mode, geeks tend to have pretty short attention spans.
Geek ability to hyper-focus and to immerse themselves in whatever they’re doing makes them amazing employees oftentimes, but it can be rough on relationships. Hyper-focusing on work or gaming or a new toy means no focus on you. Unless a geek wants to pay attention to you, he won’t. And you can’t make him. And if you don’t leave him alone he will get annoyed at you because you are preventing him from doing what makes him happy. And while it’s possible he might get that you’re unhappy, it won’t be important enough to tear him away from whatever else is taking precedence.
On a larger scale, this also applies to “catching” and keeping geeks. It may very well not be possible, simply because it’s not a priority for them. The stereotype of geeks never getting women didn’t entirely come about due to a lack of “game”. Partly it’s because they have other things to do.
Communicating with geeks is also different than with most people oftentimes. They value logic, rational thinking, data to back up what you’re saying, and examples that are specific. The engineering mindset. Spell it out. Anything else is a waste of their time and is at great risk of being disregarded, or at the least earning you an eye roll.
Stereotypically female modes of communication are likely to backfire. And by stereotypically I mean nagging, whining, emotional blackmail and the like. The catch-22 is, though, that when honest attempts are made and repeatedly fail (like trying to point out that it would be nice to spend some time together with him actually paying attention to you), you start to get desperate and it can be very easy to revert to precisely these behaviours… which make it even less likely that he’s going to listen. Fun!
However, when you do have a geek’s attention, it’s the best conversation in the world. They’re curious, they want to understand things, and they want other people to understand. A geek telling you about his day won’t just tell you it went okay. You will get scenarios and anecdotes and how he fixed a problem and why this new project manager sucks, etc. Don’t expect to be able to fully understand all of it (unless you’re a geek, too).
And if you are talking about something, geeks get involved in the conversation. They ask questions, they make sure they understand, they try to solve problems. (Of course, there’s always the classic male/female communication divide, wherein women often talk about problems just to get them off their chests, whereas men, hearing problems, automatically think that the airing of the problem to them means they’re supposed to try and help/solve/fix it.)
Don’t expect geeks to necessarily follow the subtle metaphor and unspoken comments in a conversation, though. If you say you hate a friend of yours, then there’s no reason to believe you don’t. Geeks are also direct. If you ask what they think, they will tell you, and yes, that does include, “Yes, you do look fat in that dress”.
If you ask a geek’s opinion and he doesn’t have an answer yet, chances are he won’t give you a reply. However, he may come back days later and answer the question. (I was once told my new haircut did look good – nearly a week after I asked what he thought and demanded he say I look awesome, which he dutifully said, but didn’t mean at the time.) They will say things that are honest and valid at exactly the wrong time, because shouldn’t everyone always talk that way and not waste time or effort?
Now, conversing with geeks online is the notable exception to good geek conversation, because they tend to be very straightforward, because their sense of humour, if not taken as such, tends to come off as fairly offensive, and because they refuse to sully their words with a single character that would prevent even a moment’s miscommunication.
Oh, they’ll happily bitch that instant messaging clients and email need better ways to get one’s message across in full, sarcasm and wit and snark in tact, but they’d rather cut code on a Speak ‘n’ Spell for the rest of their lives than use a single smiley. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but those who are willing to use smileys were never the hardest ones to grok in the first place. 🙂
Geeks are very good at keeping their mouths shut. Sometimes at just the right time, sometimes at just the wrong time. Geeks will acknowledge and accept certain truths, even if they don’t understand them. So while you may get PMS and be grouchy and emotionally unstable, don’t necessarily expect chocolate and a geek to sit down and listen to a long, rambling, sob-ridden rant about your co-worker or… your car’s steering wheel.
Also do not expect them to even feign interest in things like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, or other prescribed “romantic” social constructs. If it don’t make sense to him, he ain’t gonna play. (That said: dear every male I know, my birthday is not April 12, May 12, or June 12. You all suck.) Geeks are also the least likely of men to talk if something’s bothering them. Because in the geek mind, a problem without a solution is unacceptable, and to acknowledge the problem before there’s a solution is like admitting failure. And the longer they go without a solution, the easier it becomes to avoid it and hide in work or videogames or just plain old not talking. Granted, when a geek has a eureka moment and figures out a solution, chances are you can’t shut him up for a while.
Further to the idea of straightforwardness, geeks often come off as antisocial or socially awkward. They’re often far more used to dealing with other geeks. And see above about not faking certain niceties. So don’t necessarily expect to drag your geek boyfriend along on some social outing where he will be required to sit all evening playing nice with a bunch of people he doesn’t know and who may not share his interests.
In fact, his reaction may come off more like that of a petulant child, both because he doesn’t want to be there, and because he doesn’t know what to do. Not everyone has that social “switch” that can be thrown to get you through uncharted social waters. Of course, in their defence, geeks may already be more likely to suffer from actual genetic differences that make them incapable of understanding social “norms” and playing well with others. Geek Syndrome, as it were…
There are geeks who embody the stereotype of having little contact with women, but they’re not really the norm. Granted, a good deal of the fear can be traced to not understanding women, which can be compounded by the fact that how women often talk and act is very different from what men in general, and geeks particularly, are used to.
Geeks being the straight up types that they are, they’re the least likely of males to worry about whether or not they have “game” (amen). This does not include the amusing subspecies of metrosexual geek. Granted, in my experience geeks are the least likely kinds of guys to cheat on you (though I’m smart enough not to date wankers in general, so my experience in that realm is negligible).
Really, if a geek is with you, it’s because he thinks you’re awesome (and probably somewhat geeky yourself), so he’s not going to have a need to go sniffing around elsewhere. And besides, as already noted, geeks have other shit to do. A geek won’t cheat on you with another woman, but he will cheat on you with software.
So there you have it. I’m sure as soon as I post this I’ll remember 19 other defining characteristics of the North American geek (sounds like a Who’s Who in Hinterland blurb, don’t it?). However, that’s the gist of it, based on a good 15 years of experience. And no, I’m not a raging chauvinist, even if some of my comments and examples would point that way. Just getting a point across.
Bottom line, whether you want to catch one of your own, are trying to figure out how to live with one, or are fed up that the one you have will never change, you’re in for a challenge. But if you know what you’re in for it’s the best kind.