Inside the Geek

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Continuing our series of articles on geeks (which began here and here) today we look further into the mind of the geek to understand what makes them tick.

Every discussion of human behavior requires simplification or generalization. Stereotypes can still be useful models. One such model is the geek. Many IT people fit the model, even if each one brings their own individual twist to it.

Behold the geek
It does not speak
Social skills it lacks
It attacks

It is particularly charmed
By a server farm
And when things abends
It mends

(With apologies to Ogden Nash)

So let us examine the stereotypical geek. How can we separate out the simplified model from the complexity of observed behaviors? To carve an elephant from marble, remove everything that is not-elephant. Put another way, there are two kinds of people: those who divide the human race into two kinds and those who don’t. So we look for some characteristics that distinguish the geek from the not-geek.

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Here are some models for categorizing people:

• People process technology: no question where geeks fit in this popular model.

• Masculine / feminine: there are a few female geeks, but there is something very male about geek: analytical not instinctual, logical not emotional.

• The Irish-based TAS Group use a system called TAS (Target Account Selling), which looks at what motivates people to make a decision. In an earlier ‘classic’ version of TAS, people fell into four groups, driven by relationships, business, technical, or money. Geeks fall neatly into the third category.

• The Disc Profile (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness) is a more fundamental parser of people, and geeks show up less clearly, but they do tend to cluster around “C”: strongly skewed toward introverted, less clearly so toward task-oriented.

• The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator suggests 16 possible profiles. Of the 16, geeks fit the following … oh forget it. MBTI is very useful when you can spend a day on it to build a team. For casual discussion like this it is over the top.

One characteristic of the geek is a low Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Whether it is a blindness or a naivety is debatable, but they cope badly with complex emotional situations: conflict, power struggles, divided loyalties, suffering. They will withdraw, and put up shields of cynicism, callousness or aggression.

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