Thursday 14 March 2013

Nerd API

Yes I know, a human as an API is going to be a bit challenging and stretching a metaphor slightly. Bear with me.

In my life, I have had the pleasure of both spending a lot of time with geeks/nerds and also managing them (for the purposes of this post, I am going to refer as geeks, to save my weary fingertips). When I say pleasure, I really do mean pleasure as well. In fact, in my experience, managing those who aren't geeks is quite a lot harder. Perhaps the subject matter of the types of escalated problems I'd deal with not being geeky either, perhaps not. Who knows.

What I do know is that very often, in the same way that I tend to act as a tech interpreter for people who know nothing about something technical, I also tend to end up being a people interpreter as well.

So here's some more things. Things I've had to explain and things I've noticed. Things which wind me up and things which make me smile. 


Short, sharp and to the point is a geeks modus operandi. Ranting is never personal, and almost always never directed at the person on the end of the rant. This is usually because geeks tend to rant about big and complicated things and the controller of the big and complicated thing isn't accessible right now. And the right now is a thing here too - geeks tend to want to have a rant, get stuff off their chest and then forget about it. Until either you do the dumb thing you did to wind them up again, or the subject comes up in conversation again. 

If it's uncomfortable, note the subject, avoid it, and assure the person that you've listened and heard this one time. If you can, offer to do something about it. If you can't, mentioning you can't might help. At the very least it will reduce the likelihood of you getting an earful again. Someone else can have the ear bashing next time, you've done your time nodding your head like you have a clue.

Most of the time you won't have a clue. Unless it's your actual job to have a clue, don't worry. Just nod your head and if you want to try to engage, ask questions. Just bear in mind that if you do, you might be there a while...

Body language

I'm sorry what? Sometimes, some of us get it. Not all the time. Specially if it's really really subtle. Most of us have learned by pattern matching and most of us do quite well thank you very much by using this system but if you're an exception to general rules, and you know you are, do us a favour and if you're spending more than one interaction with us, tell us.

It might help with the excessive communication thing above. It might help with us knowing when we're okay to bother you and when we're not. 

An example of this is a discussion which is often had at GDS about headphones. My wearing headphones generally means it's okay to interrupt me but I'm working on something quite complicated and need to block out background noise so I don't make a mistake. Other people use headphones as a Do not disturb sign and will get very irritated with you if you ignore that signal that they think they're sending loud and clear. If unsure, GChat or DM someone first, and check how long it takes them to respond. If it's not urgent and you don't get a response in 5 minutes, leave them alone. Well alone.

Seating and comfort

Slouching. Shifting around a lot. Going and finding a different place to sit or sprawl or perch. These things are noticeable too. It's not cos people are not working. In actual fact, what it probably means is that once again, so much concentration is needed that that person has had to step out of their normal working environment and go somewhere else because something was blipping. 

Or it might mean that they just were't comfortable and needed a change of scenery. This may sound strange when most of the time geeks are doing little else but staring into screens. Don't be fooled. Staring off into space and closing eyes are two often used tactics to remove visual input stimulus for geeks in order to allow them to concentrate. It's also a memory recall technique. Good luck in working out which one of those the person you're watching is currently doing. It could be either or neither. Just leave them alone, generally, to get on with whatever it is they're doing.

Also, meeting space. The opposite of meeting space is alone space. Introverts need quiet. Open plan offices are many things (stimulating, encouraging sharing, encouraging looking sideways at what others are doing, laughter tends to spread) but quiet they are not. Sometimes it's simply a case of something getting on someones nerves or some deep thinking needing to happen and it just not being possible at a desk. You can't pace at a desk. You can't close your eyes and stare into space at a desk (well you can but check the looks you'll get when you sneakily open your eyes a little bit to see), you can't sprawl comfortably sat at a desk.

Sometimes something requires that much thought that removal from desk is necessary. Absence from desk does not indicate absence from work mindset, or indeed an absence of work being generated.


You're not going to get the jokes. If you pretend to get the jokes there will be strange looks because they're gonna know you didn't really get the joke. Spotted on a desk near me once upon a time, a copy of the Princes Bride. I was unsure if it was intended as a geek primer or not. I am uncomfortable with the idea if so, because it takes more than reading a book to understand the thing behind the Princes Bride which very much makes it a geek thing, but not necessarily an easily understood geek thing.


Nope, it's not obscure cos it's cool. I don't know for sure, but I think we're a wee bit more open minded about musical genres generally. And the crossing over from one to the other thereof. There's a reason Jaguar Skills and Last Knight are my two favourite DJ's ever. Cleverness > predictability every single time. Quality of music is a whole other thing, mind. I've spent more time in Richer Sounds over the years than any woman has any right to. Except of course if she's the one trialling headphones obsessively. Then she belongs there, obviously.

I could go on and on and on.


Some of these things apply to me. If you've not worked out which ones and you work with or have worked with me, I will be shocked. Not all of them do. Not all of them apply to all geeks all of the time, just some of the geeks some of the time.

But if just one sentence in here helps you understand your colleagues in your current job just a little bit better, I count that as a win. 

Oh and...cake. It's important.

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