Why Geeks are Freaks

We are different to other people. So very different.

And why is this? What is it that makes us different? And why is this dangerous?

The keynote speech at tech.ed this year was by a microsoft anthropologist named Anne Kirah and she highlighted a simple, yet major difference.

How do you respond to a technical problem? When something goes wrong... how do you react?

This is how normal people react:

"Stupid thing is broken! I don't need this! I've got important things I'm trying to achieve!"

This is how a geek reacts:

"Ah! A challenge! Lucky me! Forget all my other priorities! Let me dig a little deeper!"

Here's a snippet from Sam Gentile's blog, as a tiny example:

"Small problem installing RC of .NET FW 3 Windows SDK. Install program from root of directory will not run, even as Administrator, was able to go down to setup subdirectory and run SDKSetup.exe"

This is an example of a problem that is tiny to geeks like you and me. And yet it's an insurmountable obstacle to people who are not geeky: that is, to the majority of people.

Similarly: today at work I had a misbehaving laptop. It took me over an hour to work out that a particular service was responsible, and to find a way to disable this particular service (it was locked in a 'starting' state and wouldn't respond to any commands). Although the experience was frustrating, I also found it just a tiny bit thrilling, and I was quite happy once the problem was solved. A non-geek should've given up immediately.

Look at the way Scott Hanselman solved this seemingly insurmountable problem Rick Strahl had getting his laptop onto a projector:

"Fire up another machine and remote desktop into my machine then run the presentation over Remote Desktop. Link the two machines together with a network cable ... assign two local IP addresses... ...5 minutes later the two machines are connected and talking."

I don't expect my elderly aunt Agatha to engage in this kind of activity.

But why is this dangerous?

This is dangerous if your software is tested by geeks.

Geeks will overcome almost every problem, without ever telling you about it.

Geeks generally report bugs when something is impossible, not when it's just incredibly hard.

A product is boring from a geek's point of view when it simply fulfills a purpose. The same product might be thrilling to a non-geek, for exactly the same reason.

Down the scary end of this line of thinking: geeks will derive the most pleasure from flaky tools that behave only when you nurse them properly (e.g. beta software, hello web 2.0) and tools that let you dig much deeper (e.g. linux), while non-geeks derive the most frustration from such tools.

[note: i edited the above paragraph to remove an unintentional dissing of linux. linux ain't flaky as i originally described.]

I enjoyed that little revelation. Here's some articles mentioning Anne Kirah and her observations (can you believe she, like, doesn't have a blog??)


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