This week I'm in Orlando for a technical conference. I'm learning quite a bit, and had the fantastic opportunity to enhance the trip by taking a day of vacation and visiting the parks with the fam prior to the start of the conference. Now that it is in full swing, I feel a lot like I'm back at college. You've got all of the typical nerd/geek/dork archetypes here. If you have ever seen the reality TV show "Average Joe", then you'll understand when I say that the next time they need to do a casting call, they need go no further than a technical conference. I'm not trying to be cruel, or to suggest that I'm somehow better than the other attendees, it is just funny to be surrounded by folks that so typify the stereotypes of your occupation. First thing you'll notice is that the usually man-woman ratio has taken a drastic turn towards the male side. I'd wager that less than 10% of the conference attendees are women. The gender ratio may be very off-balance, but the nationality makeup has definitely become more diverse. I've met folks not just from across the US, but also from the former Soviet Union, Britain, and Germany, and overheard conversations in languages that I couldn't guess the origin of. The one unifying factor is that we are all hopelessly attached to our gadgets, and we all effect the IT stereotype to one degree or another.
There are several nerdy molds I've seen filled here at the show:
- Who Needs Hygiene
These are the guys who are so deep in though, who spend so many hours at their machine at night hacking away, that they completely forget about personal hygiene needs. They have a sort of Grizzly Adams meets Cousin It look. Hair is usually long and unkempt (although hopefully recently cleaned), beard has completely occupied the face territory. Pants are a couple of sizes to short as they were purchased by someone else as a gift years ago, and never took the time to get a correctly sized pair. Nothing matches, socks included. Trying to carry a conversation with these guys on anything but the topic they are currently embedded in is totally useless.
One drawback to working with computers, especially if you telecommute or otherwise work remotely, is that you run the risk of losing touch with humanity. This can lead to the loss (if ever developed firstly) of social skills, paritcularly the ability to speak in an audible tone. Several times folks in a lecture have wanted to make a point, but just haven't been able to find the courage to speak loudly or clearly enough to be understood. Also, the inner monologue is completely gone. Making backhanded comments at your keyboard never hurts anyone, but sometimes that habit can rear itself in the middle of a speech in a most unfortunate way. If no one laughs, the poor soul then ducks his head in shame and puddles into nervous twitches.
- Cocky Bastards
This is my least favorite type of nerd. When you get into a highly technical field, you are usually regarded among your non-technical peers as bright person. Smarter than your average bear. Unfortunately, some in the field take this as an opportunity to expound upon their brilliance to anyone in earshot, and continuously attempt to show how their intellect is superior to everyone else in the room. These are the rare nerds who are actually looking to talk to you. Actually, they are looking to talk at you. They really aren't concerned with what you have to say, they just want to be sure that you understand how miniscule your troubles are in comparison to the world saving cleverness they are about to implement into their next block of code.
- Goony Birds
This is my favorite kind of geek. A goony bird is someone who, at some stage in their life, endured a period of tremendous social awkwardness. Perhaps they had a physical feature that was different (not bad, just different), or were the straight A student without trying, or for some reason felt that they just weren't part of the "in-crowd". It's really hard to accurately describe the goony birds. They usually have some quirk, habit, or hobby that is a bit odd. Friends and family might describe them as "different", "interesting", "odd", or just plain "weird". The unifying feature of the goony birds is that they have developed a sort of humility without becoming a mumbler. They generally have up-beat, happy attitudes, and love to talk about whatever quirky thing it is that they are into, but can still relate to "normal" things.
I'm sure that there are other types of nerds, and there are probably finer breakdowns of the nerd species that I haven't enumerated here, but these are the stand-out stereotypes I've noticed on this trip. And I'll just go ahead and admit to belonging to all of these stereotypes in at least one period of my life. Growing up I would say I was probably a mumbler. Into college I turned into a Who Needs Hygiene guy. Somewhere along that timeframe I was also a cocky bastard, and I still have a little bit of that now (although I swear I'm continuously working on that). Now I consider myself primarily a goony bird. Sure, I've got my quirks, but I'm not so out there that I can't hold a normal conversation with someone outside the IT industry.
What kind of Nerd are you?