September 02, 2011, 1:36 PM — Why are you such a geek?
I'm not trying to be pejorative, it's an honest question.
It occurred to me while I was trying to explain to a colleague that I hadn't answered his email promptly because I had been trying (again) to get my schedule, email and assignments organized using features built into the systems I use every day that are designed for exactly those purposes.
I try this several times per year, sometimes with the same old apps I've been using for years, sometimes with new apps, sometimes with "systems" that are defined sets of processes I have to go through myself rather than telling a computer to do, sometimes with marks on the wall and little pieces of paper stuck to things I can't avoid seeing.
In this case I had all the email I would consider Critical or Urgent routed into a folder named Things to Do Immediately.
That was pretty clear, I thought. I forgot for three days about the folder and the rule that would send my important mail there, of course. Once I remembered to look, I still thought the label was clear and the rule was flawless.
I was the weak link in that chain, and the one who got sprinkled with bits of fractured organization when it shattered.
Is geekery an effort at self-improvement?
That got me wondering if (some) people get into technology for some of the same supposed reason (some) people go into psychology or psychiatry: there's something broken about them they're hoping to fix after building some expertise on their own weaknesses.
As best I can tell from decades of being paid to observe people (and having too short an attention span to observe the things I'm supposed to write about and nothing else), people able to choose their own professions pick them based on what opportunities are available, directed by some combination of their own strengths, weaknesses and interests.
People who are good at logic, bad at math and interested in competition might go into law.
People who are good at math but bad at logic and psychology go into economics.
Classically, a geek should be good at math, bad at human interaction and interested in the mechanics of how things are accomplished – whether that means the working of an engine, a piece of software or the individual steps of a complex business process.
Actual geeks – technology or IT geeks, anyway – have a much wider range of things they're either good or bad at, but are consistently fascinated with how things work and what they can do to make them work better, worse or (among long-term IT veterans) how to make things work without users having to annoy IT about them all the time.