Girish Venkatachalam is a UNIX hacker with more than a decade of
networking and crypto programming experience.
His hobbies include yoga,cycling, cooking and he runs his own
business. Details here:
There is a certain commonality to be found amongst geeks, nerds or hackers. I know people like to differentiate between these different
words but we are talking about really smart programmers and
technologists. It could also mean scientists, engineers or individuals
who can create great technology.
Basically individuals who convert knowledge and industry into something
of real palpable value to society are what we are interested in. People
with a lot of knowledge and those who teach in academic institutions are
also praiseworthy of course but we shall leave them aside for the
We are talking about people who do real work. People who convert
knowledge into something useful which a large section of humanity use
and benefit in day to day lives. Such people can be termed as geeks or
nerds or hackers. If you prefer some other term by all means use it. But
I am going to try to analyze some commonalities and key characteristics
that make them stand out and come out on top of others in technical
What makes a hacker?
Long ago, Eric Schmidt, the present CEO of Google, former CEO of Novell
Inc. wrote an article on geek attitude. I remember reading it in Novell
but I think it was published elsewhere also. He wrote a remarkably
insightful and interesting article and I am obviously taking a cue from
there and trying to go deeper in what defines hacker attitudes.
I read this article a very long time ago and I don't remember much but I
do remember certain highlights of his analysis. He was repeating mostly
one theme which he was painting throughout the article in various colors
and shades. He was talking about the commitment of geeks towards truth.
He was saying that geeks are very straight forward honest people.
Not only that; he was also saying that this often upset and irritated
other normal people because a geek when asked a question was always to
the point and curt. Sending two line e-mails and short messages to top
management may not be polite but a geek does not know this.
A geek always wants to save time and live a useful life. He does not
wish to waste time on unnecessary socializing and sugar coating in
communications. He/she when confronted with a question answers in the
most sincere fashion in few words. He does not have to use many words
because he is not lying or explaining. He is truthful and sometimes much
more than other people can imagine.
Obviously by now you would have guessed that I am trying to help you
with salient features of top class performers. People who can be as much
as 3 order of magnitude more efficient in programming that the rest of
your team members. If you are not of that type, then you may wish to
know how to identify such smart minds. If you can spot one such person
and create the right atmosphere for him/her, you can benefit immensely
provided you are good at converting his/her creation into business.
So we see that geeks have a predisposition with truth and honesty. They
feel that acquiring knowledge is nothing but seeking the truth and
consequently they do not wish to lie and torture and twist facts for
their benefit or for the benefit of others.
This attitude can sometimes be very hurtful for most people and in
certain times geeks suffer a lot due to lack of understanding on the
part of others. It is not any fundamental defect of geeks. It is just
the way the world works. That is all.
In the real world, everything does not work on honesty and straight
forwardness . Business is not done without sugar coating and we cannot
have a bare all candid attitude in most situations. Consequently geeks
find it hard to relate to real life. They are happy in their own world
with computers and engineering.
And I tell you, managing geeks is the real fun part. You don't have to
do anything. Just don't poke your nose. Keep away! Stay well away from
his influence and clearly tell him what you want. He will do the rest
for you. He will often do it in such a fashion that can surprise you.
And you may also wonder why he holds such impractical values. It is not
your concern actually. Just leave it. Let him go his own way.
Geeks have other likes and dislikes which also bear some analysis. But I
am not getting into all that. There are some distinguishing features in
them that you can very easily spot and benefit. I am only interested in
bringing that out in this article.
After all, in today's world geeks are the real rulers. It is just that
their importance is not readily apparent.
Got something to add? Send me email.
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© 2011-05-09 Girish Venkatachalam