Leveling up from Nerd to Geek and Fast-Tracking Your Career

May 09, 2016
By Brett Birschbach,
VP, AEM Engineering

"So you're a geek?" stated the 75-year-old man sitting next to me on the plane. "Yes sir, I am!" I proudly responded. To be fair, I had always preferred the term "nerd," but geek seemed close enough. Little did I know how wrong my preference actually was…  Let me explain.

Dictionary.com defines the terms "nerd" and "geek" as follows:

  • nerd: an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit (e.g., computer nerd); a person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.
  • ​​​​​​geek: a digital-technology expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often used disparagingly by others).

We developers in the industry are a "special" breed. Many of us grew up preferring computers over people, Internet games over going out, IMs over phone calls. And when confronted by those on the other side of the social interaction scale with derogatory terms such as "nerd" or "geek," we actually wore them with pride! Eventually, even the dictionary had to acknowledge (at least for the term "geek") that the attacks against us had largely been ineffective in damaging our egos.

Nerds and geeks alike, we made it into an industry that was seemingly custom made for us. "You mean I can sit in my cubicle, put on my headphones, write code, and ignore the rest of the world, and you're going to pay me a reasonably high salary to do so?  Sign me up!" And into the pool we jumped, quickly learning things like Java, Ruby, PHP, JavaScript, jQuery, SQL, and even (for those of us less fortunate) PowerBuilder. With the basics behind us, we progressed further to become gurus of frameworks such as Drupal, Rails, AEM, Node.js, etc. There has never been a shortage of new things to learn, nor will there ever be.

As time has gone on, however, some of our technical skillsets and expertise seem to have progressed faster than we had hoped our careers would. Maybe we conquered and tamed the beast known as Drupal and yet at year-end, we received the standard 2-3% cost of living adjustment, a pat on the back, and an assignment to learn Rails next. Sure, learning Rails is going to be fun, but what can we do in the upcoming year to make some tangible progress from last year? Back to nerds vs. geeks.

Take another look at the definitions for nerd and geek shown above. The two are similar from a standpoint of excellence in technology. However, there is a very important difference when it comes to their connotation regarding ability to deal effectively with people. All nerds may be geeks, but geeks need not be nerds. Anyone can survive in our industry as a nerd, but to truly thrive, I challenge you to grow from nerd to geek.

As time has gone on, however, some of our technical skillsets and expertise seem to have progressed faster than we had hoped our careers would. Maybe we conquered and tamed the beast known as Drupal and yet at year-end, we received the standard 2-3% cost of living adjustment, a pat on the back, and an assignment to learn Rails next. Sure, learning Rails is going to be fun, but what can we do in the upcoming year to make some tangible progress from last year? Back to nerds vs. geeks.

Take another look at the definitions for nerd and geek shown above. The two are similar from a standpoint of excellence in technology. However, there is a very important difference when it comes to their connotation regarding ability to deal effectively with people. All nerds may be geeks, but geeks need not be nerds. Anyone can survive in our industry as a nerd, but to truly thrive, I challenge you to grow from nerd to geek.