Ok, I admit it, I am a nerd. But I am not as much of a nerd as I thought. Apparently I am only a mid-level nerd!
Understand your nerd’s relation to the computer. It’s clichéd, but a nerd is defined by his computer, and you need to understand why.
First, a majority of the folks on the planet either have no idea how a computer works or they look at it and think “it’s magic”. Nerds know how a computer works. They intimately know how a computer works. When you ask a nerd, “When I click this, it takes awhile for the thing to show up. Do you know what’s wrong?” they know what’s wrong. A nerd has a mental model of the hardware and the software in his head. While the rest of the world sees magic, your nerd knows how the magic works, he knows the magic is a long series of ones and zeros moving across your screen with impressive speed, and he knows how to make those bits move faster.
This is a big one for me. I just bought a 24 inch monitor so I can have more screen real estate. My mother phones me regularly for help with her computer and wanting me to remote in and fix it. She brags to her friends that I can fix anything on the computer and then they call me. I have often said that I have an intimate relationship with computers. I just ‘get them.’ I can walk people through things without even being in front of the computer. I have no idea how many computers I have picked out for other people and/or put together the specs. And yes, I know why things don’t run as fast as they should and can generally fix them.
Then there are those pesky control issues which I did not know are attributed to my new confirmed ‘nerd’ status:
These control issues mean your nerd is sensitive to drastic changes in his environment. Think travel. Think job changes. These types of system-redefining events force your nerd to recognize that the world is not always or entirely a knowable place, and until he reconstructs this illusion, he’s going to be frustrated and he’s going to act erratically. I develop an incredibly short fuse during system-redefining events and I’m much more likely to lose it over something trivial and stupid. This is one of the reasons that…
This is so completely and utterly true of me. If anything changes in my evironment or routine I hate it. I obsess about what kinds of things could change and then come up with a plan in case it happens. I am even disturbed by someone else being up in the morning the same time as me if that is not part of my routine. I can’t stand it if I can’t do everything in the same order and same way every day. This makes things like travelling especially stressful. Then of course there is the fact that I would have to be away from my computer for an extended amount of time. But I guess that is what the laptop is for!
Then there is what the author refers to as The Cave. Well, I don’t have a Cave, I have an office. I still remember when we got separate offices. Now I could keep mine the way I like it. The following anecdote from the article is true:
Each object in the Cave has a particular place and purpose. Even the clutter is well designed. Don’t believe me? Grab that seemingly discarded Mac Mini which has been sitting on the floor for two months and hide it. You’ll have 10 minutes before he’ll come stomping out of the Cave — “Where’s the Mac?”
In the past, Deb has come in and tidied my office. I have always noticed when things have been moved or thrown away. At work my desk has stacks of paper. Each pile has a purpose and I know what is there. I can usually find anything I need very quickly. My office is one of my favourite places in the house afterall it houses my computer.
There are some other criteria for nerdiness in the article that I meet although not as strongly as the ones above. The one about projects is quite funny:
The joy your nerd finds in his project is one of problem solving and discovery. As each part of the project is completed, your nerd receives an adrenaline rush that we’re going to call The High. Every profession has this — the moment when you’ve moved significantly closer to done. In many jobs, it’s easy to discern when progress is being made: “Look, now we have a door”. But in nerds’ bit-based work, progress is measured mentally and invisibly in code, algorithms, efficiency, and small mental victories that don’t exist in a world of atoms.
This is so me! When I am working on a database it is always churning around in my head. I have been known, in the middle of a conversation with Deb, to announce that I just solved my database problem. Luckily she is very understanding and has never accused me of not listening because Nerds are really good at multi-tasking:
The ability to instantly context switch also comes from a life on the computer. Your nerd’s mental information model for the world is one contained within well-bounded tidy windows where the most important tool is one that allows your nerd to move swiftly from one window to the next. It’s irrelevant that there may be no relationship between these windows. Your nerd is used to making huge contextual leaps where he’s talking to a friend in one window, worrying about his 401k in another, and reading about World War II in yet another.
Sometimes I do get in trouble when we are talking about something and I abruptly switch the topic. To the casual (read: non-nerd observer) it seems like I am being a jerk and just changing the subject to something that suits me. But this is not the case. It is more like a cascading effect subject A leads to B and then to C etc. We could be talking about one the dogs not feeling well and that makes me think about the yard which then makes me think about the truck which then makes me think about insurance and I am now reminding Deb that her insurance is coming due. It all makes sense in my head.
It is nice to finally have a diagnosis. Here we thought I was obsessive-compulsive. Turns out it is much more benign: I am a nerd.