A lot of “normal people” tend to have trouble understanding geeks. In companies around the world, IT departments are avoided, because the people there have such a different method of communication. Marketing and Sales departments, in particular, tend to see the geeks down in IT or Development departments as an alien race.
I will postulate that the problem isn’t that geeks are seen as alien. The problem is that they aren’t treated that way. The “normal people” think the best way to communicate is by following “normal people” rules. Instead, they should treat their interactions with geeks as they would first contact with an alien race. This alien race happens to be able to speak the same language, but underneath they draw from a completely different set of memories and experiences.
When approaching this alien race known as geeks, it is important that one not make wild, unpredictable movements or noises. This can cause hostility or wariness, and is not conducive to effective communication. When approaching, carefully observe the geek’s actions. If the geek is busy on a task, quietly move into peripheral vision, six to ten feet away if possible. This may not be possible in a common urban geek lair known as the cubicle. In this case, stand quietly on one side of the door and wait to be noticed.
If you are noticed, but not acknowledged, it is safe to say something at this point. Choose your words carefully. Safe things to say at this point include the following:
“When you have a moment…” There is no continuation to this incomplete sentence. This is interpreted as either the start or end of a sentence. Allow the geek to complete the sentence mentally if they wish, but do not complete it yourself. Anything you use to complete the sentence may cause this contact to go horribly wrong.
“I can wait.” This simply conveys that you value the geek’s time, and that you are willing to trade a bit of your own time unproductively waiting while the geek produces. Underlying this is an understanding that geeks, throughout history, are the ones who brought us the greatest improvements from the wheel to the Internet. Who knows what this geek will accomplish with the time you value?
“I have an emergency.” This says to the geek that something very horrible is going wrong, and that the specific geek skills needed to avert complete disaster are being requested. This can greatly reduce or eliminate the wait time while the geek finds a stopping point in their current activity. I should also note the importance that this only be used in real emergencies. Your reliability in judging what constitutes an emergency will be a major factor in whether you will eventually be accepted in heavily-populated geek communities.
Once you have been acknowledged by the geek, you may approach. Step closer, but no closer than three feet. A submissive posture is also important if you are in the geek’s home environment, so stooping to be closer to eye-level is a perfectly acceptable posture. In a cubicle-home, you may ask if you can sit in the second chair, if there is one.
Now it is time to present your gift. If this is your first interaction with this particular geek, you might use an opening line at this point before getting into the business you came for. An acceptable opening line is, “You’re exactly the person I need for this stuff.” This is a show of great respect. You are acknowledging the superior abilities of the geek in an as-yet-unnamed area. There is also a promise of a puzzle that needs to be solved. Perhaps, if the geek is very lucky, the puzzle will be a new one.
If this is not the first time meeting this particular geek, then your gift needs no wrapping. It is time to state your problem. State it clearly and concisely. Context is good, if relevant. If the explanation is complicated, then reduce it to simple bullet-points and give those first, fleshing them out with detail afterward. The geek needs a simple overall picture to be presented, followed by the details. Following your presentation comes the Q&A.
Expect questions. Don’t expect many questions, but do expect them to go into details that had never occurred to you. Answer honestly, even if you do not know. In some environments, the geek may be able to find your answers for you. If not, do not forget the questions. Write them down if you cannot immediately commit them to memory.
Some research time may be required. If there is quiet time during the research phase of this contact, then social small-talk is acceptable. Neutral subjects are best, though it may not always be possible to know what is neutral. Mentioning the weather may result in an analysis of the cumulonimbus cloud formations, and the likelihood of stormy weather further East in an hour. You want to avoid deeper subjects that might be distracting, sticking to subjects which require little thought. This allows the geek to keep the conversation within the automated portions of their mindspace. A non-automated response requires a shift in concentration. Like a car, concentration is much easier to stop than to get back up to speed.
Geeks have compartmentalized brains, you see. There are three major portions that matter. There is the main processing center, where active thought occurs. There is the background processing center, where great ideas go to work while the main processing center is in “play” mode. Third is the automation center. The automation center of the brain handles everything that doesn’t require much thought. Most “normal people” use quite a bit of the automation center’s capacity for social interactions. Social interactions a highly-complex application, and true success requires that most of it be automated. A geek uses the automation center of the brain for other things, and processes more advanced social behavior in the main processing center. It’s a trade-off, but a geek never loses his keys.
At the end of the research time comes the conclusion of the contact. You will receive your answer. The answer may be complete. It may be a set of options, each with its own tests that you can perform to determine which is true. It may be a request for more information.
If you need to get more information, then you should be able to prove that you understand what information you are gathering. Say, “I need to get for you,:” followed by a concise list of the questions you need to answer. The geek may clarify. Take notes. This is a test.
Similarly, if you are given a range of options, you should be prepared to repeat those options along with the test that accompanies each option. I hope you wrote all this down.
Got your answer? Great! Now for the closer. You must close with yet another acknowledgment of the geek’s superiority. “I don’t know where I’d be without you,” in this context is considered to be high praise. Do not be offended if the response seems derisive, but we all know the geek is correct in saying, “You’d be screwed.”
Given the proper preparation and understanding of geek society, it is possible for “normal people” to navigate. I hope that this lesson has been helpful.