There’s plenty of talk these days about the importance of coding in education. There’s also a good bit about the value of college vs. life experience, especially if you listen to Sir Richard Branson. There’s also plenty of entertaining reading on life hacking with simple pictures of people thinking out of the box with everyday objects. My inner nerd loves this. Aside from all of this, one of the best articles I’ve read recently is from Don Peppers. His article on LinkedIn is advice to the class of 2013 that says you can’t make a living just by solving problems. It’s insightful and takes my last post on mentoring another level up. I highly suggest you give it a read. There’s a constant theme in all of these is learning to stay ahead of the curve, gaining valuable life experiences, and expanding your network in a trustworthy fashion. In short: The world belongs to the geeks.
Somehow this all came to my head in those terms last week. I’ve always had an easy time picking up technology and tend to branch out. I may not always be an early adopter, but I do a very good job of leveraging capabilities and making things work. Recently, my old iPhone had started to die and I made a conscious decision to get an Android phone. This shocked a lot of my friends since I’ve built up a nice inventory of Apple products. I’d realized, however, that I’ve hedged my bets and have data and content spread between Apple, Amazon, Google, and cloud apps such as Evernote and Dropbox. I can access this WordPress blog from every platform I have access to. To me, this seems like a natural thing to do. I logged into my new Samsung Galaxy, activated it with my Google account, and had access to all my contacts, calendar, and mail. Then I activated the cloud apps and talked with some friends to get usage tips and my corporate information accessible. The real test, however, came when it simply would not get onto my home network. After my ISP’s tech support proved worthless, I went into the router’s admin pages and found a way to manually add the phone’s network ID and solved the problem.
Then it struck me: I’ve never had any training in any of this technology. I’ve got an engineering background and can attack problems but I’ve never taken a class on network admin. This is obviously deeper than setting up data services on a mobile device but even that is beyond a lot of people. I was left wondering how someone who hasn’t gained the knowledge I have via osmosis can make it today and in the future.
So in the Geek-Nerd-Dork diagram above, we’ve established a few things. I’m intelligent because I can gain knowledge and also leverage it practically. I’m also honestly a bit obsessive. I’m on vacation with my in-laws and just hooked up my Apple TV to stream some TED talks over a portable hotspot via my iPad. I’m fairly sure that qualifies as obsessive. I’m positively not a dork in normal situations.
In one of my earlier blog entries, I made the case that being smart enough isn’t good enough. The intelligence and obsession doesn’t really mean much if you can’t figure your way out of the social ineptitude bubble. You simply must be able to communicate well with others and become greater than you would on your own. Meshing with an extended team, friends, and associates is hugely important in leveraging your knowledge to your benefit. The nerd is That Guy who’s smart enough but somehow leaves you cold, annoyed, or imposed upon when you’re done with them. The geek is someone whose insights you want. When I started setting up my phone, I reached out to fellow geeks. I actually had one call me for help in setting up his new iPhone 5 he’d gotten the same day my Galaxy arrived.
Where Don Peppers’ point (and mine from the mentoring blog entry) comes in is that obsession is vital. Not obsession in solving the same problem over and over. Obsession in finding new ways to solve the next problem while the other guys are figuring out what you know today. If you stagnate, then your geekdom is at risk and you run the risk of being a nerd when you’re out of date. The future doesn’t just belong to the geek who can pull it all together, it belongs to the geek who can continue to find the next valuable trend to obsess over and bring it to the masses.