What is a geek? What is a nerd? The debate between the two is never ending. While they both seem to have been used interchangeably for many years, there are distinct differences. In fact, many people that claim to be nerds or geeks take offense to being called the other. We really need to get down to business figuring out which is which, and who is who, or else we will struggle eternally with this unnecessary waging of war between the two forces. The worst part is that most people that claim to be neither a geek or a nerd don’t care about the difference until they realize that they actually are one of them.
The Geek Leader’s Handbook defines a “geek” as a slang word meaning “An expert or enthusiast in an analytical field such as computers or engineering. At one time considered an insult, it has become a badge of honor for technical people.” A simple Google search of “nerd definition” yields “a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious” or “a single-minded expert in a particular technical field.” There seems to be very different viewpoints as to what exactly a geek is and what a nerd is. By these definitions, a geek seems to be a respectable person, while calling someone a nerd sounds more like an insult. The problem is that people use both words as both terms of endearment and as insults. So, we need to get to the bottom of the debate. Who better to ask than a group of random celebrities? CNN certainly thought this was a good idea. CNN asked them what the difference between a nerd and a geek was, and they got several different answers. Unfortunately, even the geniuses of Hollywood couldn’t give us an answer that would satisfy the needs of the world to know the difference between geeks and nerds. Nobody even seems to know which one is a compliment. Fortunately, there are more scientific, black and white ways to look at this dichotomy: A few years ago, a software engineer decided to put to rest all of the debate, so he did some research into the Twitter habits of people that called themselves geeks and/or nerds, and he compiled this helpful chart (also included at the end of the post). According to data from the 2.6 million tweets that were researched, the Brennan Hurley definition of “geek” is “an enthusiast about something, usually technology related, but not always” and my definition of “nerd” is “someone who is intelligent and academically gifted in a certain area, usually in STEM subjects.” I think that may be a more helpful way to describe the two groups of people. A geek is just someone who is really into something, and a nerd is someone who is smart in a particular field.
So, because Managing Technical People is geared toward understanding geeks, I think that it is important to realize that geeks are more than just people that sit and program computers. Geeks, in their hearts, are enthusiasts. While many geeks proudly proclaim to be technology geeks, there are geeks all over the place. If “geek” just means enthusiast, then there are Star Craft geeks (see video below from The Office), football geeks, and Church geeks, all with the same amount of geek-ness. So therefore, websites that seem to scream “geek,” like Think Geek are just as geeky as NFL Shop.
I think that it is important to remember that regardless of what we’re in to, most of us are probably enthusiasts about something, whether that be Texas Hold ‘Em poker, clothes, or TV shows. Therefore, most of us are geeks in our own way. Also, if we’re intelligent in a certain area, whether that be in math or in welding, then we fall into the category of “nerd.” So before we go trying to insult someone for being a geek or a nerd, we need to realize that the connotation to those usually labeled as “non-geeks” or “non-nerds” is not always correct, and that many of us, if not most of us are geeks and nerds in our own way.