Geeks vs. Non-Geeks

November 4th, 2004 by Steve Pavlina

I saw this posted in the Association of Shareware Professionals newsgroups today and couldn’t resist sharing: What really happens at an internet help desk

Although it’s a humorous video clip, it illustrates a pretty common societal frustration. It can sometimes be difficult for geeks and non-geeks to get along when it comes to computers. There’s such a huge lack of understanding by the typical non-geek as to how to perform tasks that we computer geeks would consider basic. To use a computer effectively still requires a fairly high degree of intelligence and skill, although I suppose that depends on how you define “effectively.”

I’ve been comfortable with computers since I was 10 years old (I’m 33 now), so it’s difficult for me to even understand what it must be like for people with low or average computer skills. How do they live? To not have the strong technical skills I’ve developed over the years… would be like losing one of my senses.

The great thing about technical skills is that they’re so versatile. Take this web site, for example. I whipped it up from scratch in a few days. To me it was easy, and many of my fellow geeks could do the same thing and also consider it easy. But think about all the technical skills that we just take for granted to make a fairly simple site like this. Registering a domain name. DNS. Configuring an Apache web server to host the new site. HTML. PHP. Making forms. MySQL. CSS. FTPing files. SSH. Finding, installing, and configuring the script for this blog. Search engine submissions. There’s no way a non-geek could even begin to attempt something like this on their own. They have to find a geek to do it for them. In some cases that can be cost-efficient even for a geek, but if you have the technical skills yourself, it’s often far faster just to do something yourself than to try to explain it someone else. But for a non-geek, they’re often stuck with a great deal of limitations on what they can do without having to pay more than it’s worth to them. This is probably why so many small business web sites are poorly maintained.

What would it be like for a geek to wake up one morning and suddenly lose all his/her technical skills? What kind of career might you pursue?

It’s interesting that as I transition towards writing and speaking as my primary career, I’m doing so in a very geeky fashion. While I’m speaking at least 1-2x per month locally to build up skill, I’m mainly focusing on adding new content to this web site and building an online info products business. First there will be lots of online articles (great for search engines and links). Then I plan to put up some downloadable audio content. Then maybe podcasting support. Lots of geeky features. But I think my technical skills give me an edge that other writers and speakers can’t easily take advantage of (unless they have lots of money). But even prominent speakers that do have lots of money to spend on their web sites will often hire someone that gives them an overanimated flash site or one that isn’t well optimized for search engines because virtually all the text is done as graphics (and no ALT tags to boot). It’s rare to find a non-geeky speaker that has a really well-done web site, and many of these sites aren’t updated, some listing speaking schedules from 2002 and earlier.

What it will be like to transition to working in a non-geeky profession while doing so in a geeky way? I’d be curious to hear from any fellow geeks who survived such a transition and if/how you used your technical skills creatively in your new career.


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