The High Tech Illuminati

I spent 3 years in the rag business (e.g. the garment industry) and 30 years in high tech (computers). I met many of the sales principles in both industries and observed that they are more alike than different. They are both Type A, aggressive, driven, well-dressed, egocentric, communicators who could sell anything from ladies’ sportswear to 32 bit computers. They are interchangeable. They never give up. I always remember the garment district salesman my boss and I were interviewing for a job with our firm. When we started to talk about training, he said: “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.  Just give me the samples and an order book. I’ll take it from there.” I admire them.

On the technology front, we meet a different side of the coin. The successful technology people tend to be super bright (“Bright off the scale!” said my friend, Harvard engineering Ph.D. Dr. Mike Schneider) but more introverted, occasionally drifting towards the anti-social, and casual in both appearance and attitude. If they can work together, the combination can be formidable. If they clash, they can pull the organization apart. The biggest perceived problem: The Techies resent the Sales Types making so much more money.

On the local level, we encounter Techies on 800 Help lines, sometimes in stores, and at the occasional social event. That reminds me of a story (what doesn’t?):

Back in the 1980’s, I was working for a high tech company where many of the Board members were Harvard graduates, and members of the Boston Establishment. We were having a meeting on the Harvard campus with attendance by some of the Harvard staff, and it was a great success. After we closed, I spent a little time roaming the campus. I  met a group of Harvard engineering seniors having coffee at a little campus shop. They smiled at my 3 piece suit, I smiled at their scruffy T-shirts and jeans, and we started a friendly conversation. It soon turned to the types of Techies one will meet in their workaday lives. They told me there were two emerging categories of Techies. I will re-tell it as close to the original as I can:

“There are basically two types of Techies: The Nerd and the Dork. Both can be highly qualified in their field and effective in their job, but there is a big difference in how you place them.

The Nerd is a friendly. He knows his stuff and is so excited about it that he wants to simplify and explain it to you so you can understand and join in the fun. Dealing with a Nerd can be an amusing, learning experience. You put him in a position dealing with the public.

“Then, there is the Dork. He too knows his stuff, but he wears his knowledge as a badge of honor that demands homage. To emphasize his superiority, he will use arcane technical terms, make things sound more complicated than they are, and perhaps, after solving your problem, say something offensive like: ‘That was so easy.’ Dorks can be difficult to deal with. Keep them in the Lab.”

I think, as the times change, the friendly Nerds are becoming known as the friendly Geeks (which I originally thought was offensive. In the old carnival world of early 20th Century America, a Geek was someone who’d bite the head off a chicken. Just sayin’…). We even have a company called “Geek Squad” that specializes in friendly Techies who will solve your problems over the phone, on-line, and even come to your house.

This is my contribution to someone’s work-in-progress Dictionary: Be sure to specify that both Nerds and Geeks are friendly. Put the Geek up front. Keep the Dork happy in the back room.


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