characters / humor

How to Talk to a Geek

There’s always been something mystically cerebral about people in technical professions like engineering, science, and mathematics. They talk animatedly about plate tectonics, debate the structure of atoms, even smile at the mention of calculus. Popular lore says they can drop a pin through a straw without touching the sides. Which isn’t true, of course.

Here’s a short list of tips, taken from my own personal experience as a geek that will help you more authentically represent these big-brained Sheldon-look-alikes in your writing. If you’re writing a book with nerdy folks, these may help:

  • Techies are intrigued by problems so don’t mind spending hours on them. Know that going in.
  • When visiting, bring food. Techies often forget to eat, or ate everything in their snack stash and need more.
  • Distract them with an interesting problem. If yours is unique, even better.
  • Start the encounter with a discussion on Dr. Who, Minecraft, Big Bang Theory, or Game of Thrones. Find a clever tie-in to your topic.
  • Everyone I know thinks geeks and nerds are computer experts and gifted teachers. They in turn think trying to teach friends to tech is like solving the Riemann Hypothesis (many consider this darling of mathematical problems impossible). Don’t be either.
  • The minutes after the 100th crashed computer is what might be called a life-defining moment. If that just happened as you walked through your techie’s door, turn around and come back another time.
  • If s/he’s in the zone, leave the room; come back later.
  • While tech teachers can get your computer working, your printer spitting out paper, and you online despite ten error messages, there are days they need a dictionary to understand everyday English. Be gentle.
  • They can type and talk at the same time. Some even use two keyboards at once. Expect that.
  • Know the difference between the “happy-techie” face and the “go away” face. Act accordingly.
  • Their heads are like Matrix on steroids. Don’t try to understand them – unless, of course, you’re a geek too. Then, you’ll feel at home.
  • Techies do remember times when friends solved their own tech problems and appreciate it. So, try to fix your broken computer yourself (i.e., check the plugs and power buttons) before visiting.
  • You can’t scare them. They’re techies. Try kindness instead.
  • Avoid words such as “Meh”. These started geeky but are now so mainstreamed as to be boring. Geeks, nerds, and tech teachers hate being bored.

If you’re looking for bribes for the geeks in your life, here are affordable gifts that are more welcome than a collared shirt or lens wipes:

i love tech

  • snacks — chocolate, chips, pretzels, or anything eaten quickly and by hand. They’re allowed to eat at their keyboard because they know how to fix it.
  • a problem they’ve never seen before
  • something written in binary, hexadecimal, or Klingon
  • tickets to the Las Vegas Defcon, one of the world’s largest hacker conventions. You don’t even have to go with them.
  • a t-shirt that says “I paused my game to be here” or “Pavlov’s Cat”

If you don’t understand one of these gifts (like hexadecimal, DEFCON, or Pavlov’s Cat), don’t give it to them. Techies are curious and might ask you about it.

Other gifts to avoid would be any that revolve around the three P’s: 1) paper (like letter-writing paper or post-it notes), 2) pencils, or 3) plastic. Geeks have a higher-than-normal intolerance for anything that destroys the environment.

For a world before geeks were even a species, read my latest book, Against All Odds, set 850,000 years ago in a peaceful era before computers, websites, and bytes had invaded every part of our lives.

–published first on Chris the Storytelling Ape

More about being a geeky writer

6 Tips That Solve Half Your Tech Writing Problems

28 Ways to Describe Geeks

3 Books with Anthropomorphized Computers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction soon. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning


70 thoughts on “How to Talk to a Geek

  1. Pingback: What’s Trending on WordDreams | WordDreams...

  2. What a very useful pair of lists. I’ve read them, and am doing my best to retain the information – I may have to copy this out… on the back of an envelope, with a stub of pencil! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not a techie person, but understand that in today’s world it is wise to befriend someone who is techie. I like books with anthropomorphized computers and immediately think of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy. If it weren’t for him I might never have ventured into using a computer. He made it all seem so normal with his kvetching.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hilarious! My hubby and sons would probably fit this description, and they are such a joy to be around. I’d rather geek out over Star Wars and time travel theories than watch sports. 🙂
    Food is so important. One of our favorite you tube channels for geek-themed treats is Nerdie Nummies.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This gave me big smiles on a Wednesday morning after a big tropical storm last night that crashed our modem and took away our WiFi. If not for my techie husband, I wouldn’t be able to read your magnificent post. He’s a handsome engineer-geek who brags that he got an A in grad school chem engineering at MIT while I brag that my A in Shakespearean Lit in grad school is more impressive. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love it, Jacqui. My son is a techie and is employed by a cyber security company. I learned while he was still in university the difference between his go away face and his it’s ok to interrupt me face 🙂 He eats a lot at home, but apparently not so much at work.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love this post. Geeks are charming. I really enjoyed watching the Big Bang Theory; Sheldon is irresistible. 🙂 I don’t know whether my husband is a geek or not… He’s very intelligent and computer savvy (and doesn’t know how to write :-)), yet, in general he isn’t nerdy at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yeah, since reading more detail on Pavlov and the horrible thing he did to the animals, don’t think I’d wear that shirt. I’d fully go with Schroedingers cat though 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I love this post! I have one daughter, a professor at one of the world’s leading universities who types furiously why speaking to me on the phone. Many of the other observations -spot on. Brilliant. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hehee. Yeah, I do that too. It surprises people. They think I’m not listening but to me it’s natural. I had a friend who would type on two keyboards at once. Never got that but good grief he was fast.


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