Don’t be a nerd!

by Jon «maddog» Hall, president of non-profit organisation Linux International and global GNU/Linux pioneer. The article is reproduced with consent of mr Hall as well as LPI director of communications, Scott Lamberton.

Recently I was talking to some investors about a new project where systems administrators would be their own sales force for IT services. The investors told me that it would never work, because “computer people are nerds” and do not have the social skills to be salespeople.

I was a little shocked at this, because I had just returned from a great event called “Campus Party”, where 6800 young people came together to interact with each other and show each other what they were working on. While it is true that many of them would “tweet” to the person sitting next to them, they also talked, hugged, laughed and shared food and drink together.

I believe the stereotype of the typical computer “nerd” came from years ago: white shirts, black horned-rim glasses and the pocket protector is the image that most people have. The person who never made friends, never had social skills and therefore found solace in the “friendship” of a machine. Unfortunately, like most stereotypes, even this person was the rarity….but in the population of thousands (or today millions) you are bound to find enough of that type of person to perpetuate the stereotype.

I do, at this point, wish to differentiate the term “nerd” from “geek”. To me a “geek” is someone who is intensely passionate about a particular thing. For the average person “geekiness” revolves around something technical, but for me a “geek” can be a “music geek”, “sports geek”, “math geek”, “history geek” or almost any type of person passionate about some topic. A geek, however, usually is normal in other ways. They have interest in dating, friends, family. They have social skills, which involves talking and laughing. They have a “look”, whether it be punk, classic, “comfortable”, or whatever. And often their geekiness in a particular topic overflows into other areas.

This is important to know, because if you are a nerd and you want to be an entrepreneur, you are in trouble. But if you are a geek and you want to be an entrepreneur, step right up!

I have long felt that it is easier to teach a technical geek how to be an entrepreneur than it is to teach an “entrepreneur geek” everything they need to know to be technical. The good news for both is that you do not have to become an expert in the other person’s realm, and you can rely on hiring some expertise to help you along the way.

As a true “computer geek”, trying to start your own business, there are things you might want to consider:

  • Practice your communications skills, both written and interpersonal
  • If you are doing business internationally, realize that customs and methods vary from country to country
  • Dress for success.  This does not always mean “three-piece suit, short-hair and shaved” but it does mean “clean and neat”.
  • Be professional.  Respect the other person’s time and ideas.
  • Realize that customers typically do not want “Free Software” or “Open Source”.  They want “solutions” which have a long life, are flexible, are vendor-neutral, and have all of the attributes that FOSS normally has.  But it is the solution that must be sold.

LPI believes in this philosophy, and its certifications are built around ensuring that its certified professionals have the tools needed to deliver these solutions.