Getting along with other geeks

It’s so much fun to hang out with other geeks. (Yes, Marcelle, that
includes you. ;) )

Diane Gonzales asks: how do you find and hang out with other geeks?

It can be tough getting started, particularly when you feel everyone
else is geekier than you are. I’ve hung out with people with crazy
geek powers, like reciting more than a hundred digits of pi. (Weirdos!
;) ) I’ve met kernel tweakers and book authors, embedded programmers
and math wizards. Almost all the geeks I know are geekier than I am in
at least one thing. Then again, I totally freak them out with my
devotion to Emacs… <grin>

So, how do you start hanging out with other geeks?

Challenge geeks on their home turfs and you’ll get a lot of
information but very little connection. You can spend hours talking
about Linux or PHP, but that could degenerate into just talking _at_
each other in a one-upmanship contest of geekiness. Discussions of
computer history or programming languages are particularly bad things
to talk about, because it’s so tempting to try and establish a geek
pecking order. (“My other computer was a VAX.”) I get _so_ turned off
by intellectual snobbishness.

You’re better off introducing _non-geek_ interests and activities.
Geeks feel particularly well-understood when you talk to them about
how geekiness leaks over into other aspects of life. What’s the
geekiest thing you’ve ever done? Don’t give stale answers like staying
up until 5 hacking on a project. Everyone’s done that. Talk about
things that aren’t normally geeky. Explain something normal in a geeky
way. For example, just last night a couple of geeks and I were talking
about ballroom dancing, and I compared it to computer science… =)
Geek get-togethers are more enjoyable when you stop thinking you need
to know everything and you start thinking that you’re there to have
fun.

Clever wordplay, geeky observations, geeky jokes—that’s how you
loosen geeks up and get them to feel comfortable around you. Then it
becomes much easier to talk about technical stuff. (One of the coolest
things about having a geeky boyfriend is how conversations can go from
sappy to technical so easily—and how technical stuff can sound _sooo_
sweet…)

Diane: You’re also going to have to learn to deal with people who try
to hit on you. Geeks tend to not be very good at dealing with girls.
Once they find out you’re respectably geeky (that is, your eyes don’t
glaze over when they talk about operating systems, and you understand
their need to just hack), many of them will set their sights on you.
They’ll try to impress you with their l33t hacking skillz. They’ll try
to teach you something new or give you too much attention. Gently but
firmly steer the conversation away from their Linux-powered alarm
clock and back to whatever you want to talk about.

On the plus side, your attention can be a powerful thing. Learn how to
listen attentively so that you can make people feel listened to and
appreciated. Smile. Laugh at people’s jokes if they’re a bit funny.
Make eye contact, but don’t stare, and turn every now and then to
include someone else in the conversation. People’s attention will be
drawn to whoever you’re paying attention to, which is also good for
nudging conversations the way you want them. Read books on body
language to learn how to use your face and posture to show interest or
disinterest.

If there are post-event parties, go to them. If you’re new to the
group, you’ll fade out of conversations longer than normal, but you’ll
probably catch enough to make it useful. ‘course, make sure you’re
going to a reasonably secure place. =) I did that when I was in Osaka
for an open source convention. I talked to a few Debian developers
there because I needed to get my key signed. They decided to go for
food and drinks at a nearby bar. I tagged along even though I barely
knew anyone and I was having trouble keeping up with Japanese. I
understood maybe 10% of the conversation (and that 10% was
Emacs-related!), but it was definitely a lot of fun.

Look for people who know a lot of other people. They can introduce you
to other people with compatible interests or personalities. You can
also do a good deed by helping other wallflowers become comfortable.
Find out what they’re interested in and come up with a connection
between that and what you’re interested in.

You might start off with just interacting one-on-one with people, but
it pays to get people to get to know each other. Then you can hang out
with more people at a time, and you get to see how they interact with
each other. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself with a geeky barkada! =)

(… ack, did I just recommend _small talk_?! Umm. Small talk with a
geeky flavor!)

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