Geek is Hip, But Can Hurt Your Career

It's hip to be a geek -- but it can hurt your career

Geeks of the world, rejoice on this fine Geek Pride Day! Society has come to value your smarts to the point that most people consider the label a compliment and equate geekiness with success, according to a survey conducted by Modis. But if there's any cause for concern, it's that nongeeks tend to view you as socially awkward, which could translate to a barrier in your professional life (and beyond).

The rapid proliferation of technology and social media in mainstream society over the past 15 years is the likely catalyst driving geek acceptance, Modis notes. Millennials (people between the ages of 18 and 34) are more than twice as likely as any other age group to consider themselves geeks, and 66 percent of that age group consider "geek" to be a compliment. By contrast, baby boomers (folks aged 65 and up) still consider "geek" an insult.

Anything but a jock!
Modis found that most people see a clear distinction between geeks and nerds: Whereas 41 percent of Americans said they were comfortable with being labeled a geek, only 24 percent said they OK being deemed a nerd. Among self-proclaimed geeks, 61 percent said they preferred that label to "nerd." In general, more people said they would rather be called a geek or a nerd than a jock (arch nemeses of the 1980s). The only labels deemed worse than "jock" are "preppy" and "diva."

Anatomy of a geek
Once upon a time, "geek" was a word to describe circus performers who would bite heads of chickens. Today, Americans primarily identify geeks as reliable sources of technology advice, according to 56 percent of the respondents; as extremely intelligent, per 45 percent of respondents; and as the first adopters of new technology, also per 45 percent.

Not surprisingly, geeks are typically considered to be best suited for jobs in IT or the tech trade, such as video game designers (according to 65 percent of the respondents), technology engineers (50 percent), and -- ahem -- professional bloggers (37 percent).

That's not to say that you need that anyone who works in IT deserves or has earned the "geek" label: Half of the respondents in the survey noted their company's IT person is not a geek, whereas 36 percent said he or she is. The remainder said they didn't know or skipped the question.

Human interaction matters
Though Americans evidently value and respect geeks for their smarts and potential for success, most nongeeks (54 percent) consider self-proclaimed geeks to be socially awkward. By contrast, only 34 percent of self-identified geeks share that view. To a degree, social grace is in the eye of the beholder; still, geeks' inability to connect with nongeeks (and vice versa) could prove an obstacle in the workplace, the survey suggests.

Respondents were asked to identify the three most important qualities of an IT professional. A mastery of computers and technology was ranked second (chosen by 55 percent of respondents); the ability to explain technology in layman's terms was the top choice, selected by 68 percent of respondents. Third on the list: the ability to understand the objectives of the business as a whole (47 percent).

Also of note: Self-identified geeks (25 percent) said they are less likely than nongeeks (36 percent) to think "being sociable" is one the three most important qualities that an IT professional should have.

This story, "It's hip to be a geek -- but it can hurt your career," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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