I’m pretty much an unrepentant geek, which is sort of obvious by . . . well, everything. As you may guess I consider it an advantage in my life and, obviously, my career. It’s the career I’d like to talk about right now.
As I speak and write on geek careers, it’s also fairly obvious I consider being a geek to be an advantage in a career. The enthusiasm, the passion, the engagement, the productivity are excellent tools for growth, improvement, and success. There seems to be little downside, career-wise, for a geek.
Actually, there are some disadvantages to be faced. So I’d like to do a quick tour of geek career advantages – and disadvantages. The advantages may be familiar, but the disadvantages are sneaky buggers – and the differences are important.
The Geek Career Advantages
Being a Geek, which I define as an applied intellectual – we think and tinker – is a pretty much outright career advantage if your interests relate to your job. If your interests are tangental to the job you often build skills and abilities and traits that are helpful. The positives are pretty positive.
The issue is leveraging them, because we take them for granted.
What are these advantages? I explored them a lot before in Fan To Pro and my speeches, but here’s a good roundup:
- Passion – Simply there are things you care about and you put time and energy to them. That passion drives you and can carry you past adversity and challenges – even when the challenge is overcoming your own lack of knowledge. It also shows when you communicate it.
- Ideas – Geeks experiences give them many ideas. Ideas for careers, ideas for networking, ideas for businesses. With our fellow geeks we can always find some new idea of a job, a career, a skill, a project.
- Explore Careers – Geeks are usually hands-on people, which also means that in our geekdom we can explore entire careers. Try out public speaking at a convention. Learn management running a game group. Build a website.
- Lean and gain skills – As part of the whole “explore career” option geekdom is also a giant place to learn. From game mods to cosplay there’s always people, resources, and communities to help you grow. You can build plenty of career-viable skillsets with the help with geeks.
- Gain Knowledge – Geeks learn, and we’re often immersed in the minutiae of various industries from video games to comics to technology. You learn a lot, often just by being there, and can use that in your careers.
- Evidence – Geeks often make stuff. That stuff is a great testimony to your skills in a job interview or talking to a client. When you have a book, a website, a costume, a game mod it’s hard to say you’re unskilled.
- Connect – Geekdom, with all its communities, lets us network and connect.
- Resources – Geekdom, finally, gives us resources to call on, from code repositories to people who can help us move for the price of a pizza.
Geeks have a lot of advantages. But there are geek career disadvantages, and they’re not what you may think.
The Geek Career Disadvantages
So what’s the downside of using your geekdom in your career? The issues are often ones of perspective – which is a sneaky thing.
People may have a bad image of you – I accept that identifying as a geek doesn’t always go over well with people, and accept it – but I also live in a very geeky area. You might not have that option and you need to be careful how you present your geekiness. Sorry it’s not you, it’s them and it’s cultural – so build a bridge.
People may have too good an image of you – Not a problem? Sometimes it is. People can look at we geeks, with our drive and our projects and so on and assume we’re better than we are. I’ve actually had this happen to me, and sometimes you have to explain what you don’t know to people.
People may not understand you – This happens to a lot of us anyway, but we’re so deep down our given areas of interest we don’t usually notice and some people just assume they won’t get us. However, to be successful at work people do need to understand you and what you do – learnt o build bridges and communicate with them.
People may think they understand you – Doesn’t sound like a disadvantage? It does when you meet people, well-meaning people, who think they get what you do as a hobby and a career because you’re “like this other person” – which you’re not and you have to do some explaining. In fact they may be a fellow geek, but we all miss things . . .
You miss things – A sad side effect of our love of what we do is that we really do miss vital skills, knowledge, information, and understanding that’d help us in the career world. We might not even know it as one job is very geeky but our next not so much. No matter how much you leverage your loves in a career it’s still a career, so make sure you understand the skills and information you need to succeed.
A lot of the geek career disadvantages come from issues of communication and how people understand us. Know what? It’s the same for everyone. We’re just more prominent all of a sudden, so there’s more misunderstandings, more need to communicate. It’s up to us to do it right – we’re the ones looking for a job.
The Thing You Need
The first thing you need in navigating geek career advantages and disadvantages is a sense of humor about everything – including yourself. Be able to laugh at your differences, laugh at the fun of sharing stuff, and lighten up. By lightening up, you can rise above differences, misunderstanding, and even your ego (and that of others).
The second thing is communication. We have to learn to listen to others and to communicate with them. We’re people deep into our own work, we may not hear others, may not know how to reach them – or they may not know how to connect with us.
A good laugh and a good talk work wonders.