So, this won’t be a grand pronouncement on my relationship with Twitter, the dangers of thinking you have all the answers, or the grandest evil of all – the color of pink. I’ll make a preliminary forecast of only a Class 1 Blowhard post. Instead, this is more in the nature of a look around and some things I’ve been realizing. *takes a look around*
Okay – so, I never really figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Obviously this isn’t a problem, as the chance of me growing up at this point is fairly remote. But while I went through those common childhood phases of wanting to be a fireman or an astronaut (or a baker!), none of them really survived into an adult passion for a vocation or career. From my first paid job at 13 years old – managing a political campaign’s contributor dBase III+ database on a TRS-80 — I’ve always just fell into one job after another. Stock boy/sales clerk for Egghead Software, government summer intern, network/system admin, journalist, author, web guy, communication manager, consultant to biodiesel company, consultant to political campaigns — it kind of bounces all over the place doesn’t? Not really a nice story arc or easy narrative to it.
That is, until you realize that what it really amounts to is that I’m a professional geek and suddenly trumpets sound, angels sing, and my peripatetic wanderings suddenly seem to acquire a laser-like focus. Or at least they would if you knew I loved each of those jobs because they satisfied my inner-geek. I won’t delve into the whole definition of what a “geek” is (ground trampled and dead at this point), but what I mean by “professional geek” is somewhat more limited in scope.
Have you ever giggled with pure joy over something you’re doing while working? Have you ever been paid to do something that was so awesome, you worried about letting on that you’d do it for free or even pay your boss/customers to be able to do it? Do you take work home, not because you’re behind, but because you know you’ll just enjoy figuring something out in your downtime? Have you had an almost sexual satisfaction from doing what you do better than almost anyone else? Does the only way you imagine your job being any better involve the implementation of sci-fi technology or fantasy elements?
Guess what? You love what you do, and that’s what makes a professional geek. You can now join the ranks of pretty much everyone I’m friends with. On Twitter, that means people like @KyleeLane (soap maker and owner of the worlds coolest company van), @Geekleetist (BeardEwok herder, oh and geeky artist), and @RuthBeingRuth (larval librarian) and many, many more professional geeks and professional geeks-in-training.
In real life (Oh FSM, how I hate that phrase, but that’s for another day’s blog), it means people like my friend Julie, whom I’ve known for decades now (oh where has the time gone?!). What incredibly geeky thing does she do? Well, she’s a singer and an actress *screeeeeeeech* Wha?! How’s that geeky you ask? Because she loves what she does with a passion that puts the most dedicated professional renfest player or Mythbuster to shame (yes, those were the two most geeky professions I could think of right now ). When she’s not acting or singing, she’s thinking how to be a better actress and singer. When she’s not doing that, she’s working at whatever jobs she can, just so she can survive until the next acting/singing jobs comes along. She’s trained her whole life to do these things well, and she is so unbelievably talented — it gives me a big happy whenever I think of her performing (hint: HIRE HER!). And for those reasons and more, she is a professional geek.
For me, being a geek is about your passion for something overriding your common sense. A professional geek is the same, but gets paid for it and, in the words of Steve Jobs, the patron saint of professional geeks, makes something “Insanely Great!” Great-to-the-point-of-insanity — sounds silly, but that concept describes the professional geek perfectly in my opinion. “Good enough” is not an option – any mediocre schlub can do good enough, but it takes a professional geek to make something great, and technology is not required — just a will to go above and beyond what any “sane” person would do in the same situation.
Take a look at Kylee Lane (seriously, she’s worth taking a look at *grin* ) — she is a geek in the sense she loves Star Trek and Star Wars and has ray gun AND Boba Fett tattoos, but she’s a professional geek because she makes some of the best damn soap ever handcrafted, she loves doing it, and she goes to incredible lengths to make sure her soap is made with the best ingredients and an incredible amount of care and attention. She mixes her own scents and colors by hand because to do otherwise would result in soap that did not measure up to the ideal soap that exists in her head. If she wanted to, she could expand her business so that every boutique and major chain had a “Luxury Lane Soap” display, but to do that, she’d have to rely on automation and other people who wouldn’t care the way she cares – and to her, that’s not an option. It’s not that automation is bad, but in the case of the soap that Kylee makes, no machine in the world is capable of doing what she can. [Note: Though I’m sure there is some guy out there working on the KyleeBot 3000, which will be a terrible failure when it’s Awesome-momatic board goes on the fritz and the damn thing ends up eating its inventor . . . probably with a side of frosting.]
Professional geekdom even runs in my family. My grandfather was also a professional geek, though I suspect if he were still alive, he’d have difficulty understanding what the hell I was talking about. He worked for the railroad, Union Pacific to be exact, for most of his life. I never got to see him on the job, but the stories that have been shared with me make his geekiness very apparent – whenever there was a difficult problem with a station, a section of trackbed, or pretty much anything else – UP would call in my granddad. And he’d pick up the family and move to North Platte, Pocatello, or wherever and he’d go solve the problem. He wasn’t an easy man to work for – many complained he was a tough son-of-bitch who wasn’t ever satisfied and had impossible standards. But you know what? He was awesome at what he did, and he loved the railroad more than anything. He was there and was part of what made old style railroads a great and beautiful thing. That’s a professional geek.
So why all this meandering around about professional geeks? Mainly it’s because I just wanted to share my epiphany that there was this meta cross-disciplinary category of us that I think share something very basic in common despite the different ways we may apply or express it. Whether it’s the mechanic who can fix anything or the writer that loves building fantastic edifices out of words, we professional geeks are united by loving what we do and being what we love. So let’s not argue over geek/nerd/dork definitions. Let’s not fixate on whether girls can truly be geeks (because to think they can’t is just asinine) – instead find and do the thing you want to be professionally geeky about and don’t worry about the definitions or categories. There’s a whole world out there of folks making and doing great things because they simply love what they do – finding as many of those people as you can and sharing that with everyone is the best and truest way to celebrate your own geekiness.