Posted on April 18, 2006 by Doolwind

(Pasty) White Nerd Can’t Talk

In my career as a game programmer I’ve found too many of us simply can’t communicate with the outside world. Below is a list of 13 points that will help you communicate with others in the office and perhaps even talk to girls.

1. When in a meeting, don’t lie on your chair as if you were at home.

Don’t put your hands on your head or lie almost off the front of your chair. You should sit up and show that you are interested in what’s happening. No leg skin should be visible above the height of the desk and don’t sit like an ageing chemistry teacher with your ‘joy department’ the focal point for the entire world to see. Adopting this posture shows that you believe you are far too intelligent to bother to expend the energy needed to sit properly. Although this may be the case no-one likes to have this pointed out to them. The time for bragging about your intellectual supremacy may be brought up in the correct channels, with other supreme beings (nerds), not while your lead programmer is trying to explain to you why the latest crash bug was your fault.

2. Look at people when you talk to them.

This comes down to the nervousness of nerds. Unfortunately, non-nerds will think you’re rude, or have something to hide. It’s like the handshake; don’t give a half hearted shake while looking at the ground/ceiling/breasts. Look them in the eye and give a good strong shake, it tells a lot about your character. This includes looking around at other things in the room or becoming distracted when someone is talking to you.

3. Talk slowly and clearly, especially with older people.

My dad used to say this to me all the time, especially when going for job interviews. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, you could have the mental computational skills of a mathematical savant but if you can’t get your point across then people just have to assume you are useless. This is especially true for anyone over 30 as back before cell phones and unlimited internet, people had a lot more spare time and so did things slowly. I’ve spoken with a number of people that just had no idea what I was saying. Worse, anyone over 70 will just smile and nod as your jibber on as they feel they are over the hill and it’s something wrong with them. Finally, don’t let any arrogance filter into your tone of speech, all people hate this. Non-nerds pick up on this very well and may react violently or will at least try to put you down to compensate.

4. Learn how to end a conversation correctly, don’t just walk away.

I’ve had this happen so many times from so many people. It would appear nerds have an inability to end a conversation correctly. The most common problem is for two nerds, once finished talking, to simply sit there looking at each other, or blankly stare into space until one of them can’t stand the uncomfortable silence any more and walks away. This is easily solved by using a ‘conversation ender’. This includes something like ‘Ok, well thanks for the info, I’ll talk to you later.’ Another, historical, example of conversation ending was widely used by the German military during WW2, but it didn’t catch on (in case anyone was getting ideas about a ‘Hail Stroustrup’).

Another big, but less prevalent, problem is simply walking away during a conversation, or even mid-sentence. This is not only rude it’s annoying. The person left standing will look like a fool and is less likely to talk to the nerd in the future, compounding the problem.

5. Respect people in authority, even if you don’t like them, they pay your bills.

This is an extension of the other rules here. I just wanted to point out that these rules are even more important when talking to your boss. Most managers aren’t technical and getting angry with them for not understanding what you’re doing is wrong. It isn’t because they are a bad manager, it’s because they’re good and they know they need to hire you to get the job done. Even if your boss has the charisma and intelligence of a cave troll with +10 B.O, employing these suggestions will make your office existence easier.

6. When someone is giving a presentation, don’t interrupt them.

I’ve been to a few presentations and I tend to find myself cringing quite a bit. Back in high school it was funny to make a witty statement during class, but when a Microsoft speaker has flown halfway around the world to give an interesting speech don’t start making jokes about how crap Microsoft is. The only thing worse is when the rest of the room starts laughing and the poor speaker is left standing there for 30 seconds until all the ‘funny’ retorts are finished.

There are two reasons you’ll usually find yourself in front of a presentation. Firstly your boss has decided it’s a good idea and is forcing you to be there. In this case you’re most likely being paid to be there so shut-up and listen. Even if you’re smarter, stronger, and faster than the guy giving the presentation you should respect them enough to listen as you might even learn something along the way.
The second reason you may be at a presentation is because you’ve chosen to go along to it. This means you respect the speaker enough to give up your time to hear them speak. In this case you should also respect them enough to let them give their speech and hold your questions to the end. On that note, questions should be kept short and to the point. I find myself often wishing I could perform the Vulcan nerve pitch on some nerd that’s explaining for 5 minutes how his awesome project is uber l33t and he has some cryptic question regarding the exact transfer speed of a Seagate hard disk that’s in the secondary slave slot if he’s copying non-contiguous files. Shut up, email someone in technical support and let the guy continue his discussion on the new features of Windows Vista. Remember, nobody likes a show-off, so don’t let people know you have ‘alt-tabs’ on yourself (sorry, that was a little too nerdy).

7. Don’t read someone’s screen when they are writing an email.

This is a fairly simple one. If you come over to talk to someone then look at them and not the screen, this ties into number 8.

8. Tap someone on the shoulder when they’re working on a computer, don’t just stand there.

I used to have this problem when I was fresh out of university in my first work place. A lot of people in the office these days have headphones to keep themselves entertained during the 9-5 grind in an office. This is great for keeping boredom away, however it makes it hard for someone else to strike up a conversation. Too many people simply stand just outside a persons’ field of view waiting for them to move slightly and catching a glimpse of you, in turn giving them a heart attack. The better option is to simply walk up to them and tap them on the shoulder. It may annoy them a little, but maybe you should have sent an email instead. (See my article on keeping programmers happy for more info)

9. At least act interested when people are talking about things that don’t interest you.

This is more of a social interaction. If someone is talking about their kids, their vacation or even their favourite programming language, instead of just screwing your face and ignoring them because you couldn’t care less, engage them a little. Play to someone’s ego and you may be surprised with the information you can find out if you just listen them.

10. Don’t talk techno-babble to non-technical people.

Another easy one. Not everyone in the world is a hardcore C++ coder so talk to the person first and find out what they do before you start telling them how post increment operators are so slow and why returning a reference to a local variable is evil. By the way, that previous sentence would not have made an ounce of sense to a non-nerd so this should not be an opening line to any conversation with a prospective mate at the local pub this Friday night.

11. When someone asks you how your weekend was, ask them how theirs is in return.

Too many people fall into this category. Just try it next time you’re having a conversation on a Monday morning. After you’ve explained how you optimized you’re foliage generation algorithm to be 1.3ms faster, why not ask how their weekend was. This goes for almost anything, from weekends to code to how they feel about google’s censorship in China. Most nerds avoid returning the line of questioning because they either don’t care or would rather remain blissfully unaware that a co-worker might actually have a more interesting life than them.

12. If someone interrupts a conversation ask them to wait, don’t just ignore the person you’re talking to and start a new conversation.

First of all, if you like to interrupt conversations, stop doing it, it is extremely rude.
Next, when you’re having a conversation, finish it before moving on. It’s like programming tasks, you don’t start one as soon as it’s given to you, you’ll finish what you’re doing and then move on only once you’ve made sure everything is finished and checked in. This of course means ending the conversation properly and not just finishing your current sentence, turning to the other person and starting a new conversation.

13. Wear deodorant!

It may seem like a small thing but if your co-workers can smell you coming before you enter the room, then it’s time for you to take a trip to the local supermarket and invest in a can of ‘liquid social-acceptance’. I should establish that no two nerds smell alike, and the musky ‘funk’ that you’ve earned through 8 hours of WOW the night before will offend everyone, an NOT help you blend in with a pack of nerds (contrary to popular belief). Also, we nerds have an affiliation with black T-shirts. The dark colour helps us to blend into the background and has become our uniform amongst the colourful imbeciles in the rest of society. With that said, just because you can’t see the sweat stains on a black shirt, doesn’t mean they aren’t there, so do a wash!