How to manage geeks (send this to your manager)

Flip-flops. Note the method of securing to the...
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I once joined a work group that was formed completely from scratch.  When we got together in a face-to-face meeting for the first time, we did the typical round of  introductions during which the following was said by a technically inclined friend of mine:

“Hi, my name is Dave and I’m a high maintenance employee.”

Are those of us with good technical skills harder to manage?  Can we be more demanding?  Are we high maintenance employees?

Yes, yes we are.

My friend Luis sparked this entry when he recently pointed me to the WikiHow entry on managing geeks.  While there are a number of general management best practices on that list, two items in particular apply to the brotherhood of nerds:

“9. Give them the tools needed. A fast computer may cost more money than an older one and it may not be corporate standard, but geeks use computers differently. A slow computer lowers productivity and is a daily annoyance. So is outdated software. Give them the tools they need. Understand that tools come in many forms. Caffeine is considered a standard tool among Geeks. It’s good to keep a supply of the caffeinated beverages your team prefers handy.

10. Remember that geek are creative workers. Programming and system analysis are creative processes, not an industrial one. Geeks must constantly come up with solutions to new problems and rarely ever solve the same problem twice. Therefore they need leeway and flexibility. Strict dress codes and too much red tape kill all innovation. They also need creative workspace surroundings to avoid ‘death by cubicle’.”

A great, creative manager I had the pleasure to work for made a big deal out of #9.  In corporate budgets, salary expenses typically gets shut off way before capital expense does.  So, while you may not be able to keep your tech worker happy with a big raise, keeping that key team member outfitted with the the latest gear can act as productivity insurance.   Having cool stuff whose latest specifications we can rattle off to impress our friends matters to us.

Also, the creative process is a delicate one and is often different for each individual.  While you don’t want employees plastering porn in their cubicle walls or wearing flip flops to meet with your marketing team, the idea that past demonstrated creativeness warrants more flexible interpretation of certain rules is a good one.  Rules for rules sake annoys us, so givng us a little space makes us feel valued, although admittedly some of us will try to abuse that privledge.


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3 Responses to “How to manage geeks (send this to your manager)”

  1. Tac Anderson Says:

    So what you’re saying is that I need to send this to my boss righ before I ask for new double screen monitors 🙂

  2. Luis García Says:

    I’m glad you actually wrote something about it 🙂 Liked your article better

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