Why Nerds Think They Know Everything

I work with technology. I love technology. Making some infernal contraption do my bidding is a puzzle that never gets boring for me. I expect a lot of other technical folks out there can identify with this feeling.

One thing that I couldn't figure out for a long time was the derision technical people faced in the workplace. But I think I have a little bit of an answer. For a long time I've wondered why there is such a gap between corporate IT and the people it serves. Both sides of the fence think the other side is full of egotistical idiots. But why?

I often hear complaints from my non-technical friends about their IT staff "thinking they know everything." I thought about this a little and realized, yes, technical people do think they know everything. But then why do technical people think this? I know that a lot of technical people are very smart, but I know a lot of smart people outside of tech too. How is it that people in the technology world showing their brains off became more offensive than anyone else showing competency in their work?

Alright, I'll admit there are some sniveling weasels in IT that thrive on insulting people who know less than themselves about computers, but I can't imagine that they are in the majority. And either way, why is this more offensive than the investment banker showing off his competency by flashing a lot of money around?

Then I thought about what it is that people in the modern era do for money. For most middle-class workers, the entire purpose of their working life is to enter information into a computer. They go to meetings, they meet with customers, but the tangible result of their work is computer input.

When the visible result of your work is computer input and the tech guy has to help you with it, you feel threatened and reasonably so. Machines have a way of making people feel inferior to begin with. If you have ever swiped your credit card the wrong way in the checkout line or tried to figure out what is wrong with your car, you have experienced this.

I can just imagine a salesman walking in from meeting with a customer who placed a big order. He's on cloud nine, his bonus is going to be huge this year and he might even be thinking about how he's going to buy a new boat and how that will lead to even more sales in the future. Then WHAM! he can't put his new orders in the system and has to call someone (probably 10 years younger than himself) to help him. Suddenly he feels threatened and vulnerable. Quite a change from the sales high he was on previously.

People don't like this feeling. There is a sense of fight or flight when you meet someone with a technical problem. It may help to remember that this is the only emotional state technical people see. They only see people in fight-or-flight mode and they act accordingly. But even beyond that, when the visible output of your work is computer input and the techs can do that better than you, of course they think they know everything. They know how the system works. They intimately understand how the pieces fit together. That's their job.

Could they meet with customers, build relationships, understand the complex relationships involved in accounting? Probably, but that's not their job. They don't do those things because they don't want to or (in many cases) wouldn't be very good at it. And of course they think people who use the technology they provide aren't very smart, the only part of the process they see is the technical part. No one calls them when a meeting is going poorly, but they do call when the email server doesn't send the minutes out to the board of directors.

But is there a solution to this ongoing animosity or is it as natural as dogs chasing cats? After all, most people working today have been working with computers for at least 5 years. Why aren't they better at it? Or maybe a better question is, if computers are so advanced, why aren't they easier to use? That's a far greater topic that will have to wait for another day, but next time something on your computer doesn't work, think about the concept of the visible or tangible output of your work. Then call tech support and cringe when they tell you to reboot.

And nerdfolk, be nice to people...