Working in and around Silicon Valley and technology, I hear people throwing around the terms “geek”, “dork”, ”nerd” and “dweeb” constantly. They’re thrown around interchangeably, in fact, which is where the problem lies. They’re not the same and knowing that matters a great deal. In fact, using the wrong term gives credit where credit it isn’t due or unfairly labels someone’s better qualities.
Finding a Venn diagram to explain the difference was a big moment. I suddenly see how I should interview for different roles and what to look for in partners and employees. I know what to seek and what to avoid. It was an epiphany.
Starting from that point, I could see career paths for each and every one (OK, except one). It breaks out like this:
Geek – Both smart and driven but able to talk about fun things — they’re your leaders and sales people
Nerd - Centered in smarts and drive, tempered by some awkwardness — they sustain your company
Dweeb – Smart and awkward but probably uncommitted — they won’t stay up all night to solve a problem
Dork - Least fun of the bunch — Avoid these people because they waste your time and sap your will to live
These may not be everyone’s definitions, but maybe it’s time to standardize in our labels lest we use the terms insensitively.
For an interesting take on these categories, I found this on Democratic Underground.
Geek: Someone who spends a lot of time and energy in a certain special but conventional area, like computer programming or trouble-shooting, but not necessarily computers or technology. You can apparently have chess geeks, guitar geeks, or cooking geeks. A geek is an outwardly normal person who can relate to others in general but who has taken the time to learn specific technical skills and would rather talk about their special obsession than anything else. They are generally not athletic and enjoy sedentary pursuits like video games, comic books, being on the internet, etc. They usually dress to suit their special interest, which can be flamboyant, such as wearing a tee-shirt describing their special obsession or a hat bearing a logo of their special pursuit. Geeks can be self-confident and proud of their traits.
Nerd: Someone with a great interest in academic subjects like math and science and who is socially awkward and has trouble relating to others outside of their fields of academia. Their IQ often exceeds their weight. Science fiction such as The Matrix and Star Wars or LOTR are often their cup of tea, as are hobbies like astronomy or chemistry sets. Nerds usually dress conservatively and are more interested in the mind than their outward appearance, although as both men and women they tend to be tidy, clean-cut, and hygienic. Nerds generally are self-confident in the academic setting and take pride in their intellect and band together with other nerds although their social skills outside of their academic obsession are diminished.
Dork: Someone who has special interests like a geek but whose interests and obsessions are less common and odd, such as having an oddball collection of some sort like old Three Stooges bubblegum cards or an uncommon skill like yodeling. Walking talking Star Trek encyclopedic knowledge and convention dress up obsessions can be considered dorky. They can act silly at times and not care what anyone thinks. Dorks are typically more noted for their quirky personality and tend to be loners. Hygiene can sometimes be an issue. Dorks can nonetheless be self-confident and proud of the way they are because they simply don’t care what others think.
Dweeb: A person who tends to be regarded as physically wimpish, intellectually challenged, and socially awkward, with little self-confidence. Dweebs tend to be obsessed with unusual pursuits like dorks (tap dancing or ant farms) but are lacking in skill, knowledge, or ability. Dweebs tend to be loners like dorks but understand their shortcomings and lack pride. Hygiene can also be an issue.
I’m not a dork, nor dweeb and I don’t see myself as a nerd…I’m clearly a geek :-).
Thank you to the Great White Snark, where I found the Venn diagram.