Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

11 Places For Geeks

Ken Thompson and Dennis RitchieWe’ve all seen the headlines over the last year or so:  “The end of IT,”  “No software,”  “The move to cloud.”

It looks as though the days of the geek are numbered. The capability to dig into the bowels of technology through the use of CLIs (if you need to be told what a CLI is, you are not a geek) is disappearing as technology commoditizes and dumbs down so that anyone — even a <shudder>business person</shudder> — can set things up and be off and running through such nannying approaches as “self-service”. Businesses seem to be looking for people who can understand exactly what the business does — for example, being a retailer, operating in the service industries or manufacturing stuff. This is not where a geek fits — such grubby commercial aspects are outside of their area of interest.

No self-respecting geek would ever be found doing anything business-related, or stooping to do things through an easy-to-use graphical portal. At the heart of geekdom is the striving for a more difficult way of doing things; for example, cracking an iPhone so that apps can be loaded on from the geek’s own Linux-based, Raspberry Pi system running off sea water and platinum electrodes for power.

Surely there is somewhere for poor geeks to live out their lives? Some form of a protected environment — a reserve, say — where this endangered species can stay and do useful work?

Let’s look at the options for geek reserves.

1.  The commercial private organization. This can only be a short-term place for geeks. The long-term strategy is for such organizations to move to the cloud and minimize the use of in-house data centers and self-run applications. The geek will suffer a slow and agonizing death here.

2.  The service provider. A much better place for the geek. Service providers (along with telephony operators and many independent software vendors (ISVs)) will require techie geeks who are capable of knowing their ASCII from their ALBOW. Although technology may well continue to commoditize, these companies require people who can tweak this here, change that there and come up with something that is a few tenths of a percentage faster than it was before; something that is a cent or two cheaper than it was previously; a system that is a micron ahead of the black hat ninjas trying to break down the door. Possibly the equivalent to Valhalla for the geek: a tech fest where they can be the successful warriors.

3.  Open Source land. This could well be the ultimate for geeks. Not only does open source demand technical wizardry, it also is a way of railing against the status quo. Pure open source is not Microsoft, Oracle, or IBM; nor is it Verizon, SAVVIS or Salesforce.com. Open source is (slightly) subversive — no up-front payments, no end-user ‘tax’, just freely available software that anyone (OK, anyone who can understand how to build a working version of the software from the various bits that are required in the open source jigsaw box) can put together. There are some small problems here, though — such as earning a living to pay for the roof over your head and for food — unless you are still living at home and can leave all that unnecessary capitalist stuff to the bank of mum and dad.

In all seriousness, the role for the hyper-techie is changing. Businesses need people who understand the business and can advise accordingly. Those who cannot adapt need to look outside of the business environment to those organizations that still need technical wizards — there will still be places where your skills are accepted.

And as for the title of this piece? If you understand it, you are probably a geek.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

About the author
Clive Longbottom