Dec 18, 2013

The Chosen Geek

How does a hacker look like? What do you imagine if you think of a hacker? What picture does the typical business guy have in mind when he talks about a hacker?
I don't know about you, but I tend to stand out of a crowd. Be it my mohawk, be it dressing totally in black or something else. Being able to tell someone on the phone who has no idea about my looks to pick me up and I have to think of something about my appearance to enable him to instantly recognize me once he spots me is usually no problem. This can be a blessing and a curse at the same time, it depends on the situation you are facing.

I guess a certain odd or different look comes with the job description of most hackers although I know some brilliant hackers who you could take for a financial analyst just by looking at them. Let's assume for a second that you are a hacker and there is something about the way you dress or act that makes you recognizable as a... hacker? Geek? Nerd? Techie? Whatever you call it, there are certain effects arising from this fact. For reasons of simplicity I will stick to the term geek for this article but it also applies for nerd and hacker.

The geek-factor

If you are with fellow hackers or other geeks, being a geek is perfectly fine. More than this, being a geek is sometimes a requirement to fit in. Within this group of your social peers, you may stand out negatively if you don't act or look geeky enough. Anthropologically speaking, you have to fit the group. Ever seen this guy looking like Brad Pitt and talking about stock prices and his new shiny car at your local hack space? Me neither. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not judging about looks or individual behavior here, neither am I saying acting in one way is good or acting in another way is bad. I'm just pointing out effects I observed.
Being or appearing like a geek will leave a certain first impression in the mind of people you meet. Let's add a little bit of psychology here. Stereotyped thinking comes into play. Once you left a first impression on somebody it is rather difficult to change it. Being a geek is often associated with technical expertise, the ability to get lost in details, perfectionism and in-depth expert knowledge of certain domains. Unfortunately people do not only recognize these super-human powers but also have negatively connoted associations. These can range from being introvert and socially-awkward to having no sense for outward-appearance or being arrogant and all other sorts of stereotypes. If geeks would always only be walking and talking with other geeks, there would be no problems with this. Since this is rarely the case, we have to deal with stereotyped thinking and turn it to our advantage. We have to become selctive with our geek-factor to avoid glas-barriers and uncomfortable situations.

Looking at the business side of things

Penetration testers and ethical hackers are often wanderers between worlds. When dealing with customers or corporate colleagues they have to be able to understand and speak corporate language as well as that they to have to have maturely developed communication skills. At the same time, when working on a penetration test or getting lost in a technical discussion, they have to release their inner geek and stand their technical ground. What differentiates geeks who tend to get stuck on pure operations jobs from people climbing up the career ladder is their ability to be selective with their geek-factor. If you work in a big enterprise probably only very few people enjoy your geeky-side as much as you do. Chances are high that you appear a little awkward to them if you geek-out too much or too often. Everybody expects the perfect consultant-appearance once a job gets customer- or management-facing. You have to hide your geekiness sometimes pretty deep in your inner closet. That does not mean neglecting or even denying your personality. I hear this from time to time while talking with fellow security enthusiasts. Try to look at it from a differenct perspective. You don't get twisted by society or your environment, you rather adapt to it temporarily to make it work in your favor. Now, isn't that what hacking is supposed to be? Finding creative ways to reach your goals (while having fun at the same time)?

TL;DR: We all love to be geeky. Often it is not appropriate to be geeky and you are better advised by hiding your inner geek. Be positive about it and see it as a chance.

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