Not too long ago, being called a “geek” might have been seen as an insult. Now, it’s a reason to celebrate.
Thanks to a relatively new positive connotation to the term — usually attached to those who are intelligent and obsessive, particularly with a technological bent — geeks everywhere can now celebrate their singular status on May 25, during the sort-of fifth official “Geek Pride Day.”
Why May 25? Most any geek can tell you – Duh! – that’s the day that Hollywood geek George Lucas released the first Star Wars film back in 1977. After informal beginnings in New York back in 1998 – geeks apparently weren’t too well organized – the event gained big attention in 2006 when geeks in Spain celebrated by organizing a human Pac-Man, according to Wikipedia.
While the Dilbert-esque stereotype of a geek may persist – a brilliant, witty being albeit with underdeveloped style and personal-interaction components – the real-life truth is that geeks don’t fall into any single physical, gender or occupational strata. At Intuit, where geeky innovation is celebrated for helping create products that make customers’ lives easier, there are intelligent, obsessive types everywhere, and not just in cubes with light-sabers or Gandalf hats at the ready.
Who’s Who of Geeks
New billionaire and newlywed Mark Zuckerberg might seem to fit the geek criteria with his signature hoody fashion choice and his random hairdo. But in reality, the Facebook founder is more of a smart business mind than a true Silicon Valley geek, someone who has created things in silicon, in devices, in code, or in some combination of all of those things. In honor of Geek Pride Day here’s a short “Geeks’ Geeks” list, identifying those who best bring a positive charge to the descriptor with solid technical chops.
- Vint Cerf, Google – One of the Internet’s “founding fathers” and the co-inventor of the TCP/IP networking protocol. Extra points for the Gandalf-style white beard.
- Craig Newmark, Craigslist – Without Newmark, where would geeks go to sell their slightly used gaming PCs or to find like-minded souls for companionship? Huge geek cred for never changing the simple Craigslist look and feel.
- Linus Torvalds, inventor of Linux – Hero to many programmers for leading the open-source movement that kept the Internet server world from being taken over by Microsoft. Extra coolness for making a penguin the mascot of Linux.
- David Packard and Bill Hewlett, HP – The original geeks in a garage.
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Apple – The pirates whose Macintosh legacy continues to disrupt and amaze.
- Bill Gates, Microsoft – Still the best combination of technical and business smarts; the man who truly brought computing to the masses.
- Marc Andreessen, Netscape – Now a venture capitalist who still seeds revolution, the leader of the original Mosaic browser team brought simplicity and easy to use elegance to the World Wide Web.
- Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google – Stanford students looking for a better way to search the Internet did that and a whole lot more.
Some other “real” geeks I have interviewed over the years that you may not have heard of include Judy Estrin, founder of several successful networking startups and now an advisor to the same. She also authored a book about how to reignite sustainable innovation.
There’s also Jeff Hawkins, the inventor of the Palm Pilot and a true “big brain” who is now delving into neuroscience. Hawkins helped bring handheld devices into reality in part by doing obsessive things like walking around with a wooden model of the Palm Pilot for weeks to see if it felt comfortable enough in his pocket.
And last but not least, Intuit co-founder Tom Proulx, who combined his programming skills with Scott Cook’s innovation and marketing prowess to produce the first versions of Quicken.
Who else would you add to a Geeks’ Geeks list? Let us know in the comments below. And today, may the force be with you.