Companies adopt insulting themes . . .

Offensive and demeaning designations for
computing professionals reappearing

©Conrad Weisert
IDI Issue of the month for October, 2004

NOTE: This article may be reproduced freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.

That was then

Six years ago I wrote a note calling attention to the growing practice on the part of trade journals and a few managers of referring to computing professionals by demeaning and insulting terms. Many readers expressed agreement and thanks. No one expressed any desire to be known as a geek, a techie-nerd, or a propeller-head.

Since then I and a few colleagues have written to offenders, reminding them that computing professionals are deeply offended by such slurs. Except for Microsoft, which didn't respond, everyone was cooperative, even apologetic, and until recently we noticed no repeat offenders.

And this is now

Television viewers this week are being jarred by advertising for the services of "geeks". What services? Diagnosing and repairing computer problems for small businesses and home users.

You can find them on the web. One even offers "franchise opportunities" to entrepreneurs who want to get in on the exploding demand for geeks. They also solicit new employees, but how desperate for a job would you have to be to accept that designation in your job title?


Since such companies don't seek to sell their services to knowledgeable organizations or to individual computing professionals, they presumably see little harm in insulting us. But even though I and my colleagues would never use or recommend their services, we're still concerned. With constant repetition in advertising the word "geek" may soon lose its original offensive meaning. The general public may well come to associate that disgusting term with the normal way of describing a computer person, especially at the technician level.

How do you react when someone in your presence uses a demeaning term for women, homosexuals, or ethnic groups? That's exactly how to respond when someone calls computing professionals by a demeaning name. Don't let it pass. You don't have to come to blows; just say in a helpful way: "Excuse me, that term is extremely offensive. Don't you mean computing professional or technician?"

CBS joins the offenders
January 28, 2007

The highly regarded news magazine program Sixty Minutes aired a feature this evening that referred more than a dozen times to computing professionals and other technicians as "geeks". It cited the social ineptness, rudeness, and arrogance of many of the people whose services naive users increasingly and desperately need.

The point of Steve Kroft's story was that electronic devices of all types are getting too complicated for most users. In particular, he and the "geeks" he interviewed were critical of the proliferation of devices that offer multiple functions that most users don't need or want. They also criticized the quality of instruction manuals and the poor responsiveness of vendors' support people.

Those are valid criticisms, but wouldn't the story have been just as interesting and just as useful without the demeaning slurs? Substitute technician, expert, or professional for all those geek references and the same content would be conveyed without offending an entire profession. CBS's only excuse, and it's a feeble one, is that one of the firms they interviewed was the one with the offensive name described in the accompanying 2004 article to the left.

Marketing Targets "Geeks"

The following E-mail was received November 25, 2009

The Best of TechRepublic
Geek Gift Guide for 2009

TechRepublic once again brings together our unique perspective reviews of some of the best geek gifts on the market, all just in time for the 2009 holiday shopping season. From tiny Ethernet crossover adapters, to electronic book readers, to magnetic induction recharging stations, this year's Geek Gift Guide is bound to have at least one gadget you, or your favorite geek, can't do without.

—Bill Detwiler, TechRepublic Head Technology Editor

GoToMeeting joins the Geeks

"Successful geeks will be the ones who can bridge the divide between technical and business groups."

—E-mail from IDG Connect, October 29, 2013

If there's anything we can't stand it's an unsuccessful geek.

Last modified October 29, 2013

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