King of the Geeks

One of the perils of the tech industry is a little game of one-upsmanship that I call “King of the Geeks.” Usually it’s a friendly game, but sometimes it is a stupid battle of egos. I had an amusing example of it today while I was talking to a tech on the phone. I mentioned an ancient product, and made an offhand remark that it was from the early 80s and probably before his time. He responded, “oh I remember that product, I started programming back in the days of the VIC-20.”
I said, “oh, two can play that game, I like this game, I usually win.” I told him that my computer store sold VIC-20s, but I started long before that. I trumped his VIC-20 with my experience in IBM punch card sorters. He responded with his experience programming patchboard computers. Now that is old tech, the stuff they were replacing as obsolete when I started computing. I still could have won the game, but I did not play my ace-in-the-hole, the card that always beats everyone, the Digicomp 1.


The Digicomp 1 was my first computer, I bought one by mail order from Edmund Scientific when I was just a little kid, this must have been around 1963. So you have to go back a long LONG ways to beat me when you’re playing King of the Geeks..
One reason I find this game so distasteful is that I used to encounter it almost daily when I worked as a salesman at ComputerLand in Los Angeles. Some customers would take pleasure in tripping up the salesmen and trying to prove they were smarter and knew more about computers than the sales rep. I found an article in a sales magazine that described this game, and said that the winning sales strategy is to let the geek win the game, it specifically said to use the phrase, “I defer to your obvious technical expertise in this area.” The strategy is twofold. If you’re trying to sell a computer, you want to seem knowledgeable, but if you win the game, you’ll just offend the customer and he won’t buy anything. If you cave in and admit defeat, the geek gets what he wants: ego strokes. But that’s the second part of the strategy, by caving in so easily, the geek has a hollow victory, which he’ll probably not catch on to immediately. It will bug him later.
So that is why I try to not even play this game. Sometimes I get swept up in it, then I always let the other geek win. But I make it a tough victory for them, so they get their ego strokes from defeating a worthy opponent.

6 thoughts on “King of the Geeks”

  1. Well that leaves out who’s playing the game and why.
    If your non-technical boss has an erroneous opinion, it could seriously screw you and your coworkers over.

  2. Dang, even though I’m just a young’n compared to you, I can usually win with just going back to learning assembly for the TI 99/4a and the Commodore 64. You completely win this one! I defer to your obvious technical expertise in this area.”
    Of course, the question is, am I currently taking your above advice or not. 🙂

  3. Joe, you’re right, so you can’t play King of the Geeks with anyone but another Geek.
    Sharper, the only people who can consistently beat me at this game are from the Univac 1 generation, I had one as a CS professor but he died a few years ago. They were all in their 30s and 40s when I was playing with computers at age 5, so all my competition is dead.

  4. I’ve programmed Digicomp in VB.Net. The latest issueof “Hardcore Visual Basic” has an article I wrote on the project. Mine has a range of 0-31. The image is backwards because, alas, I lost track of mine years ago. I’d like to get a copy of the instructions for Digicomp II to see if I could program it.

  5. One of the perils of the tech industry is a little game of one-upsmanship that I call “King of the Geeks.” Usually it’s a friendly game, but sometimes it is a stupid battle of egos.

    This is a great blog entry because it serves as a reminder of how much easier life can be once you learn what an ego is, how it works, and how it can work against you if you don’t pay close attention to what you are doing (and why).

    As that sales magazine pointed out, the irony of games like “King of the Geeks” is that anyone who feels compelled to play them is wide open to manipulation (as are we all if we forget who we really are and why it is we are here). It is one of those facts of life that is both frightening and funny.

    1. Thanks for your insightful comment. I always disliked the manipulative aspect of salesmanship, I tried to be more of a technical representative. You would think this would work well with someone who wanted to play King of the Geeks, but it didn’t, it just made them try harder to one-up you. Also it had an occasional side effect, you’d help them with tech specs for a purchase, and then go buy it elsewhere. One sales training called it “creating well-informed comparison shoppers.”

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