How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/”Genius”

I recently posted about a set of programmer personality traits that I’d noticed. At first I thought they were relatively rare, but it seems to me much more prevalent than I’d thought– even the widely read Ruby blogger “raganwald” seemed to admit that he had many of the qualities I was describing. For now we’re going to assume that people like this are not sick even though a subset of the traits may sound superficially like some cases of autism or even schizophrenia. We are also going to completely leave out the question of drugs and ADD/ADHD diagnoses and instead focus on how the environment can be adapted to the programmer– and how people close to the programmer can best take advantage of his inherent nature. A lot of these comments are going to be hit or miss depending on the person, but some of these may be helpful to the extent that the same mental frame of being is at work.

People with this type of personality might not do well in school, but are extremely good at picking out books and managing their own personal training program. They will pick up a rare set of skills on their own just for the fun of it– skills that aren’t or can’t be taught in schools. They aren’t attracted to the field of computing because of the money (though that doesn’t hurt) but are terrified of getting stuck in a job where there’s nothing left to learn. People in other careers speak of a “seven year itch” phenomenon, but these guys have a “two year itch.” These guys will change jobs not so much to get a raise… but to keep from getting bored.

As far as dating and relationships go, women should be careful with this guy. When you first meet, you will become his “pet project” for a time. When he’s finally solved all of the problems (as it were) he’ll be ready to move on to another project– probably something really abstract that you don’t care about and can’t relate to. He’ll be shocked when you have no desire to support his new project and won’t understand why you’re so hurt. More than anything else, he’ll need to feel that you accept him in spite of this change. If you can’t deal with this transition and don’t want to support him in his constantly changing obsessions, then the relationship can’t work. If you are dating someone like this, make sure you extend the “courtship” phase to double what would make sense for any other couple. Make sure you can deal with the changing dynamic of the relationship before you make things permanent by “tying the knot”.

The thing is, most people really never think. At least, the concept of what thinking is to this programmer is radically different from that of “regular” people. Most people just go to work, do the same old thing, and go home. When they leave work, they leave work at work and go do something totally different. Our programmer guy can’t seem to *stop* thinking. If he’s trying to solve something difficult, he will not stop as long as he’s inspired. He can go on a date and hardly hear a thing his girlfriend wants to talk about. If there’s a lull in the conversation, his brain will drift back into his project. His obsession is like a force of gravity. He can’t just turn it on and off. He’s afraid that he’ll never get his train of thought back– if he changes gears he may never get back to it and all his effort will be lost. Alternately, the effort of getting back in gear so many times in a week or two will gradually wear him down until he’s exhausted, depressed, or worse.

People recognize this dynamic with introverts and extroverts. It’s not about someone being shy or not being talkative– it’s about whether being in a group of people in a “social” situation is energizing or energy sapping. For this guy, changing mental contexts is really draining– even more draining than having to be around people. People don’t tend to hold this sort of thing against introverts. Our programmer friend probably doesn’t even know the difference, though. He looks at those social situations and doesn’t see how they connect to his current stable of pet projects. If he’s unable to see a means of connecting the social situation to one of his obsessions, he’ll get antsy and nervous. He might even get a bizarre pit of dread welling up in his stomach at the very thought of attending such a party.

His thinking style is really more akin to the Sanford Meisner method acting school than it is to anything else. He gets into a problem space the way they “get into character.” And he truly *inhabits* the problem space. He literally organizes his brain into a model of the problem. He spends enormous amounts of effort to adapt his tools to his personal approach of thinking. He can’t discuss data or requirements verbally– he has to put it into something like Microsoft Access and sit there with a couple of key people looking over his shoulder. (Access is highly visual… and he can “feel his way” around complicated sets of data with it without explicitly thinking about what he’s doing.) Similarly, a Unix type prompt gives him god-like powers: he is everywhere in the system at once and can operate on just about any file without having to dig through an overwhelming number of screens and applications. Yes he’s highly visual in his learning style, but he’ll do everything he can from within something like Emacs if he can get away with it because changing context between a dozen mediocre visual IDE’s based on different idioms will sap his will to live– particularly if any of them are poorly designed.

This guy operates on raw intuition, but this doesn’t mean he’s illogical. In fact, this if this guy hears anything when listening to something, it’s the chain of reason. He has a hard time with religious and political groups because he winces at the slightest mismatch in logic in what’s said at the podium or in the pulpit. And he never stops thinking about the big picture and how it relates back to the official rhetoric. He might be attracted to the tidy consistency of ideologies such as Calvinism or Libertarianism, but he can end up in virtually anywhere depending on the makeup of his mental furniture and values. Wherever he is, he’s liable to be extremely hard on the leadership. This guy reads between the lines of every single pronouncement: subtle nuances of timing, the juxtaposition of topics, and even of what gets left out speak volumes to him. After any meeting he’s liable to be hashing out the implications of it with someone and fretting over some perceived crisis.

Groups need to be very wary of this individual. He can be their most zealous defender and just as quickly go to being their most ardent nemesis. To forestall this, all you have to do is clean up your rhetoric a little. To most people, “it’s just words”… but this guy spends so much time in his own head, he doesn’t really differentiate between ideas and reality. Ideas *are* reality to this guy! You don’t have to give away the farm or anything– you just have to acknowledge that the guy has a point. He *needs* quiet talks to reassure him that he’s not crazy. He understands the need for compromise or specialization… but you need to be up front and clear about what you’re sacrificing or you’re nothing but a used car salesman to him.

This guy is full of mystifying contradictions. He’s an introvert, but you might see him talking and engaging all sorts of people. He swings from being incredibly intimate to being incredibly distant. He ignores entire swaths of details as being someone elses problem, but will go out and solve the most random things that no one has even asked him to work on. What’s going on with this? At work, he might not even talk to a certain strata of people. But after doing some small task for them he might start dropping in to check on them and make sure they’re still happy. Over time, he’ll end up “walking a beat” and touching base with all sorts of people he’s worked with. (In college, he probably had friends from several contradictory “cliques.”) If people start causing disruptions near his desk, he’s liable to get up and make a round in spite of whatever he’s supposed to be working on. Random people will confide in this guy… and he’ll often take back his impressions from these talks and apply them to his secret projects.

But he loves doing favors for people. People just have to be able to communicate a little, have a finite self-contained need, and not send him on too many wild goose chases in the process. The tasks can be anything– he just needs a chance to show off his “super powers” and look smart. And he genuinely does care about people. Due to his agonizing experiences in school and his hatred of bad interfaces, he really is serious about doing what he can to make people’s job’s better. With a few of these sorts of favors under his belt, he can relate to just about anyone. But without these experiences to ground him and set the tone, he’s often at a loss what to do or say. He’s just lost. (This is part of why he has no understanding of “regular” social activities.) Traditional “ice breaker” exercises mean nothing to this person. The way to get him to “bond” with people is to make his skills relevant somehow to a single individual: it has to be ‘real’, there’s almost no other way around this. Remember, this guy’s mental furniture is completely given over to one of a half dozen secret schemes. The only way to make a person “real” to him is to get them lounging around in that furniture occasionally.

Finally, this guy often doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling about things. His girlfriend will often know *hours* before he does. He’s capable of writing incredibly detailed blog posts about a topic and then look at it when he’s done and then be shocked that such ideas were even brewing in the back of his head. This is a big part of what causes his procrastination. He’s always thinking about every single angle of a problem, but he’s not fully conscious of such thoughts until he’s engaged in a specific task. His subconscious mind will often drag him down if it thinks that the task at hand isn’t “real”, won’t truly be appreciated or recognized, or if the people that are asking for it aren’t serious or don’t truly know what they want. If he’s got an idea about something, he’s often better off to strike while the iron is hot. And if he seems to want to work on something else, he’ll often pick up the random unverbalized things he needed in order to “unstuck” himself on some of his other tasks that he was hung up on. Yes, he often finds out what he’s thinking by doing something totally different than what’s required! This is why handing over to some other micromanager the authority of order his to-do list is dangerous: there are a lot more dependencies and variables than what anyone else will see or care about, but that are critically important to our programmer/”genius”. This is also why he doesn’t tend to take initiative to deal with things when he starts to slide off track– he’s almost unable to pin down what’s really bothering him at any given time.

In an ideal world, he’d have “Joan June Cleaver” at home taking care of all the annoying details of life. He’d have someone to check him each morning to make sure he has dressed himself properly and hasn’t forgotten his lunch. Socially, he’d be expected to do no more than “show up” to certain key events. He’d have an accountant take care of his personal finances, and a secretary to make sure he didn’t blow off key tasks and meetings. In education, he’d be mentored, not schooled. At work, he’d be steered, not “managed”. At least once a year, he’d have the chance to work on a two-month project that he prototypes and architects him self– a project where he gets to learn a new language or technique while filling a specific unmet niche. He’d have confidants and cheerleaders… and informal “rap session” type meetings where he has the chance to think out loud and be appreciated as the “genius” that he is and the chance to do brief “show and tell” demos of his bizarre accomplishments. In a perfect world, he’d be accepted as he was and not expected to dope himself up or suppress his personality in order to fit in to whatever lame routine or tradition that’s evolved for everyone else.

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71 Responses to “How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/”Genius””

  1. stikiflem Says:

    its funny, did you really study this stuff man? i really can relate to this, really! i just dont agree with that relationship thing because i married a hot chick from college. :P

  2. Will Says:

    Programmers with avant garde mental furniture might like to read “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole. It’s one of the most hilarious and intelligent novels I’ve ever come across. You’ll empathize with the protagonist so much it hurts.

  3. chris Says:

    Oh, look… you just described ME. I thought your last couple of posts (excellent btw) were pretty nail-on-the-head but now this is just getting plain spooky!

    I’m going to print this out and keep a copy in my wallet, then the next time I need to explain to someone (potential – employer, girlfriend, associate etc) they can just read this, because frankly, you’ve done a far better job of describing what goes on behind my eyes than I’ve ever managed previously in my 29 odd years.

    I knew learning Lisp for fun was going to be fun (I guess we’re wired that way) but I didn’t know I was going to learn so much else at the same time.

    My new favourite blogger, because it’s kind of like reading my own blog, if I weren’t so lazy as not to write it. Incredible.

  4. Sergius Says:

    This fits me so well, it sounds as if you have been spying on me. To think all these years I just thought I was the abnormal one!

  5. equex Says:

    you hit the hammer on the nail, this should go into the hackers dictionary in the ‘personality’ appendix. surprisingly accurate!

  6. Bill Robertson Says:

    “How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/Genius”

    Step 1: Realize that this person is not “yours”

  7. Cris Says:

    This is a perfect fit with me. This post is superb, it exactly depicts everything I do and everything I think. Wish my therapist was able to let me know in a such simple and direct way what’s in my head and how does my inner thinking work. I will keep this post, definitively. You’re a really great observer with ability to clearly explain your finding. Hat off.

  8. Bruce Says:

    I call shenanigans. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re all misunderstood geniuses. Right.

    In 20+ years of working in this industry I’ve never met anyone like this who I’d describe as a genius. Generally, the real words that come to mind are “pain in the ass”, “loser”, “loose cannon”, “unreliable”, and “dangerous”. This guy kills teams, code, and projects stone dead. If you find someone like this on one of your teams, terminate with extreme prejudice.

  9. Erik Peterson Says:

    @bill, I was about to say the same thing.

    Step 2: Remind this person that he is not “yours.”

  10. lispy Says:

    Bruce, I never said he was a good fit for every team. I’ll put you down as one vote for “take ADHD meds, quit your job and binge drink yourself to an early grave” approach to dealing with the personality type.

    Yes, by all means fire this guy. There is a reason that he blew you away in the interview phase, showed promise early on, and then slowly shut down emotionally later on in the job… hopefully these outlines will help you identify this guy sooner so he doesn’t cost your company so much.

    An ideal world may be nice, but if this guy can’t cope, we should surely let economic common sense prevail.

  11. lispy Says:

    I put the word genius in quotes because it’s indicative more of his “mad scientist” style behaviour than anything else– though he may well have a relatively high IQ.

  12. Peter Says:

    The “blew you away in the interview phase, showed promise early on, and then slowly shut down emotionally later on in the job” sounds like every job I’ve had. I’m now in the last stage at my current job after a year (which is slightly longer than usual).

    Your last paragraph (given previous, what’s next?) has been something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I think the answer is going into business for myself. I can delegate the things I can’t do (mostly accounting/secretarial) and eliminate the painful things like f2f meetings. By building things that more or less run themselves I give myself the freedom to live sanely: moving from project to project, experimenting, enjoying myself, building interesting things that I learn from. My project idea list is a couple dozen entries long, easy enough to pick the ones that can be adapted to businesses.

    (Please pardon the incomplete name — I’d prefer a Google search for my name not turn this up.)

  13. Peter Says:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention how refreshing it’s been to hear the stuff in this and the your “personality traits” post, especially all the “Hey, me too” responses. Thought I was alone.

  14. Daniel Tenner Says:

    Excellent!

    For anyone who happens to scroll past here, I’ve also started writing a series of articles on the topic. I’ll be trying to focus on more practical “what you, as ‘sufferer’ of this condition can do” sub-topics, but it should be of interest to some readers of this post.

    The first article is here:

    http://inter-sections.net/2008/08/28/hyperbrain-owners-manual-1-the-big-picture

    Next one coming early next week, probably Monday.

    Oh, and…

    “His girlfriend will often know *hours* before he does”

    Hah, try a month! I’m very lucky to have her :-) I can’t count how many times I’ve been struggling with a problem that I couldn’t figure out, and when talking about it with her, she pointed out the problem that had been bothering me and its likely solution. Priceless.

  15. Somebody Says:

    Shocking. Clicked here through Y! Combinator’s news feed, and I get a definition of the essence of my thinking.

    Obviously, it’s very individual how much you have these traits. I, for example, need socializing – otherwise I get depression-like sad, but I get sad in the wintertime as well, so I might just be sensitive in that area.

    Really, best blog post I’ve read in a long, long time.

    (Same as “Peter”, I’d like to keep my name to myself.)

  16. voladia Says:

    typo in the last paragraph: “He’s have someone to check him each morning…” should be “He’d have someone to check…”.

  17. ben Says:

    This is just a horoscope for programmers. If you put a bit list of traits together you match some and not others. However you will only remember the matches. This is called conformation bias.

  18. anon Says:

    Code hard, play hard, take hard drugs.

  19. Somebody Says:

    I’d agree with Ben, but I don’t. These traits are a lot more well-defined than “You will have a good day, and friends will enjoy you.”

    Ben, could it possibly be that you don’t match the personality type described exactly, but almost, so that you interpret it as ‘conformation biased’?

  20. Boris Says:

    Awesome stuff. I sent this link to my wife who is my “Joan Cleaver” :)

  21. jblondon Says:

    There are a few other characteristics I’ve noticed go with this type.

    You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

  22. Steven Says:

    I think you mean “June Cleaver”, not “Joan Cleaver”

  23. spenc Says:

    MBTI often gets to this level of accuracy for all types of people, not just INTP (which is who you are describing):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

    The only problem is, the descriptions for all personality types are probably written by an INFP, so the description is probably more objective observation rather than personal experience. Granted, INFPs probably have the most potential in understanding other people, but nothing beats personal experience.

  24. Adam Says:

    High-level summary of the last paragraph:

    “In an ideal world, he would have lots of people to take care of him and no responsibilities. He would get to play all the time and never have to do anything he doesn’t like. Everyone would love him and tell him he’s perfect just the way he is. Any contribution he makes to his community or the greater world is coincidental, a byproduct of falling into something useful during his aimless wanderings. He doesn’t need to improve himself, compromise, or do hard work; everyone else adapts to him.”

    I don’t want to live that life. Such self-centered hedonism would make me depressed. Not only does it rob life of greater purpose, it robs the eccentric programmer of all power and freedom.

  25. ben Says:

    Hi Somebody. I do match some of these traits, but not all. Lumping a number of traits together and building a stereotype is a natural way of dealing with people. It is human nature to build these stereotypes so we can have a quick and dirty method for dealing with people. A number of these traits describe anyone working on a hard problem that takes more than a day to think about. We should not limit it to programmers. Many scientists and engineers will fit this stereotype too.

  26. ben Says:

    Horoscope like phrases that pretty much match everyone:

    “This guy operates on raw intuition, but this doesn’t mean he’s illogical. ” – Matches everyone.

    “This guy is full of mystifying contradictions. He’s an introvert, but you might see him talking and engaging all sorts of people.” – Matches everyone.

    “But he loves doing favors for people.” – Humans are social beings.

    “Finally, this guy often doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling about things.” – Many people lack second order knowledge i.e. knowledge about what they know.

  27. Lally Singh Says:

    Yeah, I’m another one of these.

    We’re called INTPs. Here’s a link to the description:

    http://www.personalitypage.com/INTP.html

  28. James Says:

    It’s funny you mention procrastination frequently because I don’t think you actually got around to saying how to get the most out of the eccentric programmers out there…

  29. lispy Says:

    James, I was getting to that, but I had to tie it up early or none of it would have ever gotten posted.

  30. ben Says:

    This post is just a rehash of Myers-Briggs which itself is a flawed system based on a misinterpretation of Carl Jung’s work. More at:

    http://www.skepdic.com/myersb.html

  31. Peter Says:

    @jblondon: Find me a person on earth who doesn’t see themself in that gigantic mishmash of generalities and contradictions, and I’ll eat my hat. What are you, an astrologer?

  32. Sham Sham Says:

    Marry me?

    If there is a club, I would like to enroll — and also speak up and say this describes me as well.

    -S

  33. Jonathan Says:

    @ben

    the four (4!) comments you have posted have some truth to them, but would be much more constructive if you suggested a single more appropriate method for expressing these ideas that apparently resonate very highly with me and many others.

    Everyone can see the vagueness and ambiguities, but this is how ideas evolve, not by being skeptically dismissive.

  34. Colin Says:

    Ahhh…
    I feels great to know I’m not alone. I’m not a programmer(yet/professionally) but I relate to it all. It’s nice to know I am not the only crazy one out there.

    I agree that “Mad Scientist” is a better description. Plus who wants to be a genius? Geniuses have to solve all the world’s problems, Mad Scientists get to make cool sh*t.

  35. Trix Says:

    Mmm, I’ve got the best of both worlds. BRB while I go marry myself =D

  36. ben Says:

    ok forget everything I said. i just came off of a multi-day coding session and i misread the entire thing.

  37. termy609 Says:

    I’d love to say your article describes me to a T, but theres always two sides to every story. I’ve seen people exactly as you describe here and they

    #1 are a pain in the ass
    #2 are self righteous prima donnas
    #3 arent always as smart as they think, except in their own little world
    #4 lack social skills

    I like it best when Bruce said and I quote

    “I call shenanigans. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re all misunderstood geniuses. Right.”

    Although I don’t agree with the rest of the posters comments about terminating some one like this with extreme prejudice, the comment about us all thinking that we’re geniuses is true.

    Certainly there are a lot of bright, analytical right brain types in IT, but I think it best to deflate your ego’s a bit, lest someone else come and burst it for you.

  38. INTP female programmer Says:

    This post has a gender bias, as it contrasts the INTP programmer with “women” and the “girlfriend”. So do your other posts about this topic. I already feel isolated because I’m INTP (nobody understands me), and now you’re writing as if females can’t be INTP.

    Screw all you people. I don’t fit in anywhere.

  39. Mr. X Says:

    To anyone who doesn’t know, this article is a textbook example of someone on the Autism spectrum (even though the author tries to dismiss this). Especially, the need for projects and changing to another one once they’ve been “solved”. That’s classic autism. Heck, all the examples are bang on.

    Most people have this imaginary view of what autism is. If someone wants to know what autism is like (apart from the physical difficulties), send them this article. Autism is NOT all or nothing. There are different degrees and you’d be hard pressed to find someone in the field of computing that wasn’t on the spectrum (but most don’t realise that they are on that spectrum in the first place as this article and comments demonstrate).

  40. th@talldude Says:

    I Just Learned A Lot About Myself…

    I just happened across the blog Learning Lisp, courtesy of somebody sharing a link on SocialBrowse. Two posts in particular, How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/Genius, and Do You Know Any Programmers That Exhibit These Personality…

  41. lispy Says:

    @ INTP female programmer…

    Sorry to tick you off. It really wasn’t meant to be sexist. I’m already over-generalizing on a half dozen fronts. To tack on gender obfuscation when I’m already refering to myself in the third person seems a bit much for the average reader to take. (And yes… many couples reverse the male/female stereotypes by 20% or even more. Some are almost totally reversed. I know one guy that follows his wife around confronting here about things and insisting that they talk over different bits of their relationship and go to counseling all the time.)

    The disclaimer should have been obvious. Take something useful wherever this makes sense, but don’t expect to relate to 100% of it. Frankly I’m shocked that *anyone* could have claimed that I hit the nail on the head.

  42. ifranzen Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forer_effect

  43. mattrepl Says:

    Re: relationships and taking extra time for “courtship”, if the INTP in the relationship treats it as a project, then isn’t it likely that “tying the knot” is the goal and no significant drop in interest will occur until then?

    Thanks for writing these posts.

  44. steve Says:

    Hey Bruce… what you’re overlooking is that people like us make it our project to eliminate you.

    Delivering successful results consists of looking for things that aren’t being done, to do the missing bits, and to get rid of the people who weren’t doing those things.

    You seem to be worried about the word “genius”, as though there’s only one or two in the world. There’s millions of geniuses. No shortage of them at all.

  45. bayuadji Says:

    damn,

    I am glad, I am not alone :)

  46. How to get the most out of your eccentric programmer genius « Science Notes Says:

    [...] “How to get the most out of your eccentric programmer genius.” Posted in people. Tags: people, psychology. [...]

  47. Whoever Says:

    For all identifying with the post, Asperger syndrome might be worth checking out… Personally, growing up in a family with some cases of Asperger’s definitely makes it easy to relate to this post – observing the hacker mentality and its interference with the so-called normal sociability was an everyday experience growing up.

    Although I dislike labeling people with illnesses of any kind, sometimes understanding that your “oddness” might actually be based on neurochemistry rather than just being crazy for the heck of it does make life at least a little bit easier.

    @INTP female programmer: I’m one too (so you’re NOT alone!) & did find the (otherwise great if a bit long-winded) post gender-biased, as if girls with the genius-programmer-hacker mentality couldn’t exist!? But stereotypes are meant to be broken, right? (suggestion: look up LinuxChix)

  48. edward Says:

    Wow. And Im not even an programmer and I feel this way. But I do hate bad UI, and even I wonder how the heck I even was able to post something dead on or useful to someone.

  49. How to get the most out of your eccentric programmer/genius « Says:

    [...] Article [...]

  50. anotherblogger Says:

    I’m not a guy and I’m not a programmer but I recognise myself in this description very much and all are traits I suspect I get from my (scientist) dad. People who make good programmers would, in a previous life, have made great scientists, I am sure.
    Despite not being a programmer, I very much regret that I’m not. I have the perfect personality and mind for it. I’ve been told many times over I should and keep thinking about it. For now I have to finish my Psych major (and yeah, the cognitive stuff is a whole lot more interesting than the social psych stuff).

  51. robsilverton Says:

    To varying (fairly high) degrees of accuracy you’ve just described me and my two colleagues. :-)

  52. Miklos Hollender Says:

    “As far as dating and relationships go, women should be careful with this guy.”

    I’m sorry? Hello? Are you serious? This type usually doesn’t get any women. I’m clearly this type (Aspie score of 184 on http://www.rdos.net/eng/Aspie-quiz.php ) and in my 30 years I had about four times a girlfriend for about 3 weeks each. That’s three months in total. (And the only reason I got that was that I’ve overriden my natural instincts and bought fashionable clothes and went to music clubs. This is something bearable at 21 but gets quite unbearable at 30.) Why would a woman be interested in me? I don’t get my hair cut or buy trendy clothes etc. as I find it a waste of time. Neither do I chat with people or go to parties or restaurants or anything. Neither am I interested in sex – the original hormonal drive quickly went down when I actually got some and realized what a simple animalistic activity it is. We are simply not made for relationships. Is this something new to you? Really, c’mon – why would a woman want to hit on our type? Have you ever seen it happening? Like, I’m sitting at my desk with my uncut hair and wearing the same trouser as I did in the last 5 days and some woman would walk over and say hey let’s go on a date, because the grunts and angry stares you communicate with are so cute? Do you really think it happens in real life? And I’d probably tell her to fuck off anyway. Where did you get this idea from, really?

  53. Tomalak Geret'kal Says:

    ‘Tis true. Although the post is — on the surface of it — an amazingly accurate analysis of a large group of people, you can see just one trait described that you don’t agree with and gloss over it as an ‘exception’. Or two. Or maybe three…

    This is why I “believe” in Horoscopes — I know that if I read one it’ll probably have relevance to me — but am simultaneously aware that they are a total crock. :)

    That all said… it *is* a great post in terms of literature. Good job lispy!

  54. Tomalak Geret'kal Says:

    @ Miklos, just because you fail at getting women doesn’t mean your entire “personality type” (if there really is such a thing) suffers from the same problem. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but … y’know, speak for yourself and all.

  55. Startups Jobs, Special Requirements Says:

    [...] startup — oCricket — is looking for Eccentric Programmers, Geniuses, Hackers and smart Designers. See if the requirements fits you or may be your friend(s). [...]

  56. OrchidGrowinMan Says:

    OK, confirmed Aspie here, finding the conversation… INTERESTING.

    Some comments:

    Bruce: If you don’t want creative, competent people around, so you don’t feel threatened, so be it. Don’t apply for a job at Microsoft or other innovative, profitable or productive companies: you’d drag them down and wouldn’t last long.

    http://isnt.autistics.org/

    When I have made it a project to “get women” I have been successful, but it is stressful to follow the rules when they don’t come naturally, so I don’t, for now, but I still wish… I wish they DID come naturally. Miklos: I understand.

  57. Geno Z Heinlein Says:

    > Ideas *are* reality to this guy!

    As they are to everyone. Most people are just taught about “reality” when they’re too young to defend themselves, and it’s pretty much too late to help them as adults.

  58. Patrick Gunderson Says:

    Hey, I exhibit a lot of these traits, I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD primarily inattentive, I’m an INTP and an artist/programmer.

    I wanted to let you know that while I was trolling the web to find insight on how these things might be related, I stumbled across an article that discussed dopamine deficiency and it’s potential symptoms which include:

    * Reduced ability to feel pleasure
    * Flat, bored, apathetic and low enthusiasm
    * Depressed
    * Low drive and motivation
    * Difficulty getting through a task even when interesting
    * Procrastinator/little urgency
    * Difficulty paying attention and concentrating
    * Slowed thinking and/or slow to learn new ideas
    * Crave uppers (e.g. caffeine/nicotine/diet soft drinks)
    o Use these to improve energy/motivation/mood
    * Prone to addictions (e.g. alcohol)/addictive personality
    * Shy/introvert
    * Low libido or impotence
    * Mentally fatigued easily and physically fatigued easily
    * Sleep too much and trouble getting out of bed
    * Put on weight easily
    * Family history of alcoholism/ADD/ADHD

    A lot of these are problems that I deal with, so I decided to self-medicate with L-Tyrosine, and amino acid that is a chemical precursor to dopamine. Since I started, y concentration levels are better, I’m able to force myself to finish tasks (its still an effort), I’m able to get out of bed without much trouble, I’m eating less, and I actually WANT to go do physical activities. I’m still shy/introverted, but I feel less awkward in social situations.

    I still have times of hyper-concentration, and I get my big ideas so I’m not too worried about losing my creativity like I am with commercial ADHD drugs.

    L-Tyrosine, just a thought.

  59. AnonForThis Says:

    You’ve just described INTJ (Myers-Briggs personality type) and/or someone with ADHD.

    A successful approach with similar types is to connect with them (at their level) and help channel their efforts. Often all they need is a starting point to unleash the torrent of ideas buzzing about in their head.

  60. Peet Brits Says:

    Unlike most I agree with the relationship-as-a-project part, but once married, they “feel very relieved to have successfully cleared this life hurdle”.

    Oh, and don’t forget the strong yet naive emotional impulses.

  61. Evil Stick Blog » Blog Archive » Next, on “Cool stuff other people wrote”… Says:

    [...] http://lispy.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/how-to-get-the-most-out-of-your-eccentric-programmergenius/ [...]

  62. How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/”Genius”, no, really « 21st Century Digital Boy Says:

    [...] no, really Posted September 3, 2008 Filed under: Uncategorized | Talk about tl;dr, this is just [...]

  63. Shannon Says:

    I wanted to pipe up and say that every time I’ve taken the MBPTI I’ve come out as either INTP or INTJ, I guess depending on my mood (looks like today it’s “J” ;) ), but I only see a little of myself in your description. Also, I’m a female software developer.

    I have run into many tech professionals who simply can’t stand being bored, to the point where the instant they are bored, they quit the job, stop doing their work, or start stirring up shit with their coworkers. They seem to feel almost entitled to be stimulated constantly. Here’s a tip: learning how to deal with being bored is a really, really good skill to have, and for people like us, it takes practice. What worked for me was Zen meditation, but I don’t know what else to suggest.

    If you (I’m talking about the generic ‘you’) actually want to excel at your job, you are going to have to learn how to push through the boring bits, because that is a big part of what makes good software. It’s like thinking you don’t have to practice to be a good musician. If you only ever do what you feel like doing, there can’t be any real growth there, both on a personal and professional level. Step outside your comfort zone; that’s how to reach your potential.

    As far as I’m concerned, adults of reasonable intelligence need to own up to the fact that they aren’t helpless in the face of their personalities. I grew up in a rural area and so in the summertime there often wasn’t a lot to do. How did I handle being bored? There was no job to quit! If nobody was around to play, I had to think of things and be creative. I had people around me – parents and peers teaching me how to act in social situations, that it’s a valuable skill to learn how to talk to nearly anyone, about *something*. It’s not just polite – it’s networking and can be to your benefit. I could have been this person you describe, but I was both surrounded by people who valued social skills and I recognized that there is always room for improvement, no matter how much of a genius one may think one is. I’m well past the so-called “genius” level on the IQ scale, but that doesn’t magically grant me compassion, persistence, a work ethic, wisdom, expertise in a particular subject, or leadership.

    While I certainly understand that people have personality traits they can’t get rid of, there is almost nothing one can’t learn to compensate for, assuming you are not either below 90 IQ or so chemically out of balance you are out of control. You can’t reasonably expect managers to have the people skills to understand you or to adjust for your personality quirks – especially in the tech industry, managers who have the time, patience and skills to do that are rare. You need to figure out how to be a better employee on your own.

  64. Overcooked.TV » Blog Archive » Understanding hackers Says:

    [...] excellent glimpse into my mind, and the minds of most [...]

  65. Lindsay D. Says:

    I feel very exposed after having read that article. Other than the fact that I am a woman, you pretty much described my personality and “problems” with scary accuracy. I’ve been a developer for 14+ years and had at least 13 employers in that time, at least half of which became ex-employers because I was bored and not being challenged working for them anymore.

    I am not ADHD, but I am INTP.

    I so agree with the last paragraph. It is so hard to pay attention to the mundane tasks of life that need to be done instead of work on my “projects”, escape into the clean, tidy, predictable and malleable virtual world of my computer or just spend time reading. What makes it worse is that I’m married to a man who is also a programmer and has the same personality traits/flaws. The combination of the two of us not wanting to do the boring necessary stuff often gets us in trouble. We desperately need a “June Cleaver” to take care of all that stuff for us.

    We have often talked about how nice it would be to find a “patron” like they had in the Renaissance that would just pay us to spend our days doing cool projects they could then commercialize and we wouldn’t have to worry about paying bills anymore.

    Thank you for that window into my psyche. And I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one out there (other than my husband… we’re not as odd as we thought!).

  66. Stephen Pierzchala Says:

    As a diagnosed bipolar I / ADHD / INTJ, this article, as has been noted many times by other commenters, fits me to a “T”.

    I have been blessed by managers and directors who understand that they can afford to have me around because they can bring their grittiest, deepest, weirdest problems to me, and I can figure them out.

    Those who see us as wastes of management time don’t understand that in the biographies of many people who have contributed to giant leaps forward in science, medicine, philosophy, etc., you will find a biography that describes exactly these traits.

    While we may not be “good careerists”, we are a necessary part of the journey of humanity.

    smp

  67. Why I’m Not A "Mad Professor Genius" Programmer Says:

    [...] How to get the most out of your Eccentric Programmer/”Genius” Lispy, the author, seems like a cool dude. The blog is very [...]

  68. jimy Says:

    definitions induce limitations. we were all this way before we read the article but i had no idea i was INPFJ.

  69. Nature-lover Says:

    So much recognition, though not ‘totally’.

    @another blogger: for the moment i’m choosing for programming over science, as I think it eventually has more charm, is more small-scaled, and has less official rules. After four years as a software engineer i’ve noticed it’s hard to get back to science (with a new, second master’s). In stead I’ve switched to learning Python, which I had thought of a while longer.

    @original poster: Especially the part about the upcoming unconscious, I’ve been experiencing it for a while and struggled with what it meant, but this must be more or less what it’s about.

    Btw, there are many subtypes within INTP, not all are programmers…

  70. JH Says:

    Great post.

    You have a lot of emphasis on the friction within this man and that world. But how about the synergies?

    The joy this man feels from changing nothing into something, and something into something else. Such wondrous alchemy. His are a host of abilities, that work together to blend and clarify thought. Culture.

    Forging paths and taking leaps and bounds forward – oft alone –– while this individual may feel fragmented in a crowd… it’s the crowd that eventually makes him whole.

    I have an indirect relationship with society. And as I see, there are many of me. And many more on their way.

    No need to educate the others on how best to deal with me. Let’s just kindly focus them on just leaving us be. (Free)

  71. Interesting Reading… – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks Says:

    [...] How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/”Genius” – “I recently posted about a set of programmer personality traits that I’d noticed. At first I thought they were relatively rare, but it seems to me much more prevalent than I’d thought– even the widely read Ruby blogger “raganwald” seemed to admit that he had many of the qualities I was describing…” [...]

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