Introverted, intensely knowledgeable, and viciously smart, yet socially awkward, impractical, unemotional, problematically individualistic, and (most likely) male – we’ve all come across some (if not all) of these common stereotypes about tech nerds. Contemporary pop culture abounds in these stereotypes: Just think of Leonard and Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, Richard and his friends in Silicon Valley, or Peter Parker (before his “superhero transformation”) in Spiderman. However, recent research suggests that while programmers might be as highly intelligent and introverted as expected, they do not always possess the socially undesirable traits usually ascribed to their ilk, such as disagreeableness or neuroticism. Many techie stereotypes, from ‘scrawny male virgin’ to ‘brogrammer’ (i.e. computer programmer with frat house sensibilities, as depicted in Revenge of the Nerds or The Big Bang Theory) actually aren’t true in real life. With immensely wealthy and widely worshipped tech gurus like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, or Apple’s Steve Jobs, being ‘geeky’ is becoming increasingly cool. As a result, ‘unusual suspects’ (no, not Kevin Spacey) have begun entering computer-related industries in droves, further diversifying the tech workforce. Good examples are Jason Jacobs, the marathoner co-founder of RunKeeper, or Yinon Weiss, an ex-Marine and founder of military personnel professional networking website RallyPoint. So who are the contemporary techies, really? Here at Good&Co, a tech company, we were eager to find out. We scoured user data gathered from our mobile app in search of hard answers. Our psychometrics team analyzed the personality profiles of 1,015 employees at seven large international tech companies (Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft) and compared them to 2,304 employees in sectors other than tech.
Techies vs. Others
Our first analysis showed several systematic differences between tech employees and those working in other industries. The former group scored significantly higher on intellectual curiosity when compared to the latter group. Techies were also shown to be more self-efficacious, more confident in their ability to succeed, more authoritative, and (perhaps as a result of these traits) more self-assured and more likely to feel a sense of superiority to their peers. Tech employees were also more cheerful, more cautious, and more spiritual than those working in other industries. The latter finding seems to contradict one of the more pervasive nerd stereotypes– the belief that techies are soulless, information-hungry, and reason-driven individuals. Tech employees were also shown to be less dutiful, less organized, less compliant, and (surprisingly) less methodical than non-tech employees. This might partially explain why computer geeks and science nerds often end up working in tech start-ups and IT companies which, in order to nurture innovation and dynamic technological advancement, necessarily value and promote a more flexible, creative, independent, and big-picture thinking style. When compared to those working in other industries, techies were also more comfortable with vagueness and uncertainty. This might make techies more suitable to working in a constantly changing, fluid, and hence ambiguous tech industry. Our data also suggested that people working in tech were less sympathetic and temperamental than non-tech employees. This finding is in line with the common stereotype that computer geeks and science nerds tend to be relatively unemotional and lacking in interpersonal skills. Our final comparison explored cross-industry trends in broader work-related personality dimensions. Tech employees were shown to be more assertive, enthusiastic, achievement-striving, and ambitious than other workers. Doesn’t this remind you of TBBT’s Sheldon, a socially bold, dominant, persistent, zealous, and competitive science nerd? We thought so.
Conclusion: The ‘nerd stereotype’ outdated?
While our analyses confirm some of the ‘nerd stereotypes’, they by and large seem to contradict the most common beliefs pertaining to techies’ introversion and neuroticism. If anything, those employed in tech were shown on average to be more confident and expansive than those working in other industries. This might be due to the fact that working for large and internationally renowned companies (such as the big seven we focused on in our analyses) by default both requires and nurtures more outgoing and proactive attitudes. Another more likely explanation is that the old set of tech stereotypes no longer applies. The personality traits of today’s tech employees are more likely to reflect the characteristics of a constantly changing and increasingly complex tech industry.