Friday, 16 July 2010


Recently, (ok - it was May) I came across the suggestion that Geeks should specialize in something. So, the question arises: "Do we, as geeks, have a *duty* to specialize and gain expertise in a specific field of endeavor?" I'm not sure that I have specialized much. Nor am I sure that it is necessary. It may be a laudable aim; but not a *neccessary* one.

I'm sure that many of those great exploits in the field of geeky endeavor are a result of specialization. And that may be reason enough to do it. But I'm reminded of that quote "Specialisation is for insects" (Robert A Heinlein, yes I had to look it up; but I'm pleased it turned out to be someone like him that said it!) And it's an important point. We, as geeks not simply humans, are perfectly able to find ourselves enjoying the depth of detail in any field of study, and few subjects really bore us. So do we need to specialize at all? I'd be glad to read any comments you have on the matter.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."R.A.Heinlein

I suppose I don't feel like much of a specialist at all. But here's a quick list of those things that I might say I specialise in. (They're really NOT all skills or areas of knowledge, some of them are simply interests with no implied skill to boast of.) The fact that there are so many just makes me feel more like a generalist again:

Lego - where so many of us start.

Reading - it's such a basic skill. But so many people don't seem to read nearly enough; so I'm listing it, ok?

Remembering stuff. - I read, I remember. And yes, I'd love to be in your quiz team.

Drawing - I'm no artist; but I can draw reasonably well.

Computers - I can use one, big deal. I'm not that much of a Windows power-user though. And I'm not that good with hardware either. But I know databases. (Oracle specifically) And I enjoy shell programming on unix/linux machines.

Role-playing - the old fashioned D&D, pen, paper & dice kind.

History - I'm particularly fascinated by History. I might be paid to use computers; but I love history. Especially the history of the ancient world - Egypt, babylon, Assyria, Persia, Greece and especially Alexander the Great. But I'm also fascinated by Naval History from HMS Warrior (1860) onwards and the rise of the Victorian Navy through to the 20th Century. But I'll happily read about Medieval Europe or American History or the Napoleonic era or the history of maths, or the history of physics (or chemistry, or any other science)

Physics - I love reading books on physics - whether that's big-science such as cosmology, relativity, the weird world of quantum mechanics, or odd backwaters of specific research like the search for high-temperature superconductors.

Technology - in a similar vein, I like to read up on the latest developments in technology - often not so much the specifics of the latest gadgets; but more the possibilities of new technologies that are still 5-10 years away.

Geography - including the old-fashioned kind that involved knowing that Caracas is the capital of Venezuela.

Musical Instruments - I love musical instruments. I love the vast array of different sounds they make. I like them as artistic objects in themselves. I like spotting and recognising them. Musical Instruments are awesome! I can't play music much, although I "mess around" on Harmonicas, Melodeon and Melodica.

Music - of course. I'll elaborate elsewhere.

Mythology - I like knowing the old stories. There's something both contemporary and primitive about the old stories.

Astronomy - I grew up in the age of the space-race. As a kid I consumed books about the universe. I'm still enraptured by all of it.

Botany - ok "Gardening" if you prefer.

Volkswagens - Quirky rear-engined cult cars - such fascinating things. This might also count as one of my few 'practical skills'.

Literature - well, some of it. There really is SO much of it isn't there?

Yes, there are more I could add to the list. Many more.

Incidentally, the article suggesting we have a duty to specialize is at: (Responsibility #6)


  1. It'd be interesting to see some kind of huge Venn diagram illustrating the overlapping interests and which areas most geeks take an interest in!

  2. It would. I wonder how we could obtain such data. I suppose it would have to be crowd-sourced in some manner.

  3. It's also worth noting ESR's take on Hacker reading habits at: