About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Nerd Q&A: Can a Programmer be Interesting?

Malcolm by Matthew Ragan
I'm so glad people are concerned about their friends' well being. It gives me hope.

I have a nerd friend who only knows programming. He spends every hour on coding. He's about to date a gorgeous babe who knows nothing about programming. How does he keep up a lively chat? He wants to get to know the woman better, but is concerned that she is only interested in his money because he has had previous bad experiences with gold-diggers.

This is a lot to unpack.

Let's start with your...ahem...friend. It's noble of you to care so much about your friend's social life, but I'm going to go ahead and write this in second person to make life easier.

Unless you spend 24 hours a day in front of the computer, you must know about some things other than coding, even if it's just a small amount of information. Weather, music, fast food, traffic, public restrooms...they're all fair game, although some topics are safer than others.

You can use your knowledge of the world to make statements such as, “I just noticed that...” and “there sure have been a lot of...” or pose questions in the form of, "what do you think about..." and "do you know anything about..." You should listen closely to the person's responses. When you hear something you know about, even just a little, or hear something that sounds interesting, you should follow up on that with a remark sharing your own opinion or asking for more information about the topic: "I really like..." or "that sounds interesting, tell me more about..."

This is the simplest way to make small talk.  It's a shortcut that doesn't go very deep into conversation, but shows that you're paying attention to the other person. It's good to ask questions so the person feels valued, but try to balance the questions with statements so she doesn't feel interrogated.

That's a basic way to keep from sitting in stony silence, but you can only make small talk for a little while. You'll need to dive a little deeper pretty soon.

Just like with a programming project, if you want to be successful you should do some research first. You might ask around and find out some things about the person prior to the date. Nothing creepy, just ask people who know her some casual questions to find out about what kind of food she likes, her general interests and such. It's fine to tell her friends, "I'm looking for some ideas of where she would like to go," and "I don't want to bore her while we're out, so I'd like to know a little about what she enjoys." Her friends will probably tell her you asked, and this is fine because it shows you care.

Once you uncover a few things she likes, you can research them. We're not talking about becoming an expert, just getting a general background knowledge so you have some basic entry points for a conversation. It's great to leave things vague so you can ask her questions and she can tell you about the topic, but it helps to have a starting point. Things are easier if she likes some of the same things you do--computers, books, ergonomic chairs, anything at all--because you'll already have a common topic for conversation.

I'm going to take a moment here and point out something important. This "gorgeous babe" may be physically attractive, but she's a person just like anyone else you speak with. She has her own talents, interests and insecurities, so don't get hung up on the body encasing the brain.

Pro-tip: until you get through a few dates, imagine she's a man. It will help you pay attention to the conversation, learn more about her, and treat her respectfully. It will also keep your head clear so you can get a better idea of what she finds interesting about you.

To handle your concerns about whether the person is interested in you or your money, you should be honest. If she asks about income, say, "I'm not comfortable talking about that. Maybe we can discuss it when we know each other better." If she gets angry or keeps asking, chances are she's only interested in money. You should not talk about finances at all, and when the date ends you should say that you really aren't interested in going out again. It's up to you whether you make an excuse like, “the social interaction is too stressful,” or you bluntly say, “I don't want to see you again because I think you're a gold digger.”

On the other hand, while it's a good sign if no one mentions salaries, you will still need to hold up your end of the conversation. If things start to drag or get awkward, say, "I apologize for being awkward, but I don't get to talk about much other than programming, so this is challenging for me. I hope you understand. Maybe you can help by telling me about something you really like." You can then follow the steps in the first paragraph to keep the conversation moving.

IMPORTANT! If you have absolutely nothing in common with this person, you should not waste your time or hers.

It's OK if two people have an emotional connection and learn about each other gradually. It's also OK if both them are only interested in a physical relationship and don't care about long conversations. But, if one of them is looking for something that the other can't give, it's time to move on. You don't want to start a long term relationship that's just going to bore you both and end with a break-up. Be honest and assess if you each want the same things before making any long-term commitments or talking about money.

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