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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Nerd or Geek?

Comments (18)

As we all head into the long weekend, I thought I’d give you something to ponder other than what your friends will twitter about this weekend.

While in Italy last week, David Cohen and I got into yet another discussion about whether it was better to be a nerd or a geek.  I generally use the word nerd to describe myself whereas David was all about geek. 

During our fundraising for Foundry Group last year, we had a due diligence session with two of our investors where we got into the same debate.  The conclusion from our discussion (no alcohol was involved) was that "nerds are geeks who make money."

David Brooks takes a different position in today’s NY Times in his Op-Ed titled The Alpha Geeks.  Brooks does an awesome job of detailing the history of nerd and geek from the original 1950 Dr. Suess "If I Ran the Zoo" (the first known published mention of the word nerd) through Happy Days, through the nerd ascendancy of the 1980′s (led by Bill Gates and Paul Allen), finished with the recent shift of geek to a position of prominence in the past decade.  He tosses in a little political commentary along with a few serious literary analogies.

So – which is it?  Nerd or Geek?  What’s the difference? 

As David Brooks says, "the last shall be first and the geek shall inherit the earth."

  • http://www.louisgray.com/live/ Louis Gray

    Geek has some cred. Nerds do not.

  • Luke G

    Exactly why I say nerd. Claiming cool isn't.

  • http://darklydreamingdavid.wordpress.com/ DAVE ID

    Nerds: Specialist ill-adapted to life in general. Geek: Non-specialised interested in everything and adaptable to just about anything.

  • http://zerologic.com Michael Sitarzewski

    Nerds to me are geeks with little to no social skills. That given, “geek” describes one's interest and skill level in a subject… for example, my wife is a craft geek. I'm a technology/internet/gadget geek.

  • MJ

    I agree with the previous comment – geek indicates proficiency in a topic regardless of their social skills…one never says a finance nerd or a physics nerd unless they are…a nerd. :)

  • Dave G

    I agree that geek is better… but one definition of a geek gives me pause… “a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake”. Eh, I still prefer geek :)

  • http://500hats.typepad.com dave mcclure

    what's the difference between a nerd, a geek, & a dork?

    * geek = a cool, smart person
    * nerd = an uncool, smart person
    * dork = an uncool, not-smart person

  • http://www.betweentherails.com cmonster

    * dork = not to bright, doesn't get the ladies
    * nerd = super bright, doesn't get the ladies
    * geek = super bright, rockstar with the ladies

    • http://www.coloradostartups.com David G. Cohen

      that's what i'm talking about.

  • James Mitchell

    When people ask me if I prefer to be called a nerd or geek, I always say I prefer wizard.

    As for the Biblical phrase that the meek shall inherit the Earthy, my only comment is that there is very little emperical evidence to support that claim.

    James Mitchell
    jmitchell@kensingtonllc.com
    http://www.bostonconvivium.com/jm_about

  • http://www.coloradostartups.com David G. Cohen

    Jil says she told you so.

  • http://www.zachlandes.com zachlandes

    a geek is a person who embraces their love of technical subjects. a nerd is a person who attributes some shame to their love of technical subjects. It becomes the same thing as a geek, essentially, if the nerd in question embraces this social outcast quality.
    in other words, a geek is assumed to be happy with his place in society, whereas a nerd may or may not be, or may not even know enough to see it.

  • http://mvaas.com Robert Hagens

    I can't remember where I saw this … but I love it – a geek goes to a star trek convention, a nerd goes dressed as Spock!

  • Aziz Grieser

    Can't believe that nobody said this yet. To quote the science 'nerd' from The Simpsons TV show: The scientist states, “I am not a dork, I am a nerd. NERD, Not Even Remotely Dorky.”

  • DAVE ID

    Nerds: Specialist ill-adapted to life in general. Geek: Non-specialised interested in everything and adaptable to just about anything.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/msitarzewski msitarzewski

    Nerds to me are geeks with little to no social skills. That given, "geek" describes one's interest and skill level in a subject… for example, my wife is a craft geek. I'm a technology/internet/gadget geek.

  • Louis Gray

    Geek has some cred. Nerds do not.

  • MJ

    I agree with the previous comment – geek indicates proficiency in a topic regardless of their social skills…one never says a finance nerd or a physics nerd unless they are…a nerd. :)

  • Luke G

    Exactly why I say nerd. Claiming cool isn't.

  • dave mcclure

    what's the difference between a nerd, a geek, & a dork?

    * geek = a cool, smart person
    * nerd = an uncool, smart person
    * dork = an uncool, not-smart person

  • cmonster

    * dork = not to bright, doesn't get the ladies
    * nerd = super bright, doesn't get the ladies
    * geek = super bright, rockstar with the ladies

  • Dave G

    I agree that geek is better… but one definition of a geek gives me pause… "a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake". Eh, I still prefer geek :)

  • James Mitchell

    When people ask me if I prefer to be called a nerd or geek, I always say I prefer wizard.

    As for the Biblical phrase that the meek shall inherit the Earthy, my only comment is that there is very little emperical evidence to support that claim.

    James Mitchell
    jmitchell@kensingtonllc.com
    http://www.bostonconvivium.com/jm_about

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dgcohen dgcohen

    that's what i'm talking about.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dgcohen dgcohen

    Jil says she told you so.

  • zachlandes

    a geek is a person who embraces their love of technical subjects. a nerd is a person who attributes some shame to their love of technical subjects. It becomes the same thing as a geek, essentially, if the nerd in question embraces this social outcast quality.
    in other words, a geek is assumed to be happy with his place in society, whereas a nerd may or may not be, or may not even know enough to see it.

  • Robert Hagens

    I can't remember where I saw this … but I love it – a geek goes to a star trek convention, a nerd goes dressed as Spock!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/aziz_griese5636 aziz_griese5636

    Can't believe that nobody said this yet. To quote the science 'nerd' from The Simpsons TV show: The scientist states, "I am not a dork, I am a nerd. NERD, Not Even Remotely Dorky."

  • http://toostep.com/ RohitK

    nerd:a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities….

    geek:peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    nerd:a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities.

    geek:peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    nerd:a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities….

    geek:peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    nerd:a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities….

    geek:peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/RohitK RohitK

    nerd:a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities….

    geek:peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly obsessed with one or more things including those of intellectuality, electronics, etc

  • Steph

    Nerds and smart and normally unlikeable; likes nerdy things: Star Trek, Harry Potter etc.

    Geeks think they're smart but they're wannabe nerds. lol. Geeks are the kids who the bully picks on everyday, that kid who just doesn't fit in that no one likes.

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