Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Geek Personality

If you work for a company of any size, the day will come when you have
to go to a "retreat." Uh, oh. A session of touchy-feely and bonding?
There's wa-ay too much work to get done without having to attend one
of these.

I've attended retreats of various kinds: (1) the one where the big
boss wants to show off his superstars (yawn), (2) the kind where you
try to map out your plans for the next six months (useful), and (3)
the kind where you engage in "exercises" aimed at improving your

One of the latter that I attended administered the Meyers-Briggs
personality test. I found this somewhat eye-opening. I work for a
large government-sponsored research lab. The scientists are top dog
here, and computer types do their best to support the noble
research. The scientists had taken the Meyers-Briggs earlier and had a
large preponderance of one personality type: INTJ. When the computing
division took the same test, surprisingly we had a similar ratio of
the same type.

Well, I guess this makes us all compatible. Of course every
personality type has its strengths and weaknesses. INTJ stands for
Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging. [See article by Marina
Margaret Heiss at]

My spouse, who is also a software engineer, is innately suspicious of
these personality tests, putting them in the same category as
horoscopes. Admittedly, there are only 16 personality types in the
Meyers-Briggs, not many more choices than the 12 signs of the
Zodiac. However, the fact that 65% of my company's scientists and
engineers are INTJs seems to warrant a look.

INTJs apparently project an air of certainty and are
perfectionists. They are logical and creative. So what's not to like?
Apparently they can be ruthlessly critical of people they think aren't
pulling their weight and don't respect authority. So, it sounds like
people respect them but they don't necessarily like them. Sort of rings
true when the science budget hits Congress, doesn't it?

Luckily (or unluckily), I'm not an INTJ. I'm an ENTJ. So, my
introversion component skews a bit to the extroversion side. I think
that means I care what people think of me. Snap!

But it also means I share a lot with the INTJs at work and can hold my
own. One of my goals will be to help educate geeks so they can be more
ENTJ. After all, this is the perfect personality type. [joke]

Seriously, my personality type wants to lead the world to a better
place. But, unlike Jean-Luc Picard, I know it takes more than to just
say to the INTJs, "Make it so." I think INTJs have everything they
need to succeed, but they just need to work at being
well-rounded. Then, they will have the tools and techniques they need
to communicate effectively with everyone, and together we can help
make a difference.

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