8 biggest myths about managing geeks

Managing talented techies can be tricky business. Here's how not to treat IT pros

From Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory" to Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons" to Urkel, we know all we need to know about geeks, right?

They eat nothing but pizza and care about nothing but technology. They live by night and are rarely seen in daylight. They're barely able to communicate with other bipeds. They'd spend all day playing with their toys and getting nada done if you let them. They're the antithesis of creative.

[ Test your geek cred with InfoWorld's Geek IQ Tests: Round 3, Round 4, Round 5 | Also on InfoWorld: Beware the nine circles of IT hell, and steer clear of 20 common IT blunders and IT's 12 worst "best practices." | For more IT management wisdom, sign up for Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

While some of these stereotypes may seem true at a distance, up close they tend to fall apart. Tech pros are more than the sum of their stereotypes, though they are definitely different and need to be managed accordingly, says Eric Schlissel, founder of tech services provider GeekTek IT Services.

"Managing a geek is different than managing other employees," says Schlissel. "If business owners want to retain the top talent, they should treat their geeks as a different class of employee. Respect their proclivities, within reason, and judge them based on their work product instead of their tattoos."

The trouble is in separating the myths from the wisdom when it comes to getting the most from highly trained technology professionals. Here are eight commonly held misperceptions about managing the techie set. If you're among the (mis)managed, perhaps you can persuade your boss to read this.

Geek management myth No. 1: Pizza in, code out

Though pizza may appear to the culture at large as one of the four basic geek food groups (along with Chinese takeout, microwave popcorn, and Red Bull), stocking the development department with junk food and caffeinated beverages, locking the door, and waiting for a finished product to emerge in the wee hours of the night doesn't cut it, says Johanna Rothman, management consultant and author of "Hiring Geeks That Fit."

"Every so often you might encounter someone who can create production-quality code in this kind of environment," she says. "But I've been in the business for over 30 years now and I've only met three of them."

The pizza-in, code-out (PICO) rule usually results in an inferior product, in large part because good code requires collaboration between multiple teams, adds Bruce Eckfeldt, managing director and CEO of Cyrus Innovation, an agile software development firm. (Eckfeldt also recommends an alternative diet of fresh fruit and herbal tea.)

"Developers perform better when working a sustainable pace and collaborating together, as with pair programming," he says. "This provides a constant rotation of new ideas and distributes knowledge of the system, which speeds up innovation and reduces risk."

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