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On being called a Genius.

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#1 HappyCoder   Members   -  Reputation: 2170

Posted 17 January 2013 - 03:31 PM

I don't know how often this happens to any of you but I don't really like it when people think of me as some genius because of what I can do in computer programming. I feel like it sets up an expectation that I should be good at anything that requires thinking. That isn't always the case. I feel like I have gotten good at computer programming because I enjoy it and put in lots of time to get to where I am. I feel like almost anybody who put the time in could develop the same skills. Your thoughts?


#2 ChaosEngine   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2096

Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:11 PM

I feel like almost anybody who put the time in could develop the same skills. Your thoughts?


I don't subscribe to this. Can almost anyone learn to program? Sure, any adult of moderate intelligence can learn the basics of programming. Can they learn to do it well? Maybe, but for some people it's a lot harder than for others. 


That's not to imply that people who can't program are less clever. One of my first jobs I worked with a guy who was a terrible programmer. Nice guy, worked hard at it, but never really got it at a fundamental level. Eventually, he quit and went into finance where it turns out, he was some kind of wunderkind and could now buy and sell me with his pocket change.

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#3 Roots   Members   -  Reputation: 657

Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:40 PM

I dislike being called the "g" word as well, but I don't really think anyone has ever called me that because I can write computer programs. It usually was uttered in response to me being a graduate student in a prominent engineering school, or the fact that I enjoy reading and learning about scientific topics in my spare time and have books about theoretical physics on my bookshelf. I really don't feel I'm a genius in any sense. I'm just above average intelligence, work hard, and have a high degree of intellectual curiosity about a number of subjects.

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#4 jay_s   Members   -  Reputation: 178

Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:57 PM

This happens to me most often during introductions made by family or friends. I used to disagree, but I eventually got tired of hearing the, "How many people do you know that can..." speech.


While i pride myself on being logical, I hardly think I'm a genius. I think I'm just of average intelligence despite what IQ tests or school has "proved" to me. my thoughts remain the same; that no one has ever walked or talked their way into this world. It all stems from exploration and then practice.

#5 frob   Moderators   -  Reputation: 18363

Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:57 PM

It isn't just in programming.  


I attribute it to both inarticulate speech and also minimization to avoid negativity in themselves.


People see my skills in programming and my years of experience and say I'm a genius.  What they mean is that they are impressed by my logical thinking and the other skills I have developed over the decades.  Or they are making an excuse for themselves, "I could do that if I had a magical programmer trait".


People watch/listen to me playing piano, and say I have a musical talent.  What they mean is that they are impressed by the countless hours of practice over the three decades since I started taking lessons.  Or they are making an excuse for themselves, "I could play like that if I had a magical musician trait".


People look at the art I create, either through paint or through photography, and say I must have an eye for art.  What they mean is that they are impressed by result that came from the thousands of hours of work, piles of filled art pads, and critically reviewing over a hundred thousand of my own photos.  Or they are making an excuse for themselves, "I could do that if I had a magical artistic trait".



I tend to usually ignore the comments since they are often said in a depreciating way, or if they are said in a positive way I try to treat them as a compliment.

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#6 ApochPiQ   Moderators   -  Reputation: 14102

Posted 17 January 2013 - 04:59 PM

I tend to usually ignore the comments since they are often said in a depreciating way, or if they are said in a positive way I try to treat them as a compliment.


I've found that people who actually are qualified to compliment someone's expertise (be it programming, music, art, whatever else) generally avoid superlatives anyways, and can pinpoint what you do that's impressive. Generic compliments don't really mean anything to me anymore; but if someone says they're really impressed by such-and-such, that's different.

#7 alnite   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2036

Posted 17 January 2013 - 05:33 PM

In American culture, sometimes being called a "genius" can actually be a partial insult, depending how it's said.  Nerds, or smart people in general, are not appreciated as much in this culture. Good-looking/Hollywood/actors/actresses/singers/musicians/performers are valued more than any other professions.  So, being called a genius is almost like being called a socially inapt nerd.


So, it depends on how take it.  For me personally, I never try to do programming outside of the programming realm.  That is, I never try to show my programming skills unless the situations call for it (work, project).


I used to be called a genius too, but that's when I was in school/college where nobody else around me knew programming.

Edited by alnite, 17 January 2013 - 05:37 PM.

#8 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 16675

Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:28 PM

I just compare it to learning a foreign language and change the topic.


"Wow, you know how to program computer games?"

"I know a computer language and write code in that, similar to how someone might learn Spanish or French as a second language, except the computer language I know is a written language only. Oh look, a kitty!"


Not the best or most accurate analogy, but one almost anyone can understand without going into the technical details that just reinforce their 'yep, he's a genius' thought.


Occasionally the word 'genius' or 'brilliant' is also used not to literally mean you are super-intelligent, but that whatever specific thing you just did was impressive. "You got that virus off my computer? You're a genius!" (used as a compliment, but not being applied to your entire person, just that specific action -> fixing the laptop).


Other times, people are so in over their head with computers, that they are astonished when you do something simple, and use the word 'genius' to mean literally that you are a genius.


You have to know the person and listen to the intonation of their voice to be able to tell how they are using it, and whether you ought say something or leave it be.

Edited by Servant of the Lord, 17 January 2013 - 07:34 PM.

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#9 Khaiy   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1342

Posted 17 January 2013 - 07:32 PM

I get it, rarely, and it usually just means that the person saying it is impressed with something or other that I did. In my experience the word is used very very imprecisely, generally to mean good work on some mental task. As ApochiPQ said, it's a generic compliment that has very little thought behind it. If you don't think the person speaking is being sarcastic, I'd just accept the bland compliment and not take it too seriously.

#10 TheChubu   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3600

Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:06 PM

Between being called a "genius" and the other extreme ("but it's just a simple matter of programming!") I prefer the former.


(had to search for 5min the antonym of latter because I forgot it, lol)

Edited by TheChubu, 17 January 2013 - 08:07 PM.



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#11 Shaquil   Members   -  Reputation: 811

Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:34 PM

I agree that people will pump up those around them to keep from having to be critical of themselves. But more often than not people will assume I'm really smart before I do anything one would describe as smart. Even before we have a conversation. I don't think it's something magic about me, or that I actually am just naturally a genius and everyone can sense it. I probably just act some way that reminds people of a cliche "smart person" as portrayed in the media. Or that's my only logical assumption. It could be something else I'm not considering.


As for being called a genius for programming and reading and enjoying math, unfortunately it's just a constant reminder that, at least in American society, most people are so inexperienced when it comes to actually honing a skill that when they see people with honed skills, it doesn't even occur to them that it was time, not a gift, that got the person to where they are.

#12 swiftcoder   Senior Moderators   -  Reputation: 9501

Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:37 PM

"I could do that if I had a magical programmer trait"



So many people believe that any given discipline requires a magical spark of 'talent'. It makes a convenient excuse to justify the fact that they never had the patience to learn to do something well...

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#13 ApochPiQ   Moderators   -  Reputation: 14102

Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:49 PM

I hear the same admonition from great musicians all the time.

Everybody was born not knowing what a Mixolydian scale is. Everybody was born without experience playing [instrument of choice]. Everybody was born with zero ability to play music.

Sure, there are minor differences in where people start; some have better ears than others, some naturally have better rhythm, etc. But those differences are trivial to overcome.

What separates a great musician from the awestruck audience member isn't some kind of genetic infusion of power. In reality, the difference is merely thousands of hours of practice, study, and dedication.

Programming is no different.

#14 Hodgman   Moderators   -  Reputation: 26967

Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:52 PM

Note that you named the topic "On being called a Genius", as opposed to "That awkward moment when you get called genius", indicating a tendency to, like, you know, speak proper. That alone makes you a genius in the eyes of the undereducated tongue.png wink.png

#15 Casey Hardman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2144

Posted 17 January 2013 - 08:56 PM

Some of my friends say stuff like this to me, too...I don't know if I've ever been given the "genius" title, but I've been overly complicated for programming achievements a few times in the past, when I do something big enough to share it with my (scarce) friends on Facebook.


I don't really consider these to be great compliments because, to be honest, my friends don't really know enough about programming to understand that there are thousands of other programmers who could have made something just as good or better than what I made.


I agree with ApochPiQ; I'd be more interested to hear specific compliments, rather than just general "you're so amazing!" compliments from people who aren't really knowledgeable enough to know if what I did was actually great or not.

#16 L. Spiro   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 11881

Posted 17 January 2013 - 09:03 PM

It depends on why they are calling me that and who they are.

If it is for programming and they know nothing about the trade, it really has no meaning. Literally. It doesn’t build up expectations. It doesn’t come off as a compliment. I suggest literally just shrugging it off entirely. I view it as that person’s ignorance towards my trade, but I know they are also trying to be nice and they are undeserving of a negative reply, so I just do my best to hide my disgust and give a “Thank you” as close to sincerely as my “I cannot tell a lie” mandate allows me.

Then again, if it were one of my current coworkers I would take it as a sincere compliment. It hasn’t happened in programming but I know their levels and I can guess I would feel pretty happy.
But I wouldn’t let it build expectations.
I’ve played that game before and it took the fun out of a lot of things, specifically chess. When I was younger and more naive I won an American national chess championship, after which the pressure was really on. Imagine those kinds of expectations. My friend told his dad how “amazing” I was and that he had never seen anyone beat me, right after which his dad beat me.
I knew I didn’t deserve their words—I made stupid mistakes and lost matches constantly.
Every time I felt I was letting everyone else down. I didn’t feel embarrassed for myself, I felt ashamed for letting everyone down.
It took the fun out of the game entirely and I quit stone cold 2 years later.

It took many years to figure out that you just have to be happy with yourself and your abilities.
If you get put up on a pedestal and you worry about disappointing others should you fail, don’t.
Accept that you will fail sometimes and people will be disappointed in you. But that is their fault, not yours. They put those expectations there out of ignorance.
If you find yourself getting piled under expectations, just step aside and let them hit the floor. You will be a happier human for it.

L. Spiro

Edited by L. Spiro, 17 January 2013 - 09:03 PM.

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#17 smr   Members   -  Reputation: 1539

Posted 17 January 2013 - 10:55 PM

People used to call me genius all the time until I started punching them on the face after they say it.

#18 szecs   Members   -  Reputation: 2081

Posted 17 January 2013 - 11:01 PM

I did paper modelling when I was younger, and I did it pretty well. And almost all comments was something like, "You have skilful hands" "I wouldn't have the patience to to that". FU.

I have average hand (I can hardly tie a simple knot on a sack), and I'm pretty impatient, even with stuff I like to do. I, for one, would have been happy if someone called me a genius because of making fine paper crafts from zero is a month or 2 in my free-time (not some kits, everything was "invented" and developed by me from the age of 12 to 17). That time, I could have used some recognition.

I build Lego stuff this time. Own models, it's pretty farking hard to design them I say is some regards harder than a real machine. There aren't many people in the world who does it well, I'm maybe getting among them some time. Pretty much no one gives a shit about my models. I don't care much, but sometimes it's interesting, that even engineers don't care at all.

Edited by szecs, 17 January 2013 - 11:04 PM.

#19 CJ_COIMBRA   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 765

Posted 18 January 2013 - 05:08 AM

My mom's idea: son you are a comp sci expert ....now fix my computer!

#20 way2lazy2care   Members   -  Reputation: 782

Posted 18 January 2013 - 07:28 AM

Just try to talk to them a little before they find out what you do. Then they'll never mistake you for a genius. Works for me every time.

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