Earlier today I was in an email exchange with a Tier 1 tech support guy at a hardware vendor who makes multiport serial boards. I had had a question in as to whether a particular board supported the Linux TIOCMIWAIT ioctl. Tier 1 guy referred the question to an engineer in their Linux development group, and Tier 1’s reply to me happened to include his email chain with the engineer.
The engineer wrote to Tier 1 “Is that Eric Raymond ‘ESR’? He’s a big deal in open-source circles.” This made me smile, because when I get made that way it usually means the engineer’s going to work rather harder to make me happy than he would for some random. This is helpful to get my work done!
But there is a duty which is the flip side of that privilege, and that’s what I’m here to write about today. Because if you are reading this at all, your odds of becoming a geek-cred certification authority someday are higher than average, and if that happens, it’s better if you consciously understand what you ought to be doing.
A few hours later my friend and A&D regular Ken Burnside called me to tell me that he was thinking about coming east to Balticon on Memorial Day, and of a clever plan. He has a friend who is local to Baltimore, a painfully shy introvert who he nevertheless thinks he might be able to lure to the convention to do some things with us.
The friend in question has been a major illustrator of SF games for more than thirty years. Because he’s so shy I’m not going to blow his cover, but I could name any one of several iconic illustrations that every science-fiction gamer has seen and you’d say, if you are one yourself, “Wow! That guy?” and want to shake his hand.
In addition, he runs an incredibly fact-dense website about some topics with huge appeal to SF fans and gamers, really well and professionally done with cites to real science and the actual mathematics. As hard-core geekiness goes it really doesn’t get better than this. He has one of the most interesting feeds on G+, too.
The guy is pretty reclusive. No, not his mother’s basement, but he doesn’t get out much. I’ve been thinking I wanted to meet him for a while, but Ken’s proposal crystallized this into a mission. I want to go to Balticon and befriend this guy and hang out with him, only partly because it’d be fun for me.
As much or more, I want to do it more because it’d be fun for him. I mean, how much validation does a guy like that ever get? Super-bright, shy as all hell, few peers anywhere – I suspect it would be a major event of his year to have “ESR” be personally nice to him, and I want to give him that. He’s more than earned it.
I think people like this guy are more important than they seem. It’s easy to dismiss SF games as a frivolity, but by helping the rest of us dream bigger, brighter, more wonderful futures – and doing it with rigor – they help bring those futures into being.
Really, what good is it to be a geek cred certification authority if you don’t use it to befriend and encourage and support people like this? Maybe, I can hope, I’ll help him feel a bit more confident. Reassure him that the recondite stuff he does is really valuable and that someone he respects cares about it and he should keep doing it. I’d like it if he walked away feeling a little taller because “ESR” treated him as a peer.
If you ever become a geek cred certification authority yourself (or even just a famous alpha hacker), I hope you will understand that this is part of your job. It’s the duty that goes with the privilege of being recognized by Tier 3 engineers. There will be people out there doing wonderful things, in software and outside it, for whom you will be one of the few sources of validation that matter. Actually providing that validation is a service to your civilization and the future; it helps keep their creativity flowing.
(Usually I post links to my blog from G+. I’m not going to link this one until after Balticon…)