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Jam session at Microsoft TechEd proves geeks can have fun too

Lena J. Weiner

I’ll admit it: I’m a geek. With a subscription to The Economist, an unabashed love of anime conventions, a pet named after a character in a French B movie and a need to explain to people who want to watch Netflix on my computer that it won’t be possible as my household is Linux OS only, it’s pretty hard to deny. And I’m fine with that. Proud of my geek status, even.

What really grinds my gears, though, is when people insinuate that I don’t know how to party because I’m a geek. No way -- geeks are the biggest party animals out there. Who else creates drinking games for their favorite TV shows (e.g., taking a shot every time someone dies on Game of Thrones)? Do you think people play Dungeons & Dragons just to role play as dwarves and elves or is it really about getting together with other geeks and having a good time? Who do you think started many of the current trends, including big glasses, 80s-themed clothing and wearing your flash drive as a fashion statement? Geeks!

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In my quest to prove that geeks know how to party when the time is right, I went to the Microsoft TechEd Jam Session on June 12 at B.B. King’s Blues Club in Orlando, Fla.  I figured I’d be able to find multiple geeks at Microsoft TechEd who knew how to cut loose, and I was not disappointed.

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No fewer than five musicians were on stage during the time I was there. Between very skilled renditions of songs like Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” (along with a disclaimer that Microsoft did not endorse their musical choices), “Man in the Box” by Alice in Chains and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” I had the chance to talk to a group of geeks at play about how they spend their short leisure hours.

Ho Chang, a SQL Server DBA from Atlanta, Georgia, said he likes to watch NBA basketball in his free time.

“My favorite team is the Miami Heat,” he added.

Chris James, a consulting and design pro from California, said he enjoys gaming -- especially Skyrim -- and spending time in nature. Julius Danuatmodjo, a systems design and integration specialist, said that his favorite pastime is drinking good beer -- and lots of it. Shane Unrein, his coworker, took a more laid-back approach, saying he likes to “just chill out, play lots of golf.”

Some people mentioned unusual hobbies. Mat Tomczik, an infrastructure manager and vice president, decorates Christmas trees to display in his home. The trees are always natural and at least 9 feet 5 inches tall. He uses more than 7,000 lights per tree, and each tree has more than 750 ornaments, over a third of which are cherished hand-me-downs from older generations.

“The greatest challenge is ornaments, all of which are glass,” he said, adding that some are over a foot long. While he only displays one tree per year, each tree takes four to five days to install. He typically puts them up in time for Thanksgiving and leaves them up until two weeks after Christmas. He also adds that he now also does Christmas trees for some of his relatives who admired his work. During the summer, the Minnesota native also enjoys planting trees and landscaping.

“It makes me feel really energetic to get out in the summer and do that,” he said.

Gohar Gharibyan, a software design engineer from California, said her main way of cutting loose is dancing to blues music.

“There are a lot of engineers in dance,” says Gharibyan, “especially swing dancing.” She went on to say that she has a theory about this: "Many engineers are introverts, and dancing provides a structure to facilitate socialization."

Many people mentioned their children.

“My kids take up most of my time,” said Jeremiah Putman, a network administrator from Kansas, with a happy expression. Gary Cyr, an IT professional, said he spends a lot of time with his three children, ages 21, 18 and 9.

“They keep me busy, either via sports, Scouts, or other activities,” he said. “I come to these things to really unwind.”

An engineer for Dell, who asked not to be identified, added, “We all work over 50 hours a week. We don’t have a lot of leisure time. It’s at (conferences) like this one that we get a chance to relax and have some fun.”

As I exited the jam session, I noticed that a musician had taken the stage to sing and play guitar while balancing a plate on his head. I left with a smile on my face. Geeks really know how to party.


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