Nerd Sniping: What xkcd taught me about Management

Nerd sniping is the practice of presenting a challenging, often distracting, problem that appeals to a person’s obsessive tendency to solve it. Instead of using nerd sniping to distract and derail, we can use it to motivate and empower. What if you could drive a business outcome without being directive? We’ll explore strategies that can help you reap the benefits of nerd sniping and avoid the antipatterns where it can be abused. A culture of autonomy and empowerment is closer than you think.

We’ll introduce Maslow’s Hierarchy of Nerd Sniping to differentiate the types of nerd sniping: are you trying to impress the boss and fulfill a need for belonging, or are you truly excited about impacting the business? You’ll need to recognize the power dynamics involved in nerd sniping, and take responsibility commensurate with your position: the closer to the top of leadership you are, the more your nerd sniping has to be aligned to business goals.

The autonomy resulting from nerd sniping is only possible in certain work environments. We’ll go over a checklist to see if your team is ready to try nerd sniping, and if your team isn’t ready yet, we’ll explore other tactics to shape your organization: vision-driven work, hack weeks, thinking in bets, and inclusion. A couple small steps can have a huge impact on your team: join me in giving nerd sniping a try!



Katie Schilling

Katie is an Engineering Manager at where she supports a few Engineering and Developer Relations focused teams. She prioritizes people over companies, and shapes cultures to foster creativity ...