Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dress Code Wars Episode IV: The Suits Strike Back

Wow. What a bit of a crazy couple of days since my last rant on the absurdity of forcing developers to work under dress codes. It hit Proggit, Hacker News, was tweeted by some high-follower-count people, and had more page views than anything else I've done. For those of you new to the feed, welcome!

I've been following the conversation on as many sites as I've been aware of, to try to keep the conversation going, and I was quite chuffed when there were more words on the subject written by !Kirk as by me. Particularly given my verbose writing style, that to me is a sign of a good conversation, which was the primary reason for the rant.

I just wanted to take some time to address some of the common arguments that kept coming up.

Kirk, you're a pompous Prima Donna and you're really not that good, either. Just shut up.

Ahhh, Argumentum ad Hominem. Where would the internet be without you? Just for the record though, I don't claim I'm that good a developer, and while I've been accused in the past of being a Prima Donna, I really don't let it get to me. I think it's more telling about the accuser than the accused.

I like dressing nicely

Bully for you! I'm sure you look lovely in your bespoke suit and custom made shirt. I'm positive you're quite the looker, and are attractive to both genders. You're a straight shooter with Management Potential written all over you.

If you like dressing nicely so much, why are you worried about a lack of a dress code? Why not have no dress code and still wear a suit? If you're just saying that you like dressing well, why not stay dressing well without forcing your sartorial choices on others?

I like South-East Asian food a lot. I think you should like it. But I sure as heck wouldn't have a company cafeteria only sell Thai food, and force you to eat in it every day.

It's better for your career to dress well

Thanks for looking out for your fellow software engineers, and incidentally, I actually agree with this one (if you desire a management role, or a role where you're working very closely with the business on a daily basis, you should dress up a little). But it should be your choice.

This one is an arms race as well. The only way this works is if you dress just a little bit better than everybody else, no matter what they're wearing. Norm is jeans and T-shirt? You wear chinos and a shirt. Norm is slacks and a shirt? You wear a suit. Norm is a suit? You wear a bespoke suit and a custom-made shirt and Hermes tie. No matter what, you always have to dress just a little bit better. You should actually be the most in favor of loosening dress codes, because then you don't have to dress that well/expensively/uncomfortably to still stand out.

Without a dress code, chaos will ensue

"Dress Appropriately" is the most powerful dress code you can have, because it completely eliminates all these arguments:

  • People will dress like ragamuffin street tramps. Someone goes too far and you think it affects others? Take them aside and say "that's inappropriate."
  • People won't dress up for meetings where formal attire is required. I dress down when I code, but when I meet with investors or customers, I dress up. That's just common sense, and if you actually hire people with common sense, they'll use it.

Fundamentally, we're not children, we're professional software developers. Removing arbitrary rules won't result in a Lord of the Flies situation breaking out.

I don't like seeing your manky feet

Believe it or not, this came up several times. As long as women can wear open toed shoes or nice sandals or whatever, it's just a rubbish argument. You don't like seeing a bloke's feet because you don't usually see a bloke's feet. Believe it or not, there are whole countries where very few people of either gender wear shoes on a regular basis. Get over your foot phobia.

My family needs to eat

Look, I completely understand that your family needs to eat, and if, on balance, the best job on offer is one which dictates a dress code, and you're aware of the likely attitude of the firm based on the existence of said dress code, you should take it. I didn't want a job with a dress code when I took the contract with Big Bank B, but my family needed to eat as well. Pragmatism is the primary virtue of the successful professional software developer.

Just be aware that if the firm has a dress code, in my opinion, that signals many things about the firm and its relationship with its technical staff. Go into it with your eyes open. And in my opinion, if you have a choice between a job with no dress code, and a slightly higher-paid job with a dress code, you should pick the one without the dress code.

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