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Do you believe forcing programmers to not wear what they like affects their performance? I can extend the question to what they want put on their desk or hung on their wall.

Do you have experience that proves giving programmers more freedom in personal matters can increase their productivity? Personally, I feel it should have an impact.

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closed as off topic by Steven A. Lowe, ChrisF Sep 12 '11 at 10:10

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dont know who downvoted, but I consider this on topic. –  Tom Sep 12 '11 at 2:43
off topic, could apply to anyone, for the same reason this was closed programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/1166/…. That being said, neckties reduce blood flow to the brain. –  Steven A. Lowe Sep 12 '11 at 3:26
@Steven: +1'd for the succinct summation at the end. –  Jesse C. Slicer Sep 12 '11 at 14:05

5 Answers 5

up vote 38 down vote accepted

I think it has a big impact, but not so much in the sense that a looser or stricter dress code will lead to different performance from a given programmer.

The impact it has is that a stricter dress code will - I guarantee you - lead to you finding it much, much harder to recruit and retain good talent.

A strict suit & tie dress code is an excellent way to generate a Dead Sea effect at your company. The sort of developers who stay at a Dead Sea company - less talented "grateful they have a job" developers - will have no problem wearing a suit & tie. But genuinely talented people won't be happy, and that's if you even manage to hire them in the first place, without them being scared off by an office environment that looks nothing like their perception of a software company.

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Completely agree –  Mohsen Sep 12 '11 at 4:03
+1 for the "Dead Sea effect" link. –  kevin cline Sep 12 '11 at 5:43

I'd expect an impact, but not because of the dress code itself.

Programmers, especially the brilliant kind, are often peculiar creatures, and many of them don't go well with rules they consider arbitrary. People have written whole blogfuls about this, but the gist is that if you put arbitrary constraints upon a programmer, chances are they will stall, and their productivity will plummet.

Now, for roles where meeting clients in a formal setting is part of the job, dressing appropriately can be expected, and any programmer equipped with rudimentary social skills will comply, because it makes sense - if they don't, explain how wearing a suit and tie makes you look impressive and serious, and how that's helpful in selling the product and creating a relationship of trust. If you can make that argument, you probably won't need any explicit rules.

On the other hand, if you can't explain to an intelligent person why the formal attire is needed, then chances are it is in fact arbitrary - maybe it makes you feel better, or someone in upper management; maybe it's just always been like this and nobody has ever given it much thought; but if you try to enforce such a rule without being able to explain why, your programming staff's morale will suffer.

It's not just dress codes: any rule you impose that is perceived as arbitrary, or worse, counter-productive, unfair, or overly restrictive, will yield the same productivity-killing result.

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I would be interested to see a few of these articles for curiosities sake :) –  Stoosh Sep 12 '11 at 6:37
For starters, Joel has written a few articles on the subject - joelonsoftware.com/items/2006/08/08.html. Nosing around will most certainly turn up more. –  tdammers Sep 12 '11 at 11:04
@Dave: That's actually a typo. Fixed. –  tdammers Sep 12 '11 at 13:59

I think it has the potential to have an impact. It just depends on how far it goes.

For example, I've never had a problem wearing a tie, but I know people for whom it's a distraction.

Of course, then you have the argument that a loose dress code creates a tyranny of choice, i.e., when everyone wore suits it was easy to decide what to wear, but now you have to spend time choosing your outfit.

Ultimately, I don't think that programmers, who have no potential to interact with clients, should have a rigid dress code. If you've ever worked with creatives, you'll notice that they pretty much wear jeans and a t-shirt everyday, provided they aren't working with clients. Why should programmers be any different?

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Totally agree with "don't think that programmers, who have no potential to interact with clients, should have a rigid dress code" - if the compiler is OK with my clothes(or lack thereof) , that's all that matters. –  Adel Sep 12 '11 at 2:59
@Adel: But as your co-worker that has to come in and talk to you about the interface you wrote, I would feel better if you are not sitting behind your desk in speedos. –  Loki Astari Sep 12 '11 at 5:10
I don't think that programmers in general care about each other's dress. –  Adam Arold Sep 12 '11 at 7:28
If I'm having to worry so much about making sure my shirt is tucked in and my tie is on straight, I'm not thinking enough about my job. Let developers wear what they want, so they don't have to think about it and can think about the task at hand: making stuff to make money for the business. –  AndyBursh Sep 12 '11 at 9:56
@Adel: 'lack of clothes' bring scary thoughts to my mind –  BlueTrin May 16 '13 at 14:06

I feel that comfortable clothes generally lead to better performance. It can be difficult enough to sit there for 10-15 hours a day. Usually Fridays are casual at the big firms, so you'll get more leeway then.

I especially prefer to wear the shoes I like, but many places have some set of rules there.

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Dress code in government and defense contractors, at least the facilities where I have worked, is very relaxed. My normal dress code at every job has been jeans and a polo with sneakers. At one job, I had to wear a shirt and tie for my ID picture. The only other times I wore anything more formal was for a presentation to people outside my team. –  Thomas Owens Sep 12 '11 at 3:02
Aah, I stand corrected then. Thanks –  Adel Sep 12 '11 at 3:03

If a company is paying you well then i don't think any good programmer will have any issue with the dress code, neither will their performance be affected. In the end what matters to most, is MONEY. (which is very sad as we all have become so materialistic)

Human is a weird creature. All it takes, is some time to accommodate to different surroundings. If some company is paying you well even with strict dress code, believe me after couple of months you will totally feel comfortable. :)

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I don't think so. Everybody prefers a different temperature and the dresscode eliminates the only solution for two people sitting in the same room. –  maaartinus Sep 12 '11 at 10:53
yea i know. but my point remains there. What if some company is paying you a good salary. Would you not accommodate to the dress code? or will you not join the company? –  Hashim R Sep 12 '11 at 11:02
I've only ever worked for one company with a "shirt and tie" dress code. After a couple months, I felt totally comfortable... because I had forgotten my tie a couple times and no consequences resulted, so I stopped bothering with it entirely, dress code be damned. The other techs occasionally teased me about it, but nobody else seemed to notice or care. –  Dave Sherohman Sep 12 '11 at 11:13
@Hashim: the thing is that usually really talented people have more choice. –  BlueTrin May 16 '13 at 14:07

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