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I know that looking and dressing good is of vast importance in fields like sales, marketing, and human resources. But is it really important for developers, even when they aren't directly contacting clients or third parties?

Can a developer get away with dressing shabbily, and still get the raises he deserves on the sole basis of his coding skills?

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I wish that more people in general, not just programmers, would ask this question of themselves. –  Stephen Aug 10 '11 at 12:36
    
If you are not really smart, then try to pretend that you are. If you are very bright, however, then try to sit closer to the bosses, so that they would know this as well. –  Job Aug 22 '11 at 2:29

7 Answers 7

up vote 37 down vote accepted

We are all humans and thus judge superficially to an extent. We judge you by our first impression within seconds and don't even know it conciously.

A clean and good look will benefit you. Studies show that good looking people earn statistically more than others. A bad appearance can and will be a disadvantage.

Often times your appearance doesn't matter much to us programmers (we are used to such people), but to business people and others it does.

Can a developer get away with dressing shabbily, and still get the raises he deserves on the sole basis of his coding skills?

In some environments you can get away with it. In others, not. For example, I've been working with a guy who only showered once a month (if at all) and dressed like a gothic. He stunk like a skunk and nobody wanted to work with him. He had to change offices and some of the colleagues even wanted the company to get rid of him. This guy won't ever be promoted, just because people are offended by his appearance. As a matter of fact, you simply can't let that guy commuicate with customers. It's sad but true. I bet you won't find many leaders out there who dress akwardly and stink.

So in conclusion you can say, a good appearance will never hurt you, it can even benefit you. A bad appearance will have a negative impact. In some companies more so than in others.

However, you can dress and look as you please as long as you don't offend anyone, which ain't easy. Best advice is to stick to the corporate dress code.

Moreover I remember the story of a boy of whom everybody thought he was smart. He wasn't that smart in reality, but since people perceived him as smart, even the smallest things were accredited to and perceived as a sign of his superior intelligence.

So the bottom line is: perception matters - a lot.

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So he gets to dress however he wants, avoid management, and not deal with customers directly? Seems to me like he figured out something the rest of you didn't. –  user23679 Aug 10 '11 at 14:46
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Warning: don't overdress either! At my company, employees are expected to be dressed simply (clean shirt/pants/dress/skirt) in general, and we only dress smartly when dealing with the client higher ups. If you overdress, people may think you arrogant/whatever... –  Matthieu M. Aug 10 '11 at 16:37
    
Perception matters - a lot. I absolutely agree. Some of us programmers think we can get away with any clothing because we are programmers and we are always in backend. I don't think so. –  Amar Jarubula Aug 11 '11 at 15:46
    
I'd add to this. Perception can matter too much, especially in this day and age where quick and dirty rhymes with efficient. Just learn to get on the good side of people you're with or aiming to be with whether it's through perceived attitude or appearance. P.S: Clean jeans and jumper will do as demonstrated by Steve Jobs :) . –  James Poulson Aug 19 '11 at 19:11

Behaving smart is a requirement. It's hard to be a good programmer when you are being dumb deliberately - it will carry over into your code.

Dressing "smart" is a little more fuzzy. Lack of attention to your appearance will often give the impression that you will have the same lack of attention to your code. Lack of attention to your personal hygiene is even worse in that regard. Being dressed cleanly in relatively new and up-to-date clothes that fit and that are comfortable to you is probably the optimum for a non-outward-facing developer. The companies I have worked at will reward good developers that at least meet that standard, they are not strict about dress requirements.

Wearing a suit and tie is not going to make most people a better developer. It may work for some (confidence boosting etc.), but it's definitely not a general truth. Wearing a suit and tie can impress some types of people. People from a background of large companies or types of companies that expect a certain standard (e.g. banks) will expect the same of their colleagues or underlings. That's an unfortunate truth about people, and if you are in such a situation it may help your career to somewhat accomodate that expectation.

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+1 for Wearing a suit and tie can impress some types of people...That's an unfortunate truth. I find that "dress down" Fridays an odd thing because the smart dress code the rest of the time is almost admitting that Fridays will result in poor work. –  fwgx Aug 10 '11 at 10:25
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"Lack of attention to your personal hygiene is even worse in that regard." A lack of attention to personal hygiene is very anti-social, it's inexcusable if you are working with other people. –  StuperUser Aug 10 '11 at 10:59
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+1 gizmodo.com/5552428/spot-the-it-guy –  Joel Etherton Aug 10 '11 at 11:08
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One key thing - "Never trust a programmer in a suit" --Anonymous. I couldn't agree more. –  Stephen Orr Aug 10 '11 at 11:13
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@Falcon If he showers once a month and has an odor problem, HR needs to talk to him. If it's not resolved, he needs to be dealt with appropriately, up to possible termination. –  Chris Marasti-Georg Aug 10 '11 at 16:25

Have you seen pictures of great musicians, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers with awesome faces dived deep into the realm of contemplation? How do you feel about them. For example, how do you feel about Albert Einstein? I feel greatness, smartness, and many more attributes.

Smartness is a positive attribute. We may even say that it's an absolute good attribute, that is, no matter who you are, and what you do, people always feel that smarter you is better.

At the other hand, we have the concept of psychological association.When people see a good guy, they also trust his/her work. Here, goodness (or maybe smartness) is associated to the better work.

Thus, I believe that smartness is important for a developer. But hey! wait a minute. How can you behave smart, when you're not?

I think the main question is here. Many types of intelligence exist and apparently some people are much more better in many of them than others. In other words, when you're not intelligent, then you're not intelligent (sorry about tautology, just for emphasis). Thus, don't try to show something that you're not. If you're intelligent, then you'll behave intelligently. But if you're not, stop trying to mimic one.

However, I think more important than being intelligent, is to be diligent in programming.

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When you achieve greatness and walk around in sandals, everyone thinks you're eccentric; otherwise, you're just a slob. –  JeffO Aug 10 '11 at 11:49

Well, as an employer ... looking smart is very interesting being a geek myself the suit doesn't come out all that often (unless I'm meeting with sales/marketing types). So the ability to look smart is important for when you are in those situations, generally you knowlege and skill should speak for you with your peers.

Acting smart ... thats interesting, most who are smart will pick those acting pretty quickly and reject them upfront ... again your peers will sort you out. Though you may have landed the job by that stage.

Being smart ... well that is all important ... in a programming role, unless you want ot be handed a spec, page by page, and told to "do this bit" then you need to be smart. There is an element of programming that is simple rote "doing it" but for any serious position or advancement ... demonstrating interlect daily is key.

... so that brings me to the last point that many misinterpret ... being smart doesn't mean being right 100% of the time ... That is stupidity mixing with super ego to produce something I never want to employ. Really smart is

  • Knowing the rules. This is partly training but mostly experience.
  • Knowing when to break the rules. This is all experience.
  • Knowing when you have made a mistake. It happens often, your lying to yourself if you think it doesn't, your lying to others if you say it doesn't.
  • Being able to put your hand up and say you have made the mistake. So many struggle with this thinking they will be attacked or wrong for doing so.
  • Being able to celebrate your mistakes as a chance for both you and others to learn.
  • Being able to hand over say/control to others when they know more than you (and learning from that experience)
  • Learning from others mistakes.
  • Accepting that others make mistakes, accepting and ideally learning from their issues.
  • Putting in the extra effort to ensure you have done the due dilligence so you can honestly say "its a mistake worth learning from" rather than "i'm an idiot for not checking first".

If you follow the above and add to that

  • What can I do to remove effort from someone else ... as a programmer you have a near unique ability to make other peoples lives incrementally better, on mass, do so.
  • What is still left to do that I could get done (regardless of others sitting on their ass say "I have done my bit")
  • Who needs help, what else can I see outside of the IDE and compiler that could make the whole thing run smoother?

If you continually answer those things every day and act on the answers you give ... you will get the promotions and pay you want and deserve ...

If you don't, find another employer who is focused on long term survival.

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It really depends on your environment. As a rule of thumb its a good idea to start off in a suit as a sign of respect. You can then gradually tone it down till your wearing the same as your colleagues.

Wearing clothes that are less smart than your colleagues gives an unprofessional impression and shows lack of respect. You can get away with if your a hard worker and good at your job but the worse you look the harder it will be to prove yourself.

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At places where I've worked starting off in a suit (for more than a single day) would get you some really strange looks and a reputation of a "career hound" that would seriously hurt social interaction with your peers for a while. I would suggest to start off by matching the overall culture until most people are aware of your personality and you can adjust up or down for your own personal preference. –  Joris Timmermans Aug 10 '11 at 9:23
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+ 1 for first sentance. As a contractor this is how I tend to operate, not normally long until I integrate dress wise. More often than not my manager will let me know smart is not a requirement within the first day or two. –  G3D Aug 10 '11 at 9:38
    
@MadKeithV Yeh, gradually tone it down will sometimes be a lot quicker. Your obviously going to look a prick if everyone else is in torn jeans and your in a suit. –  Tom Squires Aug 10 '11 at 9:43

As said from others it depends on the environment and/or the people to which you have to work to. I worked in on of the IT departments for a bank and there I has to dress a suite everyday (except friday, that was called "easy friday"). The dress code was indeed formal, even if we did not have contact with clients.

On the other side, in other departments of the same bank (like: Network Administrators) people could dress freely with Polo Shirt and flip flop.

Usually IT offices tend to be less "formal", but this is not always the case (like in my experience). It is good (at least for interview and first approach) if you "investigate" about the target company "style" (formal, not formal) in order to be sure to get the best impression.

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Our IT department has a building of its own, slightly behind the main building of our company.

It's very rare to see suits here, except for our chief-of-departments and one of my co-workers who's always wearing one because he's in politics and has to meet people right after his day job is over.

It's, however, equally rare to see someone dressing in shabby clothes here, because IT is having lunch in the same cafeteria as the guys from the main building and we often have meetings with them. They're our "customers" so-to-speak.

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