Same Shiny Boots
In the Army, I spent hours shining my boots. On days where I wore my dress uniform (very few), every part of my uniform looked amazing. If I didn’t have the time to shine my boots, I took them to a retired Sergeant Major that made a living shining other peoples’ boots.
My obsessive behavior over my uniform is the only thing that differentiated me from other soldiers. We were all the same; same haircut, same uniform, same shiny boots.
Many soldiers complained about shining boots or having to prepare their uniforms, but we all understood the reason behind it. If you didn’t have the discipline in your daily life, you wouldn’t have that discipline when other people depended on you in combat.
Behold, the Tie
When I left the Army, I worked at a variety of places; some with a flip-flop and T-shirt dress code, and others that required ‘Business Casual’. None of them ever broached the line that required developers to wear a tie.
Ties are a long standing symbol of professionalism in the civilian world. If you are wearing ‘Business Professional’ attire, people take you more seriously and think you know what you’re doing (newsflash: All of Wall street wears ties). They’re more likely to trust you, and if you’re especially smart about your attire, it can be the difference in choosing who to promote. There’s even an unwritten rule: Dress for the position you want, not the one you have.
None of which applies to software development.
Shaken, not Stirred
It’s because software development is 1 part common sense, 1 part counter-culture, and 1 part fledgling industry.
If you aren’t interacting with a client, wearing a Tie doesn’t make sense. It is doubly so when your job depends so much on getting into a mental groove; a groove that’s much harder to attain if you’re constantly thinking about the lack of blood flow to your brain. There’s also the time aspect. If I’m spending an hour a night worrying about my attire for the next day (I’m colorblind, give me a break), then that’s an hour I’m not spending researching Windows Communication Foundation, playing with Ruby, or helping out on Stack Overflow. All of these make me more valuable to my employer. Wearing a tie does not.
There’s also the talent cost. If you have a great developer that can choose his company, all else being equal, he will choose the company without the tie.
Third, our industry is young, and its roots are predicated on rebellion against the status-quo.
Tie it up
If you don’t have face-to-face time with a customer, you shouldn’t be scruffy looking, but a tie isn’t necessary either. If you’re a business owner, your programmers will be more productive, happier, and more likely to stay around if you relax your dress code. Think about it, it’s cheaper than a raise.