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Suit-ism, youth-ism

by chunlou (Curate)
on Jul 24, 2003 at 22:29 UTC ( [id://277724]=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Among many things, one thing I feel distinguishes the technical folks in programming and technology profession is its young age and not feeling the need of wearing suit. (Granted, there're young people in every workforce but there're relatively large amount of people in programming and technology field operating readily at high level professionally and technically at a young age.)

Similar to the sentiment expressed in Examine what is said, not who speaks." -- from BrowserUK's sig, in real life, it's not unusual for other people to judge someone by his look or age.

Once I was in a meeting with my boss, CEO, ~50, (both of us in street clothes) and our clients: a business unit manager, a technical personnel, and a newly hired assistant (~20) to that technical personnel (all in business attire, from industry where suits are norm). That new hire had an attitude throughout the meeting that irritated my boss, and yada, yada, at one point, that new hire bursted to my boss,

"If you want to be professional, why don't you wear suit?!"

Short silence followed by a fit of erupted emotion. The business unit manager promptly asked the guy to leave the meeting. (I felt like I was watching a movie.)

One day, my boss (not technie but smart) and a project manager (very technie, ~20) went to some technology convention. Whenever the two approached a booth, the sale rep always talked to my boss, presenting also all kind of technical stuff, and my boss pretended he knew what they're talking about. Pretty hilarious, actually.

I once interviewed a very very bright candidate who just graduated from college from another country. I asked a manager to interview her (in general I like to ask would-be employee to talk with his/her would-be coworkers). The manager (~40, former big name firm employee) refused to interview her, saying she's just a young college grad. He preferred someone more "experiened."

Since all other developers liked her, I hired her anyway, especially when she made the second brightest person in the development team (and I paired her with the brightest guy) and, funny enough, is much brighter than the manager who refused to interview her (which somehow reminded me of this post Re: Re: Homework threads aren't necessarily evil).

Consider the demographic info posted in Who am I? Who are you? Who are us?, where there seem to be plenty of competent Perl programmers don't even have college education (just like Shakespeare). For a capable person to be belittled based on trivial outward appearances is a sad thing. In formal axiological term, it's a systematic devaluation of a human being (intrinsic value).

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by adrianh (Chancellor) on Jul 25, 2003 at 01:10 UTC

    There's ageism too. I find it very weird that people immediately assume that just because somebody is over 35 that they'll be less technically literate than somebody in their 20's (especially as I'm acquiring grey hairs at a steady rate :-)

    A few years back I hired a very clever guy to do tech support for the company I worked for at the time. Very clever guy - and a serious Linux geek. Much more knowledgeable in that area than myself. Yet several people assumed that he was less technically literate than I was just because he was twenty odd years my senior. Scary.

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by phydeauxarff (Priest) on Jul 25, 2003 at 00:16 UTC
    In short, "don't judge a book by it's cover" eh?

    I too feel that folks should be judged based on the merits of what they bring to the job, not their clothes, car, skin tone, sexual orientation, or whether they like dogs or cats.

    Unfortunately, we are human and we make assumptions based on what someone looks like...the trick is to get past those assumptions and find out what the person really is all about.

    I would also like to think that it would be great if others thought as you, but realistically speaking the stories you relate probably won't be the last you or I experience...sad but true.

    I suppose the best we can hope for is to just try to be more aware of how we act and hope the example spreads a bit

      I too feel that folks should be judged based on the merits of what they bring to the job, not their clothes, car

      I think someone's potential as a programmer should be judged by their clothes and car.

      See how silly that sounds? Why bother stating something that's so blatantly obvious?

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by Elgon (Curate) on Jul 25, 2003 at 14:05 UTC


    I actually don't have any problems wearing a suit, indeed I think that under many circumstances it can be a positive bonus. I'll try and outline why I think like this:

    1) There's a certain attitude which often prevails among the more manegerial and often less technical group of our coworkers: Anonymous Monk caught some of this in his email above. A suit marks out the professional.

    To a large extent, your personal views on this are largely irrelevant (although I certainly try and judge people on the skills they have rather than how they are turned out) because it is their view which matters as people can be frighteningly slow to change their outlook. If your clients or managers want you to project this image or expect a certain type of dress then it is probably a good idea to conform. I would place this under the heading of laziness - give people what they expect and you won't have to fight quite so hard to get your skill level recognised. (Some might put this under the heading of false laziness though - perhaps you should educate them to recognise that dress is irrelevant to your ability to do your job well. Take your pick ;-)

    2) In some ways, I find that putting on a suit in the morning is a bit like an actor putting on their costume before a performance: It seems to me a bit like the process of "getting into character", preparing your mind for the day ahead. To ignore this might possible be false impatience - Failing to prepare properly for a day's work.

    3) Examine why you dislike wearing a suit (if, indeed, you do.) Is it because you find it uncomfortable? Do you dislike the idea of being associated with the less technical professions? Or is it simply because it is an attitude picked up from the popular technical press both online and off that techies do not wear suits? I would suggest that the first is entirely understandable and acceptable, the second less so and the final of the three is merely an example of false hubris.

    As I say, I do not mind wearing a suit and tie (I'm wearing one as I type this) but I'm not wholly a technical worker (some would look at my homenode and who I work for and say that I couldn't be technical at all ;-) but it seems a small price to pay to gain that extra edge when I'm trying to convince a client of my technical competence in a certain arena or of the fact that I've thought out carefully what I'm presenting.

    Just my views on this little discussion.


    Please, if this node offends you, re-read it. Think for a bit. I am almost certainly not trying to offend you. Remember - Please never take anything I do or say seriously.

      Psychology and image are tricky things.

      For someone who ever represented his school, town, or country for sports or any other kind of event, wearing a uniform same with his teammates does give someone a strong sense of pride and belonging. It's probably the similar feeling for some people who dress up for work.

      At the same time, for an exceptionally talented person to feel being judged the same or lesser than an ignorant snob in pretty clothing is an abhorring feeling.

      Many skilled and creative people simply have too much of a personality and individuality to just follow suit (pun?).

      As a matter of practicality though, for a single guy (common profile for many tech workers) sometimes only getting to sleep one or two hours a day or not at all, ironing his shirt and tying his tie would be the last thing to cross his mind in the morning (or ever).

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by skyknight (Hermit) on Jul 25, 2003 at 01:47 UTC

    Age is a perfectly meaningless metric. Experience is necessary, but what experience actually buys you depends upon your passion, adaptability, dilligence, and taste for novelty. These are the amplifiers of experience that determine actual ability. There are people in this field for whom three years of experience yields spectacular talent, and others for whom decades of experience does nothing but render them sclerotic and dated.

    I'm quite young as far as things go, only 23 and a year out of undergrad, and typically dress in street clothes for business activities, nothing overly tacky, but certainly not a suit. I enjoy sitting back and letting other people develop their own, uninformed opinions, and subsequently turning them on their heads, much to their chagrin. It shakes their categories up for sure, but I think it does them some good. T'will make them think twice in the future about getting too carried away with their unfounded postulations.

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by teabag (Pilgrim) on Jul 25, 2003 at 13:14 UTC
    Fellow monks,
    Some of the brightest minds I know walk around in rags.

    I only wear a suit when I have to go to a funeral. I got robbed once when I was wearing a suit (long, long time ago). Probably God's way of telling me I look like an idiot when wearing those clothes. Besides that, I doubt that wearing suits will make me code scripts better.

    >It's all about image. When is the last time you bought fruit from a guy with mud on his face(or something worse)?

    Uhrr right, well if that specific farmer got great fruit, why not?

    • It's probably cheaper then buying it from a slick sales-droid
    • He's apparantly busy with his trade instead of with his appearance
    • He needs my money to buy a suit ;)

    But that's just one monks opinion.

    Sure there's more than one way, but one just needs one anyway - Teabag

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by tunaboy (Curate) on Jul 25, 2003 at 16:55 UTC

    Judging someone on anything other than their "intrinsic value" is in some cases a form of laziness and in other cases a form of incompetence. Sometimes it is false laziness, but other times it might be necessary laziness. In a perfect world it would not happen, but we do not live in that world.

    If you are in charge of filling a position and you get 100 applications with time to only interview 10, how are you going to whittle them down? By using "superficial" criteria because you don't have time for anything else. Criteria such as does the applicant have a degree or not.

    An even more extreme example happened in my home town a few years ago. A radio station had so many applications for a job posting they reduced the number they had to read by throwing the applications out a second story window and only looking at the ones that landed in a box on the ground below. At the time this story was used as an example of how bad the job market was in the town.

    In face to face situations, however, judging someone by outward appearances is IMHO an example of false laziness. Doing so indicates you are either too lazy to try and make a fair assesment of the person or you are incapable of doing so (due to your own lack of ability). It is supposition on my part, but I would guess that there are managers judging technical people on their appearance (ie dress and age) because the manager is incapable of judging actual technical merit (and does not want to admit that).

    My $0.02.

      If you are in charge of filling a position and you get 100 applications with time to only interview 10, how are you going to whittle them down? By using "superficial" criteria because you don't have time for anything else. Criteria such as does the applicant have a degree or not.
      I'm glad you asked that. I've been thinking about that. Yes, you'll have to use superficiality because you've been given a task in a much shorter timeframe than you should have. So what? Don't do the normal thing -- you'll get normal social whores. Get interesting. Don't give them the chance to 'make a good impression'. Look through the 10 Most Wanted list, eliminate anybody with a name that matches someone on it. First or last.

      Being arbitrary may seem worse than being superficial, but I would guess the odds are better that you'll find useful employees this way. You might arbitrarily filter someone who's good, but who out of the social whores will guess that you're using their names, or the sum of all the numbers on the resume, to eliminate them? None. They know all the other tricks. There's no way for them to fix you dropping the resumes from a building, or wallpapering with them and using darts. It just can't be done.

      If interviewing were always done by the people who would be coworkers and one manager, and the HR process were essentially random (and I can imagine automating the random process right now, and I suspect you could imagine it too), you'd end up with something fair, even if it's not ideal. Instead, you end up with useless people coming from HR to be interviewed by two or three people who are supposedly smart enough to make important decisions, but probably don't know how to (read people|do the job|make coffee), much less ask useful questions.

      You are what you think.

        I like the idea of being arbitrary as opposed to superficial.

        Personally, I would prefer knowing that the reason I did not get an interview was because of truly (or even pseudo) random selection criteria. It would still suck if I thought I was right for the job but it would be a little more bearable than knowing I didn't get an interview because someone didn't like my haircut or because I didn't fill my resume with buzzwords.

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by neilwatson (Priest) on Jul 25, 2003 at 13:20 UTC
    You all make good points. The Internet is helping to remove this stereotype. When you speak with person on the Internet how do you picture them in your head? I believe that this more tolerant attitude is making headway into the real world. On the other hand, dress for success is often true but, by supporting that mantra you are also supporting the prejudice of judging on appearance.

    The next time someone is proposing something to you, I challenge you to close your eyes and just listen.

    Neil Watson

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 25, 2003 at 09:10 UTC
    It's all about image. When is the last time you bought fruit from a guy with mud on his face(or something worse *heh*)? I don't know what your boss was selling (or if he is a salesman), and i'm not condoning the new guys behaviour, but I am definetly not suprised by his reaction. When you're trying to sell *anything*, you cannot wear whatever you please, and expect people not to notice. You have to dress for success (know your client, don't offend his eyes). After all, would you buy *magic weight loss pills* from a fat guy wearing a thong (keep in mind he's going door to door selling this stuff)? Would you hand over your drivers license to a cop in a $1000 suit?

    I hope I made my point (despite the extreme examples).

      I don't follow the part on the thousand dollar suit - you're saying the officer is out of uniform, that the suit is expensive or that the suit is inexpensive?

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by naChoZ (Curate) on Jul 25, 2003 at 15:06 UTC

    The manager (~40, former big name firm employee) refused to interview her, saying she's just a young college grad. He preferred someone more "experiened."

    Although I would frown upon the manager's decision and his reason, it brings up a fairly good point. It is becoming less and less important for places of employment to judge someone based on their college degrees, (including certifications, to a point). As someone who didn't go to college, I've found myself on the other end of that once or twice. But it was only by the stuffy, self-important interviewer in the HR department who knew nothing about the job therefor nothing about how my skills would be beneficial to the position. Whenever I talk to the actual people who are doing the job, I have no trouble at all. We geekspeak for a bit and they can tell I'm the real deal.

    (On the hr interviewer... I was eventually recruited directly by the manager of the department in question. The hr person was let go in less than a year after that. I don't normally take pleasure in someone else's plight, but when someone looks down their nose at you like a disdainful waste of time, well, it rubs some folks the wrong way.)

    Word of mouth seems to be a great way to get noticed in this industry. Has that been anyone else's experience as well?


      I find it hard to even get to an interview with anyone without a degree (which I'm earning at the moment), as I suspect that most applications without a degree on them are tossed, which I don't disapprove of since there proably were may applicates and little time to fill the slot so selection must be hurried in some way. I just sent an email and real letter to my current boss, and the letter impressed him just enough to interview/hire me. By the way I was 19 then will be 20 soon :).

      "Pain is weakness leaving the body, I find myself in pain everyday" -me

        I suspect that most applications without a degree on them are tossed

        It's applications without any proof of experience that get tossed. A degree will help - but so will a few years in the industry :-)

        kutsu my post is off topic, but I didn't want you to worry too much. I live in the UK and my mother spent 2 years telling me I'd never get anywhere without a degree.

        I failed my first attempt, and quit after a week on my second. Three years later, Im leaving 3rd level tech support for a hardware giant to work for a major london finance house, supporting in-house software, where the big money is.

        For both positions, I was interviewed by a technical person, and the impresion that I get, is that no one in the technical side of things gives a monkeys about degrees, just your abilities. If you can prove those, and the guy with 3 degrees can't, the job is yours.


      Word of mouth seems to be a great way to get noticed in this industry. Has that been anyone else's experience as well?

      My experience with being hired is that I don't even see HR until my first week of work to fill out paperwork, so I would say in my case word of mouth is everything.

      Also note that I was stably employed before the downturn and am still with the same employer so YMMV in the current situation.

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by flounder99 (Friar) on Jul 25, 2003 at 19:51 UTC
    I suffer from severe PowerPoint-ism
    Where I work it doesn't matter if things work, it only matters how good the PowerPoint slide expaining it is. We have too many people who can't actually "do" anything, but boy can they make a great looking Powerpoint presentation. Which makes life hard for us Dilbert-esqe engineers who know that putting something on a Powerpoint won't allow it to alter the laws of physics. I think suits live on PowerPoint.

    Sorry, I know this is not perl related but I just got out of a meeting with some Six-Sigma blackbelts who are nothing but Powerpoint jockeys.



Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by ajdelore (Pilgrim) on Jul 25, 2003 at 15:55 UTC

    Vestis virum reddit.*
    Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, 1st century A.D.

    * The clothes make the man.


      No clothes make babies?
      I couldn't help but think of this Genesis classic while reading this thread.
      Young man says 'you are what you eat' - eat well.
      Old man says 'you are what you wear' - wear well.
      You know what you are, you don't give a damn;
      bursting your belt that is your homemade sham.
      Genesis - "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight"
Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by Anonymous Monk on Jul 26, 2004 at 10:16 UTC
    Interesting article.

    The following really happened to me, and has changed my life, I was once a true "SUIT". Not anymore.

    First, I should say I was 52 at the time, and had been in banking. This was a tech company: This happened to me in 1998, when I applied for a job at a large company at the height of the casual trend. I wanted to make a good impression. I really wanted to join this exciting new world.

    I bought a new suit - blue pinstriped, Hickey Freeman. I had my shoes polished on the way in to the building. I carefully knotted my tie. I was ready.

    I showed up in my $2,000 navy blue pinstriped suit, red silk tie, starched white shirt, cufflinks, black Brooks Brothers captoe shoes polished like mirrors, black silk socks, braces, and a pocket square. The CEO interviewed me. He was about 30, in sandals and jeans.

    I settled in for the interview, dapper and confident, impeccably groomed, certain of the power of my appearance.

    The first thing he said was: we have a dress code. I thought: OK, he doesn't like my tie. He said: "I only interview people who are barefoot."


    "I think the real person comes out without shoes. It equalizes people" he went on.

    I thought: this can't be happening. My carefully shined fancy shoes, the symbol of my prestige and success. I argued with him for a moment, but he said "Are you the kind of flexible person we want here?"

    "Shoes AND socks?" I asked.

    "Yup" he said.

    And I was wearing a business suit! I started to leave, but, somehow, something kept me from going. The challenge? The sense of something new?

    So I grimaced, and untied and slid my feet out of my expensive shoes and my dress socks. He took them and I felt the strange sensation of carpet under the soles of my feet. I felt strange - bare feet and suits don't go together. It is impossible to describe the shock. Yet somehow I managed to continue, and soon was caught up in the conversation.

    He also loosened up and we really started to talk. Then he said: "Take off your tie, and that thing in your pocket, and those cufflinks."

    I untied the offending piece of neckwear and handed it to him, along with the other items.

    We talked a while longer. Then he said: "Now that suit jacket. Are you wearing a t-shirt?"


    "Then take off that starched shirt, too."

    So the slow and literal stripping away of my corporate identity took place. I took off my suit jacket and shirt, and he even told me to take off my braces when he saw them.

    At this point, my corporate clothes were piled high on his desk. He went into another room and found a pair of jeans and flip flops. "You can swap the suit pants for these." He left and returned in a moment. There I was, Mister Corporate Banker, Mister Suit-and-tie, barefoot in a t-shirt, stripped of all the accoutrements of privelege and success. I looked like a janitor as he showed me around.

    I got the job and took it.

    Someting else happened that day. On the way out, I folded my business clothes and put them in a paper bag. The elevator operator, the newspaper vendor, the homeless man and the taxi driver I encountered on the way in now treated me as one of themselves. The shoeshine man who had called me sir when he has shined my shoes didn't recognize me in flip-flops. I no longer received deference. I was no longer above them. I was no longer "sir." I had fallen off the ladder - into freedom. I went into the men's room and changed, re-emerging as my corprate self, but it felt strange. Once again, I was set apart. I thought: "I can't do this." I even took off gave my shoes and socks (again) and gave them to the astonished homeless man. (How many suit-and-tie business men hand over their shoes to bums and walk away barefoot?)

    Since that day, I have not worn a suit or a tie. I often walk barefoot if at all possible - unimagineable before. I am casual all the time. I was a symbol and a proponent of "suitism", but after being stripped that day, I no longer am.

Re: Suit-ism, youth-ism
by Intrepid (Deacon) on Jul 28, 2003 at 19:46 UTC
    I "the posting++" since it is thoughtful and questioning of status-quo's (statii-quo?? ;-). However my response is somewhat contrary to the conclusion that
    In formal axiological term, it's a systematic devaluation of a human being (intrinsic value).
    insofar as I must state that I don't recognize that there's a "system" at work here as most people would define it.

    Nearly all known human societies, and certainly all technologically active ones, operate on the basis of the principle of organizing people into subunits and specialized functions. In turn this organization automatically rests on the principle of heirarchical structure. Our innate human psychological disposition towards seeking understanding of hierarchical patterns in the social matrix around us in any given scenario is either amplified or attentuated by cultural norms prevailing in the society where we are raised.

    The contention or assumption that there's an innate or instinctive human tendency towards hierarchical understanding can be tested against the body of scientific theory and data accumulated in the life sciences where study of our close relations amongst the great apes shows how very much the primate brain is evolved to grasp hierarchy and seek to improve its owners status within a hierarchy.

    If suit jackets and ties were less physically uncomfortable to some people, they would probably not count for so much in the general, average psychosocial evaluation of rank in organizational heirarchies. That mildly ironic factor aside, it's a human truth known for as far back as we can look in human history, that humans have used elements of physical appearance (dress, ornamentation, cosmetics) to signify special ranks and roles. Even more so, age has always been a primary determining factor in the evaluation of rank and status in hierarchies.

    The primary importance placed on age in assigning or evaluating hierarchical status isn't completely arbitrary or irrational, either. It's a sensible adaptation and it's hardly limited to Homo sapiens (e.g., the leader of an elephant herd is usually the oldest female individual, or one of the oldest).

    All this common knowledge and common-sense is being cited in order to explain why I find it problematical to assess the phenomena you've described as being "systematic devaluation". The "system" here, if there is any, is simply human nature itself, as either amplified or attenuated by cultural styles (societies in the Chinese Ideogram Sphere being amongst the most hierarchically-inclined to be found in modern times I will note with some reference to the o.p.'s given name). What is instrumental in bringing this universal human experience into sharper focus for us hackers is that actually our field is highly abberrant, in fact upside-down relative to the historical norms, in that, as the o.p. has observed, the most technically savvy and therefore "authoritative" individuals at a tech company or department may often be the youngest and least formally-attired in the group. We who are familiar and well-acquainted by direct experience with this vocational culture expect and understand this, but it in fact deviates from historical norms and so may cause confusion and even great consternation amongst those without that familiarity (the "Clooless Masses", or perhaps I should call them "Muggles" ;-P ?).

    Since this theme is in fact one of the Big Issues of human life, as is often the case with such material, it is sometimes best explicated and explored by literature rather than by dry analytical rhetoric. I know of a profound work of speculative fiction ("sci-fi") that has to be one of the greatest ever written in contemplation of the stratification of human societies: The Dispossessed (author Ursula K. LeGuin). I highly recommend that all readers who find such questions as might be raised by this thread -- like: "What would a human society without hierarchy be like?" -- intriguing or troubling, to find and read (or re-read) this work of tremendous insight.

       Soren Andersen

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