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Dress code etiquette and how it can impact your career. Tips for Java Developers

As a Java developer what do you wear to the office? More importantly what should you wear to the office, and does it really matter?


There is often a misconception about what technical people wear to work.  The truth is, that it varies hugely.  It goes without saying that you should always follow the company’s dress code, even if you are a contractor and not a permanent employee.  However, even if there is a dress code there is often scope for flexibility, or things may not be clear.  In fact one of the biggest questions we get asked is “what is smart casual dress.”


What you wear can actually make a difference to your career as a Java developer.  We de-myth the various dress codes and offer up suggestions.


There are 5 types of dress code for workplace attire:

  1. Formal dress
  2. Business casual
  3. Smart Casual
  4. Casual
  5. Less than casual


Back in the 80’s and early 90’s developers would have been expected to wear full suit and tie, and in some places this is still the case for Java developers today.  Although this is becoming less popular, and male formal dress is now defined as shirt and jacket, with a tie as optional, there remain a significant number of places where formal dress is required.


‘Business casual’ is one step down, it normally means for men a smart/business shirt with formal trousers and shoes.  For women, a smart top with a skirt or trousers, again with smart shoes.  Whereas ‘smart casual’ allows you to relax this a bit further.  Often jeans are acceptable, but they need to be smart (dark and tailored), but shoes should still be worn.  You can be a bit more casual with your top, but again this should for men be a casual shirt or smart sweater and certainly no slogans on tops etc.


‘Casual’ is where it gets a bit tricky – one person’s casual is another person’s slovenly.  ‘Casual’ means in effect anything you want that is comfortable.  There are, however, often office based rules around slogans etc on tops, especially religious/political ones, which should be avoided even if there are no rules.  But also ripped jeans probably would be frowned upon and should be avoided, as should really dirty trainers and caps.


‘Less than casual’ are the places where literally anything goes.  Often defined in the media as digital start-ups in Shoreditch, you can literally wear whatever you want and nobody bats an eyelid.  Don’t want to wear shoes – fine.  Want to wear a badger inspired onesie – go ahead. But they also allow you to wear your old comfy trainers, that tatty t-shirt or whatever you want.


But what you wear is actually important.  Firstly you need to feel comfortable.  If you are going to be doing your best Java programming and spending time at a desk, you need to feel as comfortable as you can.  However it is also important as people will make judgments about you based on what you wear.  There is already a perception around developers, and so it is important not to conform to that.  This is especially true if you are looking to progress your career with promotions.  It is all a matter of perception.  People judge each other on their appearances; if you look the part, people will start believing that you are ready for a promotion, or just have a really positive perception of you, which never does you any harm.  It is a cliché but ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’.  If you are placing yourself, at least in terms of appearance, above your current pay-grade, people will start to notice.  However you do need to be careful. You don’t want to stick out for going over the top, and it could end up being too obvious.  But get it right and the benefits could be significant.


Of course none of this takes away from the skills you need.  No amount of wardrobe etiquette will detract from a great Java developer, but putting aside the moral arguments, dress etiquette can make a difference and therefore it is an important workplace consideration.  When non-technical people form opinions of you, they are unlikely to put any consideration into your programming; they simply won’t understand it, so they have to make judgments on other tangible things.  How you dress and carry yourself is one of those.


Dress code can be a workplace minefield.  The advice is simple, always err on the side of caution.  Always move towards the higher end of the code than push the boundaries to see what you can get away with.  But remember that you have an important job to do and that you need to be comfortable in what you wear to do that.

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