Business Technology

Friday 24 January 2020

Tech uniforms not chosen casually

Slack founder Stewart Butterfield
Slack founder Stewart Butterfield
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

'You're going to the conference wearing that?" About a decade ago, a colleague was appalled that I wasn't wearing a shirt and tie to a speaking engagement at a technology conference.

"Don't you want to be taken seriously?" she said.

I tried to explain that those who wear shirts and ties to tech events are generally seen as the help - accountants or clerks who are grinningly hoping to get some book-keeping or legal business from the actual entrepreneurs. As such, I argued, wearing a shoulder-padded jacket and a piece of silk dangling from your neck isn't really a short-cut to credibility.

Today, we now know that you don't need to wear a banker's outfit to a tech event to be a fully productive participant. But that doesn't mean that there are no longer uniforms. On the contrary, there are now distinctly identifiable clothing formats for those attending meetings, conferences or other events related to tech business. From the watersport brands of venture capitalists to the designer T-shirts of web millionaires, today's sartorial armour is every bit as conformist as the suits worn by clerk professions around the IFSC.

I offer the following as a short guide on how these uniforms are becoming distinguishable in different tech sectors. It's not an exhaustive guide. Nevertheless, it may ring true to some in the business.

1. The senior telecom executive

Uniform: conventional dark suit (always grey or navy). Light blue shirt but no tie, shirt open at the collar. Traditional suit shoes. Alternatively a formal business dress or semi-formal suit, heels and a lot of colour.

Exception to the rule: former incumbent telecom firms. There is a notable exception for former incumbent telecom firms such as Eir and BT. In these cases, suits and ties are regularly worn by top executives because they deal with government agencies, where formal wear is still critical.

The vibe: suits are becoming less flashy, fashionable or slim-fitting. Executives increasingly want to portray themselves being wed to an 'innovation' sensibility, which clashes with their traditional 'neat' suit-wearing sales backgrounds.

Never worn: jeans - still regarded as disrespectful in a world where meetings with other salesmen and bankers keep a traditional look alive.

2. The US tech venture capitalist

Uniform: slim dark blue jeans, expensive casual leather shoes. A form-fitting shirt or polo-shirt. A slim fleece or sleeveless puffa jacket, similar to the one Robin Williams wore in Mork and Mindy (except much lighter). Alternatively, a slim dress, sometimes sleeveless, with or without semi-casual jacket.

The vibe: high-end water sport chic or (for older male VCs) country club attire

Never worn: anything a telecom executive would wear, or sold in a general department store.

Exception to the rule: a new wave of 'micro VCs', born largely from tech founders who have turned to investing, are dressing much more like regular startup executives.

3. The 'head of country' for a tech multinational

Uniform: suits for women, semi-formal jackets with tie-less open shirts for men.

The vibe: country managers take sartorial cues very closely from those directly above them, which is usually in the UK or the US. If the US, they can be slightly more casual. If the UK, there's a stricter dress protocol, particularly for women. (A majority of large tech multinational country managers in Ireland are now women, from Microsoft and Google to Twitter and Dell.)

Never worn: anything ultra-casual. This may be because country managers are almost without exception over 45.

Exception to the rule: small, technical multinationals sometimes have acting country managers (such as Zendesk's Colum Twomey) who dress far more casually.

4. The Microsoft developer

Uniform: T-shirt, baggy jeans, runners, obligatory backpack wherever they go.

The vibe: still building add-ons and updates for legacy products and services, the Microsoft developer trudges around. Functionality is absolutely key, so this is the tech worker most likely to still have multiple pockets and compartments where an infinite number of items can stored and retrieved.

Never worn: anything with buttons.

Exception to the rule: the gaming and augmented reality developers, who are the only ones in the Microsoft working universe who might have a tattoo.

5. The successful young web entrepreneur

Uniform: Fashion sports jacket over designer T-shirt. Jeans with runners or casual shoes. This is a unisex uniform, with some variations coming in shirts replacing T-shirts.

The vibe: a bid to mix the pizza'n'beer look with conventional fashion style. Think Stewart Butterfield (Slack founder and CEO) or Ireland's Jules Coleman (co-founder

Never worn: a tie. Not ever.

Exception to the rule: Committed coders (such as Patrick Collison, Mark Zuckerberg) don't wear the fashion jackets.

6. The tech or language support 'team member'

Uniform: any old T-shirt, jeans and runners.

The vibe: what you'd wear if you were hanging out in your own home on a Saturday morning doing chores.

Never worn: anything remotely reminiscent of traditional office wear.

Exception to the rule: trendy 'centre of excellence' operations that de-emphasise 'call centre' and promote 'business process outsourcing' as their calling card. In such establishments, T-shirts are still worn, but workers are encouraged to think of being in a more fashionable environment and to dress accordingly.

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