HP to Engineers: Stop Wearing T-Shirts


Hewlett-Packard has faced its share of corporate adversity in recent years, from disastrous acquisitions (data-analytics provider Autonomy, later written down to the tune of $8.8 billion) to doomed mobile-device lines (webOS, we hardly knew ye). That sort of tumult would weaken the collective morale at any firm, but HP has a plan to bring back a sense of belonging and pride: It’s going to force engineers to dress in business casual. That means shirts with collars, and no worn-out jeans or shorts.

“There are customers around, and HP doesn’t want them to think riffraff work here,” an anonymous source from within the company told The Register, which was the first to report the news. “So HP is asking its R&D engineers to dress smartly. Apparently dressing well improves the holistic ambiance of a brain struggling with esoteric things like coding. That in turn improves the quality of the software products that it delivers.”

There’s just one issue with that logic: At lots of tech firms, the dress code is relaxed, to say the least. While some outside of tech might take issue with the hoodies, t-shirts, flip-flops, and jeans that constitute the stereotypical developer or engineer uniform, you can’t argue with the results those tech pros produce, in terms of their software’s quality and ubiquity. Will requiring engineers to trade their joke t-shirts and cargo shorts for khakis and button-downs inspire a wholesale elevation in their coding game?

To be fair, HP isn’t just concerned about coding quality or morale; according to The Register’s sources, it’s also worried that visitors walking through the company offices could get the wrong idea about the employees’ professionalism, if everybody seems messily dressed. Considering the company is about to split into two separate entities, once of which that will be focused exclusively on the enterprise, those concerns are perhaps not misplaced. But HP’s tech pros may still resent having to show up in preppy gear.

11 Responses to “HP to Engineers: Stop Wearing T-Shirts”

  1. Michael

    I’m not sure what basis the author is writing from for this article. I’ve dressed “professionally” for years, and haven’t skipped a beat. There are days that are more “casual” than others, per se, but on the whole, professional is the attire that wins the day, IMO.

  2. HippyMcCargoshort

    I have an idea, stop bringing customers into the back office. Do the same customers insist on seeing the kitchen at McDonald’s? Some douche in HR just has to make a change so he can feel like he contributed.
    The policy won’t make engineers quit in droves. In the future, an engineer with a choice of HP or AWellRunFirm will choose the latter.

  3. Steven Jacobson

    While on the fence about dress codes, in MY experience, sloven dress has not necessarily translated to great work or vice versa. HOWEVER, there are those whose sloven dress WAS a reflection of a work attitude that was less than stellar. Then again, too many in departments like Marketing dressed to the “t” and were nothing but selfish, me first, I don’t care what the customers really want or need because I want my boat parasites that an evening gown or suit and tie couldn’t disguise as good company employees. Casual Fridays is a good compromise, but in the end quality work is a matter of the heart, not the outward appearance.

  4. I worked for Egghead Software before they cratered. Most days they had us dressed in the suit and tie which was about as comfortable as being hung. Especially on hot afternoons when the air conditioner would go out and they would insist we stayed open.

    They invested Casual Fridays and sales boomed. We were more comfortable, the customers were more at ease and software flew out the door. The only problem was we had to wear those stupid Egghead T-shirts.

    I don’t know what this author thinks is so great about HP. Their drivers and Installation disks for their products are created in India and have been unusable for YEARS. Garbage Code.

    HP like every other corporation is going to find out Cloud computing is a dangerous adventure. It’s a hackers paradise.
    Just as the stupid Office of Personnel Management in Washington.

  5. Andrew Wolfe

    I for one am not impressed with the quality of software in recent years. The whole mindset of software development, including the sloppy clothes, has been “ship first, think never.” Everyone looks busy but the past five years’ improved tooling for development and deployment has not, from what I’ve seen of commercial software, had anywhere near the benefit it should have.

    I think sloppy clothes are implicated in general. It says “I’m so devoted I run into work with the first thing I throw on,” and also conveys “I’m in so big a hurry I get things done without unimportant things like code reviews.” Also, I think there is an intimidation factor when a worker dons ‘extreme’ sloppy like Goth or disfiguring “plug” or “gauge” earrings. Such a worker seems likely to cry discrimination if reproved, or get violent if male.

    You are saying something to people around you with every article of clothing you choose to wear. It is completely legitimate for an employer to respond to this free speech according to its content.

  6. Carl Karcher

    I’ve watched the quality of HP’s software degrade down to below awful over the years. I doubt how the programmers dress has much to do with that. This is for enterprise products – I don’t see customers putting up with that for long. If I need support for an HP product, I dread making that call and having to deal with the bad English, scripted responses and the inevitable survey afterwards. I have dealt with some very bright support people at HP over the years. Unfortunately, those are the ones that tend to leave or get laid off in the next round of bloodletting. I’ve had enough and will never recommend or buy an HP product, consumer or enterprise. As I said to my shocked colleagues at our last staff meeting “HP is dead to me now ” (borrowing from Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank). This coming from a huge supporter of HP’s enterprise products before their software/firmware turned to bloated junk.

  7. myname is bob

    Release product quality is a direct reflection of management. A plan is dreamed up in marketing prior to new a development cycle. Everything is thrown in, including the kitchen sink. Then as the reality of product shipment looms new features are cut, changed, down scaled so management can claim the number of critical bugs decreased dramatically. SHIP IT!

  8. Captain Freetime

    HP is right about cargo pants; they are inherently unable to look business-like. HP should allow a t-shirt (not ratty) if topped with a jacket or vest (with a back). Or have “T-Shirt Tuesday”. HP should allow tailored shorts. The mail carrier and police always look professional. Sounds like HP still allows jeans. I’d be OK every day in jeans and a collard shirt.

    They should also address flip-flops, whether Manolo Blahniks or 3 for $10 at Target. Open-toed shoes are harder, because men’s and women’s dress codes must follow the same rules.

  9. In typical corporate fashion, this is a misplaced priority. This is an IT shop, not a fashion agency, and these employees are hired to be technologists, not models. Attire is, for the most part, irrelevant – staff aren’t hired for their fashion sense or makeup skills. Given the choice between a talented engineer/developer that dresses like a hobo versus a useless employee that is a snazzy dresser – I’ll take the former every time.

    I’ll take the *productive* employees for my team, thanks, and simply ask them to ‘dress up’ for client meetings. Feel free to keep the GQ readers for your team.

  10. James Jackson Vincente

    I’m all for wearing whatever is comfortable, within reason. I won’t go as far as wearing athletic shorts and flip-flops, but what’s wrong with being allowed to wear Polo shirts, tennis shoes, and jeans? If you are on the sales team, or the customer relations team, by all means wear a suit and tie or go business casual. But I see no real reason in the world to require us engineers, developers, techs to have to wear formal or business casual when the very nature of our work style precludes uncomfortable clothes.