Skills vs. appearance
Published on November 26, 2007 By greywar In Pure Technology

Should an IT guy's hair matter more than his skills?

 

     A while back I was thinking of moving jobs because my current employer had shown no great enthusiasm for raising my pay despite the fact that I had just become worth a great deal more than I had been through the miracle of professional certifications (CCNA, CompTIA + certs, etc…).

 

     A bit of Monster.com activity produced a satisfying level of activity from all over the country and within the state (strangely nothing from the local area) and two employers in Phoenix attracted my interest.

 

     The two prospective suitors were GoDaddy.com and a financial IT outsourcing group who I won’t name. Both wanted my networking skills and were especially pleased by my current focus on network security.

 

     I went for both interviews on the same day in Scottsdale, AZ which is less of a neighborhood than it is a striking monument to Capitalism. There are Hummer dealerships, wine shops, and assorted IT or finance firms as far as the eye can see. At any moment I expected the police to stop me for obvious poverty.

 

 


 

Financial IT Interview


     The first interview was with the internet banking outsourcing company. They have a small network operating center (NOC) in a glass walled office adjoined by there management offices. I could see each network analysts at their desks, no cubicle walls, everyone dressed in business casual attire.

 

     The interview went quite well and both their IT team lead and the H.R. guy seemed to like me. Neither one seemed to really have the tech knowledge to ask me anything meaningful and I think any chump off the street who has taken a single networking class could have answered the simple things they asked. Then there was an unexpected snag, the H.R. guy asked me (in a very embarrassed tone) if I would be willing to cut my hair and shave my beard for the job. I was polite but I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud when he asked.

 

      Let’s be clear here, I am in my 30’s, I am a 13 year Army veteran, I was in dress clothes/shoes, my hair (which is long) was brushed and neat, and I have a beard (this is no Gandalf beard mind you, just a beard, well… maybe a Matisyahu beard). I told the H.R. guy that if their offer was lucrative enough I would come to work in whatever style they wanted but that the offer would have to be pretty damned good for me to agree to utterly change my appearance.

 

     This was a huge strike against this company as a prospective employer. The job was IT not sales. I wouldn’t deal with customers at all. Right now I work for one of the largest tech companies in the U.S. and they have zero issue with my work appearance. For an IT firm to be that concerned about appearance stuck me as a bad thing.

 

    

     The offer would have to be bloody excellent. On my way out I stopped and looked at the guys working the NOC again, almost all were in their early 20’s. “Ah… recent college grads”, I thought to myself. Those guys will pretty much take anything to pay off a loan.

 


 

GoDaddy.com Interview


 

      That afternoon I interviewed with GoDaddy (right next door to the Lamborghini dealership). GoDaddy is a much larger company (some 5,000+ employees) than the financial folks (around 200+) and both companies are privately owned but the difference was striking.

 

      In the lobby where you wait for H.R. there was a massive plasma screen showing footage of all the commercials GoDaddy makes and even more footage of the commercials they weren’t allowed to air. Below that runs a ticker showing ongoing domain sales and after-market trading of these domains.

 

      When the H.R. rep comes out they make you take an IQ test. This allows the interviewers to have an objective measure of how well you match your resume. I enjoyed the hell out it.

 

     After the IQ test I was taken back to meet with their tech lead and the engineering manager. On the way back I passed geek after nerd, after mega dork.. my kind of people frankly. The dress went beyond “casual” to “what-ever-you-fucking-want”. Grooming standards? None to speak of. People were working, command lines were everywhere, and equipment was open to be fiddled with. Everything about the place suggested a fast pace and a busy attitude.

 

     The interviewers were both techies not managers. They knew what they were talking about and wanted to know all the right things. They upfront an honest about what they would need from me and about the issues facing the company’s network engineers (the position I was up for). At no point did they inquire about my willingness to have a different coif. Instead they wanted to know if I would be willing to train as a CCIE.

 

     Cutting to the chase, I accepted a second interview with GoDaddy where I met with their V.P. he was concerned with my lack of commercial experience but seemed satisfied with my answers. I wore a suit and tie to this one but I probably could have gone in Bermuda shorts with a Penny-arcade shirt without it affecting anything.

 


 

Both companies made offers.

 

Financial Hair Nazis : ~50% above my current salary.

 

GoDaddy: ~60% above my current salary.

 

    The finance guys were stunned when I turned them down. The H.R. was desperate to know why. In a long email I detailed the problems with an IT company concerned about the length of a network engineer’s hair or their possession of facial hair. I also told them that they were bidding low compared to GoDaddy especially considering the difference in working environments.

 

    I also turned down GoDaddy but not for any fo those reasons. In fact if you are an IT nerd looking for a place to work in or around Phoenix, I highly recommend GoDaddy. They were genuinely nice folks.

 

    As a stereotype, IT folks want to be valued for our skills and ability to learn and not for our looks. Most of us lost out in the looks department long ago and in the process gained a large amount of loathing for those who value appearance over all.

 

    I am not saying I want to come to work in bike shorts and a “Fuck-you” shirt mind you. Hell I’ll come to work every day in a suit and love it. That said, if you want me to change my hair or beard you better have a compelling reason why your network engineer needs that particular appearance. Simply saying “everyone here does it” will just piss me off. I had enough of that reasoning in the Army. You are not the Army.

 

 

    In the end my current employer made a nice counter-offer and I agreed to stay on and don't regret it a bit. It pays to let them know you are thinking of jumping ship.

 

P.S. Does anyone think these questions would have been asked if I was a female or a minority with an unusual hairstyle?

 

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Comments (Page 1)
on Nov 26, 2007
It pays to let them know you are thinking of jumping ship.


Sometimes.

I'm reaching the point where I'm worth more than my paltry salary, and tried to discuss the possibility of telecommuting while I work on my Bachelor's, but the big guy wouldn't have it. Barring about a 50% salary increase, there's no way I can even consider staying on.

Meaning they stand to lose both the head of PC repair, AND their senior tech.

on Nov 26, 2007

Meaning they stand to lose both the head of PC repair, AND their senior tech.

 

They rarely see the light until the last moment. Some never do. Once you leave though it will sink in rather quickly:)

on Nov 26, 2007

Hehe- GoDaddy sounds a lot like Stardock.  We have a couple dress code rules- you have to be dressed, and you have to have something on your feet.  We also prefer that people bathe since stinky people are bad. 

However, we did have an employee that left here and went to a big company.  He went from having long hair and a crazy beard to clean shaven and short hair.  Just didn't seem right.

on Nov 26, 2007

We have a couple dress code rules- you have to be dressed, and you have to have something on your feet. We also prefer that people bathe since stinky people are bad.

 

I think that sums up the code at GoDaddy quite well from what I saw. Seems like a sane IT policy to me.

 

As an aside... I have been using FCKEditor since I can't install unauthorized editors. Does it look any better than my older stuff? Are the visual break points annoying or helpful? Feeback on format always appreciated.

on Nov 26, 2007
I think as long as you were clean and neat, your choice of hairstyle or facial hair shouldn't be an issue. 
on Nov 26, 2007

I think as long as you were clean and neat, your choice of hairstyle or facial hair shouldn't be an issue.

That is generally my opinion. I also don't mind a dress code. I will wear whatever you want to work (especially if there is a clothin allowance involved) but hair and beards are pretty personal appearance choices that don't seem to need control outside of foodservice industries.

on Nov 26, 2007
The idea that a company would actually care about the hair and or beard of a tech person is absurd. I can see it if that person were expected to deal with customers, but otherwise it's just an anal power trip on their part. I wouldn't work for them.
on Nov 26, 2007

I've had a few potential employers and job sites that were more worried about the stupid stuff than hiring the best they could for the job (me).  Clean desk policies that were just insane, appearance issues (I'm not a 'long haired freaky people', so had no idea why someone would have issues with me while they had accepted help from a co-worker with several piercings and and a much more 'punk' appearance but then complained about me), sheep skins and pedigrees, and other things like that.  For the most part I've been pretty lucky about where I have worked and I've loved every minute of the jobs that I've had because of the acceptance that I get and normally the appreciation that I get for the job I do.

I'm the hardest workin' sum-beach you'd ever find in just about any job you give me, but of course you have to take the chance and give me the job to find that out (unless of course you call around and check my references and then you wonder how much I paid them to get them to speak so highly of me).

I would certainly have passed on the offer from the Financial firm mentioned here.  GoDaddy.com would have been intriquing and I might have walked for that were I you Greywar, but in the end, I've done the same that you have and stuck at some jobs a lot longer and remained more loyal much longer than maybe I should have.  Last time I really had the opportunity to take a counter offer and stay I didn't, but it was really all about future opportunities at that point, rather than not liking the job I had.

on Nov 26, 2007

I might have walked for that were I you

 

I have moved enough for the near future. If I was the only one working this might be a different story but family stability is a major benefit of staying in place right now.

on Nov 26, 2007

I've been asked the same question, mostly from financial companies.

I'm 32 years old and have been a professional in IT for 11 years.  I have always had long hair.  IN the 90's I think it actually HELPED me get some jobs.  it just put off the persona of "techie geek".  Kind of like "Whoa, if that guy is willing to come in here all confident with long hair, he must know his stuff".

My hair is also neat.  I dont wear it like a rock star.   It's always trimmed up around the ears, and worn in a pony tail (except on occasional where a hairdresser convinces me to cut it just short enough that i cant pull it back)

In any event, I've usually passed on any job who requested that I cut my hair.  It was never a matter of pride....more like "is this job worth me getting laid less?".  But these days it's just the principal of the matter.  I have an impressive resume, I'm intelligent and well-spoken, and my long hair is not eccentric and therefore should not be a determining factor in a job.   Any company who considers it such probably has different values in their people than i would like an employer to have.

All of that being said.  If i was out of work and couldn't pay the bills, i'd take the scissors out myself.

on Nov 26, 2007

It also depends on the type of business and how the office is laid out.

At the finanical place you said there was nothing more than a glass wall separating the packet whackers from the management folks.  Potential clients/customers that come in to meet with management are going to see the network guys on the other side of that glass wall.  Chances are they're also going to be business folks who don't understand that in IT being the best groomed doesn't necessarily mean you're good at your job.  If they look through that window and see a bunch of long haired hippy freaks, it could hurt the company's ability to attract clients.  In that particular case, it doesn't matter that techs would likely never have direct contact with a customer, they're highly visible to the customers. 

Then there's GoDaddy where you're likely to never be seen by an outsider while working there.  It's a NOC, plain and simple.  Cables, parts, screw drivers scattered everywhere.  It didn't sound like a location where the company would be doing a lot of client-facing business.  Or if they do, it's nowhere near the network guys.  In that case, yeah, who cares what you look like so long as the work is done well?

Office environment is a big factor in what sort of appearance may be required.  Chances are, from how you described the layout of the work areas at the financial place (desks, no dividers, wide open, watched by management) it would have been a bad fit even if they didn't ask you to cut your hair.  The lack of technical questions on the job interview was a good indicator too.

on Nov 26, 2007
We have a couple dress code rules- you have to be dressed, and you have to have something on your feet. We also prefer that people bathe since stinky people are bad.


Can I work for you people? I know nothing about computers, outside of survival level army powerpoint, but I can sew, knit, and cast metal, and still make good coffee. Plus I'm obviously willing to travel and live in crappy conditions for low pay. (go army)

I am not saying I want to come to work in bike shorts and a “Fuck-you” shirt mind you.


Mental picture of Greywar in spandex bike shorts........snicker......oops, just threw up in my mouth....just a little bit.
on Nov 27, 2007

It also depends on the type of business and how the office is laid out.

 

This was generally the explanation from the finance douches. It doesn't work out well since that design decision is pretty easy to fix.

Even if they hadn't had the hair and beard thing against them the open fishbowl concept of operations is a major morale crapper.

 

If some banker wants to come watch me do my thing no problem, come to my cube or office and watch like a normal person. Don't hang outside a galss enclosure and tap on it to see if I will "unleash the fury!".

on Nov 27, 2007
"P.S. Does anyone think these questions would have been asked if I was a female or a minority with an unusual hairstyle?"

Naw, they wouldn't have. If they didn't want either, minority or female, they would have weeded those out already anyway.


on Nov 27, 2007
Naw, they wouldn't have. If they didn't want either, minority or female, they would have weeded those out already anyway.


Interestingly enough, although in person I am pretty obviously a fat white male, my resume really only generated serious interest and inquiries after I moved it into the Diversity section and clicked on the Hispanic block.

I was hired at my current job as a "Diversity Hire" after spendign a full year in this town driving pizza while this same job was open.

Got an interview less than one week after changing my ethnic category. Hmm...

Funny how that worked out really.
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