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.
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?