My wife keeps telling me I need to untuck my shirt. I usually comply, but under protest. You see, when I was in school, we used to get in trouble for not tucking our shirts in.
I’m pretty good at following rules. That’s part of the reason I have the job I have. The problem is when rules change all the time.I remember going to the doctor once, soon after I got out of college. It was painfully obvious that his clothes were at least 20 years old. They were in fine condition, but hopelessly dated. Standing near him, I looked like I’d jumped out of a fashion magazine.
But I understand now. He didn’t care about looking hip. He was a doctor. He had bigger concerns on his mind. I’m guessing his criteria for picking out clothes in the morning went something like mine do now:
1. Is it clean?
2. Is it free of holes?
3. Are the holes visible?
As long as the answer to #1 is yes, and either the answer to #2 is yes or #3 is no, I’ll wear it.
I’m not a doctor, but I have lots of things on my mind these days too. Like what patches Microsoft released this month, and how I’m going to navigate a tangled bureaucracy, get them loaded onto 240 servers (including some with no connection to an outside world, half of which are separated from me by a network connection that makes a 56K modem look fast), and do all of this in two weeks without making my boss mad.
I’ve actually managed to pull off this trick about 22 times now, but I’m always trying to think of ways to improve the process. Any improvement to this exceedingly difficult process makes my life easier and my cranky bosses happier. My boss doesn’t care whether I look like I stepped out of the pages of a magazine or like something a bum wouldn’t want to be seen with, as long as I get my work done.
My wife says I need to dress like my friend Jon. I’ve known Jon about nine years. We go to the same church and usually sit near each other. Jon’s a mechanical engineer. A couple of years ago he designed machinery that turns sheet metal into body panels for Acuras.
I’ve never asked Jon, but I’m guessing when Jon looks at an article of clothing, two questions go through his mind.
1. Will that keep me warm (or cool) enough today?
2. How would I go about designing a machine that makes those buttons?
My biggest gripe is that clothes aren’t something you learn just once. When I was in school, by the time I learned what you were and weren’t supposed to wear, the rules changed. I’d re-learn it, but then they’d just change again.
In college, I learned that I could neatly sidestep the issue entirely by wearing all (or mostly) black. Sure, it made me look like someone who listened to The Cure too much, but as a matter of fact, I did listen to The Cure too much. I didn’t have to think about what matched, or if the particular shade was in or out. People didn’t look at me and try to figure out how old the clothes were, who made them, or where I bought them. They’d just look at me and conclude that the radio station I listened to didn’t have a letter Z or Q in its call letters.
But in 1998 I got a job with a dress code, and my all-black trick no longer would cut it. So I bought a couple of pairs of khaki pants and five button-up shirts and figured I was set. This shopping spree set me back almost $200.
The pants wore out, but I still have the shirts and they still fit, so I see no problem with continuing to wear them. After all, they don’t infringe on my current employer’s dress code and when I bought them, they cost me about a day’s pay. And furthermore, shouldn’t my wife be happy that I’m still the same size around that I was when I was 23?
I think my wife would counter that it’s nice that I wear the same size shirts as then, but they don’t have to be the same shirts.
I’m pretty sure Jon would tell me that some battles just aren’t worth fighting and the best thing to do is just wear whatever clothes your wife says you should wear.
I say this because I know Jon’s wife told my wife that it took her years to get Jon to dress the way he dresses now.
The next time I see Jon, I need to ask him how many years. But I probably won’t. Sometime in the next 72 hours, my boss will come to me with a line in a configuration file that needs to be changed in all 240 servers and, naturally, we’ll have about 20 minutes to do it. I’ll get it done the same way I always get it done, and then I’ll move on to solving the next problem, and I’m guessing that by mid-Wednesday at the very latest, I won’t even remember having said or written a thing about clothes on Sunday.
Frankly I’m more concerned about how I tell my boss that we have a lot of servers with system drives formatted with 512-byte clusters and they’d probably perform a lot better with 4K clusters.
Knowing things like that usually doesn’t get me raises but it gets me job security. The clothes I wear don’t get me either. So that’s why I’d rather let someone else worry about clothes.