The Programmer Dress Code


The second part of this post is up, so after you finish reading, check it out!

I really want to know what it is about programming, or computers in general, that makes people want to grow a beard, have long hair, and dress like a slob. I can say these things without guilt because while I do not have long hair, I do have a beard and I do in fact dress like a slob. Not horribly sloppy or anything. I am actually pretty fanatical about hygiene, I just am not big on tucking my shirt in or ironing it or shaving. So who was the guy that started the unkempt programmer code of honor?

Was it this guy?

Edsger Dijkstra

Edsger Dijkstra (most know for Dijkstra’s shortest path algorithm) Here we see him in a suit and tie, but hey, he was born in 1930. All people wore a suit and tie back then, even women and children.

Or how about this guy?


Alan Kay – Doesn’t he look like a sad Burt Reynolds? Stop laughing! This is one of the fathers of object oriented programming. All hail! He does have the mop and a nice ‘stache going on though.

What about this one?

Bjarne Stroustrup

Bjarne Stroustrup – I would say that this looks like the kind of guy I would expect to see on a "wanted poster" somewhere, but this guy brought us C++! I couldn’t talk trash about a guy who made C++.

And this one?

Charles W. Bachman

Charles Bachman – Nothing unkempt about this guy, except that hat! Damn son! He had a hand in early database technology and won the Turing award for his work.

The list keeps going…


Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson – Are we programming here or going to a Hell’s Angels meeting? But seriously though, being that I am a Microsoft programmer I’m not sure that I am supposed to like these guys. Dennis was the original developer of C and one of the core developers on UNIX while Ken was the man responsible for UNIX and the fact that I don’t have to pay 8000 dollars for a copy of Windows since MS has some competition now. But seriously, these guys are gods.

One of my personal favorites…

 John McCarthy

John McCarthy – Long lost relative of Colonel Sanders and the original designer of the Lisp programming language. This guy had some serious programming cojones. He even predicted in 1961 that one day computer processing would be sold like a utility. That is the kind of prediction that makes Nostradamus look like a sissy. Again, not too terribly unkempt, but that crazy hair and beard mixed with the suit says "serious by day, party animal by night."

The A-list celeb:


Donald Knuth – If I have to explain what this guy did for computer science, then you need to stop reading this and go to the book store. Again, not an unkempt guy, but nothing says "Computer Programming God" like flannel. You really have to wonder where his beard or mustache is though. He is a real computer scientist, isn’t he?


Martin Fowler

Martin Fowler – I’m not sure he should be in the list with some of these other guys, but he is a personal hero of mine, and man this picture is great. I could not have asked for a better example of this article if I had requested a picture from him. He has written quite a few books, of which Refactoring and Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture are my favorites.

And the freedom fighter…


Richard Stallman – Like him or hate him, he is a seriously influential person in the computer world, and again he looks like he’d fit in better at a wood chopping competition than at MIT, but who am I to judge? The man is the founder of GNU, need I say more?

And the fruit…


Steve Wozniak – What is a list of crazy computer people without Woz? He co-founded Apple (duh) and is the poster-boy for hippie style programming.

This one is a gem…

 Yukihiro Matsumoto

Yukihiro Matsumoto – I just threw this one in for the search engines. Just kidding! This the man that brought us Ruby and proves that even in the land of the rising sun, programmers still need beards. Or at least a five o’clock shadow.

By popular demand…


Larry Wall – This guy brought us Perl and sports a nice mustache and hair that would make Fabio jealous.

And I can’t believe I left off this one…


Alan Cox – Holy crap. Alan Cox and Richard Stallman must have been long lost brothers. This guy was one of the earliest developers on the linux kernel and apparently has not shaved since he started.

The programming santa…

James Gosling

James Gosling – This guy brought us Java and is wearing a shirt with the java mascot playing an electric guitar. I have nothing else to say. I think I am out of smart-ass comments.

He’s a cold hearted snake…

Guido van Rossum

Guido Van Rossum – This guy brought us Python and he is seen here without his beard, but he has an afro that would make Snoop Dog smile.

I know I said Fabio before, but wow…

Grady Booch

Grady Booch – This guy does commercials for Herbal Essences shampoo and in his spare time he invented UML. Oh, and he wrote a little book called Object Oriented Analysis and Design, you may have heard of it. 🙂

And saving the best for last…


Justin Etheredge – How’d that tool get in there? His picture doesn’t deserve to be in the same folder as these guys, much less in a list with them! Bah!

So there you have it, my totally incomplete list of bearded, long haired, casually dressed visionaries. Except that last one. Sorry, but I’m not sure how that last one got in there. Now what other field (except maybe physics) would accept these people, much less make them their idols. Got any other great pictures of any computer scientists/software engineers? Let us know in the comments.

Also, this list is clearly in jest, if you are offended by having your picture on here then please let me know and I will take it down. Just send the request in writing to me with a signed copy of your book/source/picture and a personal letter of recommendation. I will then dance because you have fallen victim to my trap.

And one final note, I can’t believe you guys read this crap. 🙂 All this technology and what do we use it for? To make fun of the visionaries of our time. Man I love these here internets.

If you enjoyed it, go read part two!

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Comments (150)

  1. I am, unfortunately, a slobish, bearded programmer.

    I wear clean clothes, and nice ones, but i hate ironing. I hate khakies, and I hate tucking in my shirt.

    but, i’ve got a raging beard!

  2. [quote]But seriously though, being that I am a Microsoft programmer I’m not sure that I am supposed to [i]<missing word!>[/i] these guys.[/quote]

  3. Paul Graham explains why people who concentrate on getting work done often skip everyday chores in his essay "Good and Bad Procrastination":

    [quote]That’s the "absent-minded professor," who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another.

    "That’s the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They’re type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.

    "What’s "small stuff?" Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary. It’s hard to say at the time what will turn out to be your best work (will it be your magnum opus on Sumerian temple architecture, or the detective thriller you wrote under a pseudonym?), but there’s a whole class of tasks you can safely rule out: shaving, doing your laundry, cleaning the house, writing thank-you notes—anything that might be called an errand.

    Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.[/quote]

  4. Most I can think of have short hair and not too sloppy clothing. 🙁 Heck, even in the non-famous RL circle, I’ve noticed the guys tend to go more sloppy than the women.

  5. We don’t wear the latest fashions nor do we keep ourselves finely primped because, well, we’re just to busy to be concerned with it. Code never questions why you’re wearing the same tired Perl dolphin shirt you bought from thinkgeek in 1999, and now it’s blue with holes and large deodorant crusted armpits that clash. It just wants to let you know you forgot to close that loop.

  6. This post is hilarious. The pictures are fantastic, especially the Alan Cox/RMS duo.

    It is, however, missing a dose of Eric Raymond.

  7. I never speak to customers directly. I’m sequestered away in my office writing code. So it doesn’t matter what I look like.

  8. Eric Raymond is pissed! And he has guns.

    Bill Joy has really great unkempt hair
    He doesn’t have guns, but might have gray goo.

    Paul Allen sports a big beard.

    Bill Gates might look like an outlier in your lineup now, but if you see the early pictures of him, it looks like he never so much as got close to a bottle of shampoo.

    Guido van Rossum fits in well:

  9. Yeah, James Gosling!

    He gave the convocation address at my graduating class. Showed up in jeans, unshaven (and probably unbathed), and cursed throughout the speech. All he needed was a Big Gulp and it would have been perfect.

  10. The only female computer scientist close to being a legit member of this collection is Grace Hopper, and she was an admiral, so guess how many pictures there are of her getting sloppy.

  11. First I have a complain. I am from Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka is not in the comment form’s country list.
    Then the complement 😉
    Realy nice collection. I wonder if I could have beard too.


  12. No, I didn’t have to buy a book to know who Donald Knuth was. I was weaned on his pseudo programming language and DIY shell sorts.

  13. I’m with several other comments — pay homage to the women, starting with her ladyship, Ada freakin’ Lovelace.

    She sets one feminine trend I’ve seen hints of: women compensate for the beardless biochemistry by doing some spectacular stuff with jewelry and hair. Google some images of Ada and revel in the awesomeness of her hair/jewelry hybridization. I used to wonder if she was George Lucas’ inspiration for Princess Leia’s ‘danish pastry strapped to her ears’ hairstyle. And then there’s all those pointy, curly jib-jab things pokin’ out of the hair.

  14. The WHY is simple: Because we can. Because they have to let us. Because we dont have to conform. We dont have to impress with dress because we deliver and produce. I realized something after a startup I was part of sold – in my field (Programming) the more successful you are the less you have to dress for work.

  15. I don’t know which I love more – your dedication to rounding up every example, your light-hearted, self-deprecating style, or your generosity towards non-Microsoft persons when you are a Microsoft programmer. Thank you! This post made me smile.

  16. Dude, I used to be afraid I wouldn’t get hired if I didn’t have long hair and a beard. Plus, you have no idea how bad I looked with the giant glasses and no beard. Fortunately, despite all this I eventually managed to get a girlfriend who hit me with a clue-stick, and now I could be on the cover of GQ. Well, okay, maybe not.

  17. Hey, I tuck in my shirt (well, the one under the flannel…never the flannel itself – that would be weird) and I shave (well, actually I run a trimmer through my beard every couple weeks…can’t remember the last time I used a razor).

    I even seek out the jeans that don’t have a hole (on the days when I’ve been forewarned that a client will be visiting). And I get haircuts whenever my hair starts sticking out in so many random directions that it becomes a distraction to everyone nearby. (well, within a few weeks of that, anyway)

    Does that mean that I’m not a real programmer?

    I’ve never ironed, nor worn ironed clothes, in my life. Does that redeem me?

  18. And St. Jude (St. Jude).

    Susan Thunder.

    The 4 blondes from Germany (I forget their Three-Letter-Acronym nicknames…), won the ’06 Yahoo hack-a-day fest, and the team leads can be seen here at — And without a bit of some of the misogynistic crap I found linking to their story, I’d say that they do seem to have adopted a hackerish ‘Dress simply, pull the hair back and get to work’ style — good for them!

    Dorothy Denning: Is that a *mood ring?*

    Ellen Spertus.

    Marie Curie’s (while admittedly a physicist/chemist): her appearance always reflected a woman that was hard at work, not dwelling on her appearance.

    Hedy Lamarr… sigh, so much for the plain-jane geek stereotype.

  19. Thanks for the hilarious writeup. Guess I’m not in the league of visionaries till I grow one of ’em beard! 😉

  20. Yeah.
    Most scientists not only in computer science but also in Theoretical physics and astronomy are slobe.
    This topic is interesting!
    Thanks for your sharing

  21. "L’habit ne fait pas le moine" as we say. Those people (well .. most) are heroes.

    I believe one of the biggest achievement in my live is to have received once an email by Richard Stallman.

  22. Yeah, there are so many new ones I need to add. I think I am going to have to post a sequel. I started adding a few toward the end, but I don’t think that will do it justice, plus all the people who have already been here will miss out!

  23. Dude!, what great a list. The comments are quite funny too.

    I’m also guilty of having a beard and long hair, how else could I do my stuff with vi?!

    Due to wife request, yeah I got one of those too, I bought a shaver but used it just once. Man!, I can remember to recharge laptops, PDA’s, N800, camera batteries, iPod and a lot of crap but I always <i>forget</i> about that damn shaver. That’s life.

  24. the answer for earliest programmer to start the unkempt trend is …

    j. Moses

    you go into the wilderness (kernel/low level code/api), grow a beard, see God (abstraction), and come back with a code (or just code).

  25. I think Esther Dyson has a beard 😉

    You forgot Vint Cerf on your list, (beard, little hair, always dresses in a suit though). Bob Kahn always had short hair, wore typical DoD engineer clothes.

  26. I think it’s a combination of social retardedness and the fact that we generally don’t give a crap about fashion or what people think of the way we dress. Plus, by all of us dressing like slobs we gain the social comfort of belonging to our own peer group.

    Favorite comment from my mother-in-law: "When they pay you all that money don’t they expect you to iron?"

  27. WHY? Perhaps it’s lack of concern about how we look, but I’d conjecture something more logical:

    Shaving and cutting hair is a waste of processor cycles. Why should I shave when I could spend that 5 minutes coding? Or looking at pictures of bearded programmers…

  28. I *really* hope I don’t have to grow a beard to be accepted as a talented programmer. I spent a lot of money for electrolysis on my mustache.

    Female Senior Software Engineer

  29. How about Jim Blinn? Graphics pioneer (environment mapping, bump mapping, etc.) Now at Microsoft Graphics:


  30. This is a great list. I wonder if these really want to stand out from the crowds by wearing those kind of clothes and having such hair/beards or they are nuts and think that the rest of us are just "chumps"

  31. Hi there… Nice one 😉

    Anyway I wanted to add another guy to the list, His name is Jef Raskin. The original thinker of the Mac Interface 😉

  32. Nice point you make with this post. It is also the reason why I always try to be the opposite of them, but then again I’m a semi-professional track & field athlete and a devoted developer …

  33. Programmer? – check
    Long Hair? – used to have
    Beard? – check (at weekends)
    Scruffy? – double-check 🙂

    Now to add another, though slightly less often noted, observation.

    Fan of rock music? – check
    Like pet rats? – check

  34. Yes, good, but not to mention how much caffeine they had taken – spending in front of computer for too long may sometimes make you feel like having a cuppa or two – so count!

    And a nice amount of fast food too – have watched Bill Gates having burger in the web so far?

  35. Never could grow a beard (runs in the family). Maybe that finally explains why I spend all my time putzing around with SQL.

  36. Richard Stallman spent the 1970s with neatly cut short hair and no beard. I was surprised when he grew his hair long in the 1980s. Then again he was always counter-cultural. For example, he always hated spicy Chinese food which was mother’s milk to a certain generation of programmers.

  37. I got 10/10 on the "Spot the Programmer/Killer" quiz! I drew intelligent inferences too and I am craving to share them but that would spoil the experience for anyone who hasn’t taken the quiz, won’t it :(?

    Fun blog too! Really enjoyed the witty commentary and the photos.

  38. Although it seems interesting idea to explore – how computer people look and dress – it is far from being applicable for comment. These people are generally not seen by wide public, they are not models, rock stars, actors, tv personalities, customer service or polititians (save maybe Stallman who advocates often). I bet you had kind of hard time to find even these pictures.

    These people we admire for the work of their brains, for the innovations they brought and for showing us some specific way of doing things. And if you do work with your brains, then you will get to know why dressing and looking in this or that way becomes secondary or lower on scale of importance.

    Second, many of these people actually never went out from the age when some of this look was even acceptable. I bet your children in the far future will laugh their heads off when they see how you are dressed now. But you need an age to realize that.

    I believe that this article is trying something to say but it doesnot say it. It is insinuating it. However bespoken stays in mind nevertheless. Closest term would be derogative. It also says a lot towards personality of the author – if I cannot make up to their brains I can make it with looks.

    Well. There is a lot of good and new in this approach, but what is new is not good and what is good is not new. Computer people are generally considered of bad dressing taste. Or this is what media tried to picture them at all times.

    In this modern world the image seems to be everything that is why all the technology that we can find today is becoming increasingly crappy. It looks good since marketing hid everything that could put you in doubt. Just buy it. How good is the product? Well who cares as long as it is affordable. Even if there is someone who wants to tell that approach is wrong their opinion is not mainstream, or maybe better to say marketing usually has larger budgets, and people en mass are not thinking at all.

    I think I prefer crappy looking people and good stuff than an army of perfect looking people and not a single product you can relay upon.

    Draw your own conclusion. Its an opinion.

  39. Oh yes, you forgot yet another guy with beard (since this seems to be main theme of comments). Vincent Cerf – nowadays google advocate – however in the same time inventor of IP protocol thus defacto one of forefathers of Internet.

  40. @lj I think you might be reading a bit too much into this post. It is merely a joke and I mean no disrespect to any of these people. I posted this while wondering myself about why I have such a hard time caring about my appearance. If it wasn’t for my wife I might never cut my hair. And I am also by no means saying that I am like these people in this list, these people are giants of our field and I just hope to introduce them to a few more people.

  41. I’ve been programming since 1970 (three-piece suits) to now (blue jeans and tennis shoes). Programmers dress "casually" now because they are allowed to.

    I wonder, though, if putting a well-dressed person in a ghetto — and given enough(subjective) time — that person would eventually act to match the surroundings. Also, if a race or nationality sees its members being arrested on TV, does that make it so that more eventually get arrested? What do you think?

  42. Women who want to be respected in this space, though, ought not to be excessively fashionable. If you spend $300 on high heels, that’s 3 processor upgrades that you’ve skipped. OK – so that’s overstating the point, but if you’re dressed to the nines at work, we’re going to think you’re too chic to do real work.

  43. No people of color, no women. This list is offensive and should be removed, and the writer given a course of sensitivity training.

  44. Here is a question… As the future wife of a geek who shaves his head so that he doesn’t have to leave his pc to cut it, doesn’t tuck his shirts obviously… WHAT IS THE ANTIDOTE? How can we – women of geeks – help you look better? You’re cool, we get it… but when it’s your engagement night PLEASE MAKE THE EFFORT!!!

  45. [quote]Women who want to be respected in this space, though, ought not to be excessively fashionable.[/quote]

    No, that’s the opposite of how it works in reality. Women are judged extremely harshly (both by men and other women) for looking "sloppy" at work, and men aren’t, so women are less likely to be doing that.

  46. What about us girly-men who can’t grow beards but still want to be good programmers?!! You bastich!

  47. I’ve always worried that not fitting the stereotype, not being quite nerdy enough or unkempt enough, is an indication that my programming skills are lacking. I keep accidentally tucking in my only Hawaiian shirt!

  48. Great post.Enjoyed thoroughly,viewing the photos of such great people,whose name we have,heard/learned from the first day of our programming life,but never knew how they looked like.

  49. Hi Justin ! I love this blog post a friend just shared it with me. I am married to a computer programmer, and I help him with what to wear but he is adorable anyway. he has long hair and dresses casual 🙂 when we pick out clothes to wear he tells me that ” it all has to match” as he won”t know what to choose” hehe 🙂
    Anyway you have nice eyes and smile, and if you like having a beard keep it , the trick is not to let it get too straggly 😉

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