Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Open Source Advocacy and Looking Good

The former CIO of Massachusetts, Peter Quinn, says that Open Source advocates don't dress the part for business, and this hampers Linux and Open Source adoption by businesses and governments.
"Open source has an unprofessional appearance, and the community needs to be more business-savvy in order to start to make inroads in areas traditionally dominated by commercial software vendors. (Having) a face on a project or agenda makes it attractive for politicians (to consider open source)."

He went on to suggest that while the open-source community was slowly beginning to come to terms with the need to dress for success, doing so is a "huge education process."

Business-savvy, yes. Dress code, no. As someone who has been part of both the Open Source and business culture, I can tell you that idea is mostly crap. Yes, the "sandal and ponytail set" doesn't make a good impression on potential customers, but neither do most developers want to play the role of pre-sales engineer, or really have anything to do with clients. It has nothing to do with how they dress, it has to do with how they how they interact with other people on a social level. Putting hordes of Open Source developers in suits and sticking them in front of government panels won't improve Open Source adoption. I'd bet that if you put Theo de Raadt in a suit he would still manage to piss off DARPA (There has been a lot written on dress codes for techies, forcing geeks to dress in business-casual isn't the way to improve their image).

A previous employer of mine instituted a business-casual dress code that applied to everyone, even developers and engineers. The official reason was that it looked more professional when clients or potential clients visited. All it really accomplished was pissing off people who had been used to jeans and t-shirts for years. Managers, salespeople and pre-sales engineers already dressed formally for client visits, and here's a surprise - they made use of technical talent by phone only, never putting them in front of clients unless it was a dire emergency, and even then, it was usually to fix some hairy technical problem where they didn't have to speak to anyone. Just quickly usher them into the server room and leave them alone.

Another quote by Mr. Quinn:

"(I blame them) for not understanding what it is that they do, for spending too much time talking and thinking in technology terms, and not thinking in terms of business"

Sheesh. Here's a clue - it's what they do, most are not capable or not interested in the effort of speaking down (as they see it) to non-tech types. Be happy that there are a few Open Source developers who have business-sense. You should use them as a resource.

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centyx said...

I'm a systems administrator, not a developer, by trade, but I a consider myself a mild Open Source zealot and have been used to working in environments with a relaxed dress code for the tech folks behind the scenes for the past 7 years.

However, last year as I was forced to change jobs due to my employer's business failing, I found that it was almost impossible to get anyone to take me seriously without dressing in a suit and tie. I am in the SouthEastern United States, so that may be part of it, but it appears that it is becoming a matter of survival to 'dress the part' of an 'IT professional,' at least where I am now. This disturbed me greatly at first, but I'm gradually getting used to it.

Doug said...

Interesting, I would have thought sysadmins were like coders in their ability to dress-down and still be taken seriously...I guess it depends on the audience in the end.