Socks & Shoes

I take my shoes off at work.

I still wear my socks (I’m not that guy). I keep my shoes under my desk. If I need to leave the building or go to the bathroom, I put them back on. But I don’t put them on to go to the kitchen or H.R. or when I talk to the designers. Or when I ask my boss to go Have a Talk™ in his office about something important. Not even then.

I did this on Friday, the two week mark at the new job at the big company. Charlie’s my boss. Well, he’s a couple levels of boss above me, but he’s leading the project I’m on. So he’s my boss directly, too. He’s a pretty hip dude. His hair’s a little messy. He wears a sports coat over a tshirt. Very casual kind of uniform. Granted, he’s got days when he’s got to meet with his boss and his boss’s bosses. Those days he’s a little less casual. Understandable.

All of this is just the setup for this story.

I was telling my girlfriend Stacey about this talk I had with Charlie and how it went as well as I could’ve hoped. Or at least I was trying to tell her that story. Instead she just couldn’t get past the part where I don’t wear shoes at work and how that just does not fly at her work. She was especially flabbergasted at the idea of asking my boss to go talk about something kind of important in private while wearing socks with no shoes… with my feet propped up on his desk. To be fair, his feet were also propped up on his desk (with shoes on).

I tried to explain to her that it wasn’t a big deal, that in the software / web development / design world dress code is very relaxed at most places. It’s not unheard of or that crazy for people to have wacky hair / hair color, zero fashion sense, socks and sandals (yes, it actually happens) or to not wear shoes. She couldn’t believe me.

Perfectly timed, her friend Nicole showed up at our house. Nicole is a designer at the corporate office of a large retail chain store. Her role is similar enough to mine that Stacey and I decided it’d be a fair litmus test for how others in this area of work perceive the shoelessness.

Turns out, Nicole doesn’t wear shoes at the office either. Bang Pow.

Still, Stacey couldn’t believe it. She’s works for the same company as Nicole, but as a store manager at one of their locations. When she goes to work she dress pretty profesh. Not pant suits and lawyery, but like a hip alpha female who runs a store. She told me about one time she had one employee who tried to go shoeless. Apparently, all the other employees were thrown aback by it too. This wasn’t even during open for business customers in the store hours. It was during an employee only even. Either way, it did not fly.

Eventually, I came to a kind of clarity about it all. She’s in the business of selling stuff. I’m in the business of building stuff. Although, it’s disingenuous to frame this way, as diametric like that. What’s missing is the detail that she’s not just selling stuff. She does do that, too. But primarily she’s a store manager which is part baby sitter, part camp counselor, part therapist, part herder of cats, part salesperson, part diplomat, part arbiter.

She builds relationships.

That’s the difference between her kind of job and mine. Developing relationships are a part of my job, but they’re not the end product. Code is. Or pixels. Or whatever. Some thing is what I’m paid to produce. She’s paid to develop relationships as the product itself. Of course, this all leads to the bigger goal of selling stuff for the company, but that’s the goal of the whole company; sell stuff, make money. The company I work for is no different; sell stuff, make money. Different stuff, much larger company, same idea. It’s not exactly her primary objective. Just like it’s not mine.

So when your job is to make a thing while not being seen by the customers or the up and up bosses (or heaven forbid, the board), you can dress however you want. Shoes optional even. If your job is to build relationships with other humans (with all the hang ups and preconceived expectations about dress and appearance), then you maybe can’t dress however you want. Shoes are probably not optional.

If you work from home, pants are optional!

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