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Network Dynamics in Industry Attire

Years ago, we may never have imagined going to a job in anything other than the standard “business professional” attire. As the ever-surviving remnant of the past, the standard international business suit has remained the expected clothing for 150 years, with only some slight alterations in design. The current generations, however, have lived to see the unusual adaptation of a new standard for information technology workers where the old suit has now been pushed to the back of the closet. Instead, the subset of industry has grown to see the collared T-shirts become the new formal attire (and often anyone in a suit may be seen as overdressed).

The recent article by Roger Kay attempts to discuss this adaptation of clothing in the light of influences by critical figures such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, whose attire deviated from the current standard of the time. When starting out—in their lesser-known years—Gates preferred T-shirts and knit polos generally limited at “three buttons” whereas Jobs disliked buttons and chose shirts with none. Even into his final years, Steve Jobs remained button-less with his iconic jeans and black mock turtleneck. So, is it truly possible that these men led the way to the suit-less standard that is now utilized as a selling point of tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and many more?

Well, let us look at this in the light of our recent studies in network dynamics. Let us imagine the information technology workers as a network where business hierarchies and company relations connect people. Now, we can set up a networked coordination game where everyone is initially in the default behavior of “wearing business professional attire.” Then, a few members of the network become adopters of the new, less formal attire (e.g. Jobs, Gates). In the initial step of the coordination game, the people closest to these adopters—such as direct company employees and partners—have some incentive to switch due to insistence on informal wear by those higher up in the corporate hierarchy. Slowly, other employees and companies may switch depending on the influence of the network, defined mathematically as some threshold.

Other details come into play when looking into the switch in formal attire. Initially, people like Gates and Jobs could only influence a small number of people due to their positions in the network. Then, with the technology boom, these individuals became some of the most well known people in the tech world, especially with Bill Gates’ era as the richest man in the world, while leading Microsoft’s spread of its widely adopted operating system, and Steve Jobs’ era leading Apple to rise to the top rankings for the world’s biggest company. This increase in popularity can be connected to our studies on the “rich-get-richer” rule. All these factors influenced the typical information technology worker to knock a few buttons off the standard attire and sport a t-shirt. Essentially, the new standard diffused through the network and the effects can be seen today, if anyone has visited career fairs or information sessions.

Still, this cascade did not altered all of industry. The general notion of a business profession standard still survives on, perhaps due to the network structure that stopped the style from catching on everywhere. Thus, Roger Kay, the author of the article, decided to find his old suit to run the panel for Panasonic. Still, even though a complete cascade was unable to occur, those of us who wish to enter industry in software engineering and related fields will be able to appreciate this comfort.

For the full article, click below:


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