Family and friends have lately kidded me about the Red Wing boots I recently bought for work, especially since they're not the kind of thing you see most computer programmers wearing. But I have good reasons for them, both social and practical.
For ten years I worked at a Casino, which is basically in the entertainment business. What you wear there, even if not a uniform, is basically a costume for the part you play in the show. Your clothes say “I'm the one dealing your cards, or bringing your drinks, or finding you a seat, or cashing your chips.” So I dutifully spent those ten years in a tie and slacks and dress shoes playing my part of the show for an audience of gamblers on a stage of garish carpet and padded tables. I enjoyed it.
Where I work now is a cement-floored workshop of a company that makes electronic gadgets. The actual work itself is at a desk, and mostly at the keyboard. But that desk is right next to the benches where circuit boards are loaded and parts are assembled. It's only a thin glass wall away from the machine shop that makes parts. So I can certainly make the case that the boots protect me from dropped screws and spilled solder and other hazards of the shop.
But beyond that, the new uniform of jeans and boots sends a message: it says “I make things. I fix things.” And that's what I do. They may call it computer science in school, but I'm not a scientist, I'm a craftsman. I write software that ensures that when you press the right buttons on your tractor, the right hydraulic valves are opened and closed. I make tools to program and test other gadgets. My debugging tools include screwdrivers and multimeters.
The boots—themselves a fine product of American craftsmanship—give a first impression I like. I'm not a drywaller, or a plumber, or an auto mechanic, but I'd like to think I'm a proud member of that same class. I make things. I fix things.