My Favorite Database Shirts

When I was an undergrad, I was really into shirts from obscure indie and punk bands (see example #1[1] and example #2[2] from 2004). It was my (pretentious) way of trying to be different by wearing shirts from bands that broke up after only one album[3]. I'm older now and I don't run basement shows anymore. So now that same zeal that I had back then for band shirts is now channeled towards database shirts. I now wear shirts from database companies that broke up and no longer exist (e.g., Akiban, Xeround).

Promoting your database system or start-up with a shirt is almost as important as getting the thing to actually run. As I've told my students several times, in the world of databases you don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. Over the years, I've collected a number of shirts from database companies (mostly newer NoSQL and NewSQL start-ups). A good shirt can get people to feel like your DBMS is going to solve all of their application's database problems. Of course this means you have to have good branding and logo design. But all of these efforts should be in the name of working towards the goal of making an impressive shirt that people will want to wear and promote your system.

In this article, I provide a list of my top five favorite database shirts. I have other ones that I like a lot (and ones that I think are dreadful[4]), but the shirts listed below are the ones that feel are a step above the others. Eventually we will conduct a more scientific evaluation of these systems, but I thought that it would be fun to compare them based on their shirts. I evaluate the shirts based on the following metrics:

  1. Material Quality: How soft and thick is the shirt? Does it feel sturdy and a high quality?
  2. Fit: How well does the shirt fit on someone with a normal body shape?
  3. Design: Is the artwork on the shirt interesting and something that one could wear in public?

Per Margo Seltzer's guidelines, extra points are given to companies that provide a women's cut shirt.

I recognize that companies typically make nicer items for their employees (e.g., MemSQL has Patagonia jackets). The shirts in this review are only ones that the companies give out to non-employees (e.g., customers, professors).

#1 — MongoDB

Brand: American Apparel 50/50 Shirt
Material: 50% Polyester / 50% Cotton
Year: 2010

As far as I know, this is the original shirt released by MongoDB. This was the hot item when I got it a few years ago. I consider this to be the gold standard for a database shirt. MongoDB spared no expense in getting the plush American Apparel 50/50 cotton blend. The cut is flattering. The design is clean and direct (with three colors). It's not entirely obvious that this is a tech shirt, so you can wear it in public. They get also points for using a non-traditional shirt color (i.e., it's not black, white, or gray). Over the years, the shirt has held up well and has gotten softer.

This is an example of what all database companies should aspire to have with their own shirts. A lot of companies go cheap and get Hane's Beefy-T, but these shirts feels like sandpaper on my delicate body. It shows that paying a little extra to get a nicer quality shirt is worth it because it makes people want to wear it. I remember when they would come to recruit at Brown and the next day there would be non-CS people walking around campus with MongoDB shirts. I know that they made women's cut versions too, because a lot of girls would wear them to the gym.

The success of Eliot Horowitz and his crew with this MongoDB shirt inspired me to make a shirt for my own DBMS before I went on the shirt for my own DBMS before I went on the job market. I attribute this shirt to a lot of my own early success.

#2 — NuoDB

Brand: Next Level
Material: 50% Polyester / 25% Cotton / 25% Rayon
Year: 2013

This is the only long sleeve t-shirt that I have in my top five list. I also consider this to be one of the best shirts ever put out by a database company. I would have ranked this #1 except that I think that the MongoDB shirt above had a larger impact on their popularity. This NuoDB shirt is high quality and soft. Next Level shirts are just as good as American Apparel. It's also rare to have a t-shirt with a hood. The design is bright and interesting. This has the best artwork of all the shirts because it's not just their logo slapped on a shirt. NuoDB actually had somebody design this and it shows. Most people would not know that this shirt is for a database company.

I always wear this shirt when I have to fly long distances. It's sort of my "thunder shirt." I also have the light gray variant of it that they gave my wife (it has different artwork). She loves hers equally as much as I love this one here (although it is not a women's cut). I think they told me that these were a limited edition. NuoDB's new shirts are good, but not nearly as nice as this one (but they do have women's sizes).

#3 — Snowflake

Brand: Canvas
Material: 50% Polyester / 25% Cotton / 25% Rayon
Year: 2016

The Snowflake team (smartly) followed the MongoDB playbook with this shirt. This is the highest quality database shirt that I have received in the last year. The database fam agrees with this assessment. The companies name is on the front and their logo is on the back. All of the printing is in white. They also have a nice sky blue version as well.

Although I have only worn this shirt for a few months, it already buttersoft. It is even softer than the MongoDB one above. The only issue is that I have been asked whether the shirt is for a ski resort. It is not obvious to non-database people that this is a tech company. That can be good or bad depending on your lifestyle.

#4 — Altibase

Brand: Next Level
Material: 90% Cotton / 10% Polyester
Year: 2016

This shirt is a bit banal, but I like it because Altibase is a (slightly) obscure DBMS. It is a Korean system that was one of the first in-memory DBMSs from the 1990s. This is the most nerdy of all the shirts listed here (even though all database shirts are by definition nerdy). I like it because it has a vintage aesthetic that reminds me of the stolid tech companies from the 1980s. It says upfront that it's a relational DBMS so there are never any questions about what the shirt means. It also tells you that their DBMS means business since it's "enterprise grade."

The shirt material is a bit thinner than the others. I have avoid putting this shirt in the dryer because I am afraid that it will start to tatter. The printing is two-color and has set in nicely into the fabric.

#5 — VoltDB

Brand: Hanes Nano-T
Material: 100% Cotton
Year: 2015

This last one is the only Hanes shirt that I will wear. This is not as bad as Beefy T. The primary red color is uninteresting. No database company should ever use this kind of shirt. With that said, the reason why it makes my top five list is that it is a limited edition shirt put out by VoltDB in celebration of Mike Stonebraker winning the 2014 Turing Award. So it's special to me for that reason. It has a picture of Mike's beautiful visage and an INSERT query about him becoming a Turing Laureate. It is also the only shirt in this listing where I have both men's and women's version (shown in the photo here).

I have the other VoltDB Warhol-style Stonebraker shirt, but it's too large so I can't wear it. I am a big proponent of putting a picture of your face on a shirt.

Disclosure: I was on the team that wrote the system that later became VoltDB and Stonebraker was one of my PhD advisers, so I am probably biased because of that.

Attention Companies: If you want me to review your database shirt in the future, you can send a men's medium and/or a women's small shirt to:

Andy Pavlo
Dept. of Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University
Gates-Hillman Center 9019
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3891


  1. Welcome the Plague Year
  2. Sleepytime Trio
  3. This was well before the term "hipster" came into existence. I was going for the "I'm not a CS nerd" look at a nerd school. It did help me meet my future wife.
  4. Coincidentally, the Akiban and Xeround shirts are actually two of the ugliest ones that I have. And now they no longer exist. Think about that...